Thursday, October 16, 2014
Who Will Step Up to Save the Game?
LOS ANGELES, October 15, 2014--Catching up on my reading after weeks of contemplating Florida sunsets, I found a few items worth examining more closely.
The first was Churchill Downs Incorporated's announcement
that they had restored the Hollywood Futurity -- citing its production of six previous Derby winners -- to its list of Kentucky Derby 2015 qualifying preps after dropping it from the original line-up last year.
Shared Belief's victory in that race's final renewal in Inglewood earned him 2013's two-year-old championship; a consequence that could have proven an embarrassing oversight by CDI had an injury not forced the champ off the Derby trail.
The new home of the Futurity is Los Alamitos Racecourse -- not yet a Grade I venue, but a candidate for national recognition should Shared Belief collect a $5M bonus for winning the Breeders' Cup Classic in addition to both the Los Alamitos Derby and the Pacific Classic.
According to Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery, "The robust commitments by the team at Los Alamitos suggest a strong desire to be included in our series, and we’re confident the race is likely to attract aspiring and compelling Derby prospects…We’re delighted to welcome the Los Alamitos Futurity to the Kentucky Derby ‘Prep Season."
The preceding congeniality, however, still doesn't flow in the direction of Hawthorne Racecourse whose Illinois Derby was rendered virtually meaningless by CDI when it changed the basis for Derby eligibility from earnings in any graded stakes race to points earned in races it designates.
That competitor-crippling action was uncalled-for, and surely emboldened CDI rival The Stronach Group to deploy similar tactics to eliminate racing competition at Calder which succeeded this year.
Indeed, CDI's karma is presently so bad that it just announced it will add an executive position charged with improving its image in the wake of handle losses suffered at consecutive Churchill meets and at its Arlington Park property. CDI is also facing intervention from the state of Louisiana regarding its Fair Grounds property that has already lowered purses for their next race meet.
As CDI is now considering selling the above properties, an era of new civility might best be initiated by negotiations with Hawthorne to add the Illinois Derby-- at least as a second 2015 wild card qualifier two weeks before the big dance.
Given the cold shoulder it has given boycotting horseplayers in the past, it was a pleasant surprise to see that Daily Racing Form
commented positively on the effectiveness of this grass roots movement:
"Churchill is seeking to fill the position at a time when it has come under fire from some horsemen, legislators, and horseplayers over its policies. In addition, handle at two of its tracks, Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and Arlington Park outside Chicago, has plummeted this year, in part because of urging from some horseplayers to boycott the company’s tracks because of a decision this year to raise the takeout at Churchill."
The individual most responsible for that effectiveness is Jeff Platt who I often think of as the Clark Kent of horseplayer advocacy. Platt is not only President of the Horseplayers' Association of North America but also the talented developer of the Jcapper racing data base software.
As the webmaster of playersboycott.com and the HANA website--as opposed to the HANA blog and Jcapper product sales and support website--Platt has evolved into perhaps the sport’s most influential horseplayer advocate.
He is already the most inspirational as was demonstrated at the paceadvantage.com forum when his commentary on that chat room helped lead to the creation of HANA and more recently by his contributions at playersoycott.org that took no prisoners in Louisville despite his mild-mannered demeanor while delivering data-driven handle analysis before California Horse Racing Board commissioners.
Members of the CHRB board later emphasized how civil that meeting turned out to be--but failed to give any indication that there was some actual progress in addressing the issue of optimal takeout rates.
If there's anything that could prove as debilitating as kryptonite it's Platt’s advocacy for lowering takeout through rebates rather than lowering rates across the board for the benefit of all. A level parimutuel playing field is as vital to the industry’s health as effective uniform drug rules.
Rebated players are generally immune to takeout hikes but increases in California and at Churchill Downs went to purses rather than result in larger margins ADWs could share with select clientele. Both those boycotts legitimately sought relief for all players. It remains to be seen, however, whether any rebated player would vigorously support a boycott for fear of losing the edge those players hold over their parimutuel rivals.
Another long-time advocate of rebating also made news recently while supporting the continued use of Lasix with a weight penalty applied. Jerry Brown
, President of Thoro-graph, claimed a personal handle of “seven figures” annually, and estimated that 10% of players now generate 90% of handle.
If this is true then racing not only is no longer a sport but neither is it a fair game. More than in the past, betting on horses has become an investment vehicle for predatory deep-pocketed professionals; a currency shredder for everyone else.
Think about it: Is "90/10"% sustainable in the long term? This ratio suggests a drop in player participation, as troubling as the decrease in the foal crop.
Racing is viable on its biggest days but what about the rest of the time? More and more, recreational bettors are turning away from high-cost, low-quality product racing and the incredibly shrinking small-fields racing.
If recent handle declines at Del Mar and now Santa Anita is any indication, California's isolation will force them into weekend-only racing scenario sooner than other major league venues: New York and Florida are likely to benefit most from any consolidation in California or elsewhere.
Sadly, the obstacles to reform are no longer limited to the traditional public and private fiefdoms but extend to today's powerful pari-mutuel predators. Rebated whales and their enabling ADWs are today's barbarians--and they reside inside the gate.
If racing were truly civilized, the continued pursuit of larger portions of a shrinking pie would be replaced by a cooperative effort to grow the pie. A central authority committed to leveling the playing fields of both horsemen and horseplayers is the obvious solution.
Will the real Clark Kent please stand up.
Written by Indulto
Saturday, September 06, 2014
Standing Up for Horseplayers Everywhere
OLDSMAR, FL, September 1, 2014—Watching and wagering in air-conditioned comfort while my wife enthusiastically engaged the tropical humidity of a Tampa summer elsewhere, I couldn't help wondering why horses were still forced to compete when and where the weather is inhospitable to both man and beast.
As I lounged, listening through my laptop, my fellow horseplayer advocate and friend, Andy Asaro, stood in front of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) last week and experienced how difficult it is to effectively deliver a message challenging the status quo; particularly as an individual--an independent one at that.
The experience led me to conclude that chilly receptions for some horseplayers aren't just limited to wintertime. It's not easy being a stand-up guy.
Imagine yourself trying to clearly and comprehensively communicate multiple aspects of a complex issue within three minutes before answering questions from your audience, some of whom probably preferred that you hadn't showed up in the first place.
Now suppose those questions came from someone that had little official standing in the proceedings or a stake in its outcome; how do you think this would all shake out?
Usually in these cases the speaker would be ignored, but even the CHRB knew better than to say nothing, not in the wake of the recent boycott of Churchill Downs, an action that succeeded in denying CDI's highly-compensated executives as much revenue as the previous year when takeout was extracted at a lower rate.
The CDI team made their intended “killing" on the Kentucky Derby/Oaks weekend but then witnessed a major fall-off in handle for the remainder of the meet.
In California, it’s the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) that controls takeout rates, not the racetracks.
Asaro got his message across. However, the response he received exposed the CHRB’s apparent disinterest in, if not incapacity for, dealing with the issue of optimal takeout rates despite its potential to horsemen, the state, and horseplayers.
You can listen to that portion of the meeting which occurs near the beginning of Segment A of the CHRB meeting chive for 8/21/2014
In a dramatic moment, CHRB commissioner and former TOC board member Madeline Auerbach expressed concern that manipulating the takeout numbers might cause people whose money, lives, and careers were invested in racing to go out of business.
When Asaro asked why she anticipated that result, Ms. Auerbach indicated that she didn't know for certain but suggested his own conclusions were no better.
The problem here is that Ms. Auerbach's comments appeared to contradict both the CHRB's mission statement and her own stated goals while serving as a TOC director. The former
includes such concepts as "… regulating pari-mutuel wagering for the protection of the public ..." and "promoting ... wagering opportunities."
mentioned "increasing the handle" and "making the racetracks more fan friendly environments."
Surely, Ms. Auerbach is aware that horsemen are not the only participants invested in this game. Bettors also invest their money, their lives and their careers pursuing the game and are just as entitled to a fair gamble and return as owners.
Since decreasing handle pits owners against players in the never-ending struggle for larger slices of the wagering pie, growing handle is essential to the best interests of all stakeholders.
Lower takeout and larger field sizes have historically attracted more handle but California racing’s leadership is either unable or unwilling to apply the best elements of those principles.
The result is that fewer people stay interested and potential new players instead find alternatives that separate them from their money at a slower rate.
Clearly, it is more difficult for bettors to come out ahead unless they receive rebates on their wagers – win or lose. That not only is unfair, it’s unsustainable.
How "fan-friendly" can an environment that subsidizes professional players and powerful horsemen at the expense of rank-and-file bettors be? What percentage of the population view six-horse fields with heavy favorites as desirable betting opportunities?
Ms. Auerbach’s demand that Mr. Asaro ‘guarantee’ that optimal takeout would improve the situation for all participants was amusing considering that the CHRB in 2011 failed to demand that added takeout rates when applied to purses would guarantee field size would increase.
It was rumored that the Board might invite Jeff Platt, President of the Horseplayers Association of North America, to work with them on this issue. That could be a very good thing if done in an open forum including non-rebated bettors and players outside of HANA.
Had Asaro not stepped forward forcing the issue publicly, this possibility likely would never have reached even the rumor stage. Until learning otherwise, I'll assume such a move was meant to delay any meaningful takeout-rate reductions.
I have admiration for player advocates such as Asaro, Platt, Barry Meadow, Dr. Caroline Betts and the late Roger Way; all of whom answered the call to face off with California racing's power elite in 2011 after takeout rates were increased for exotic wagers.
I might not agree with each of them on all facets of the issue but I know that if I support individuals like them, eventually we will see an industry that treats all of its customers with greater respect and fairness.
I cannot help but think that the CHRB and TOC are really concerned that the upcoming fall meet at Santa Anita will suffer a fate similar to that of Churchill Downs in the spring. Santa Anita may be even more vulnerable because its big days occur later in the meet.
It is no longer difficult to motivate bettors of California racing to ignore unappetizing wagering propositions created by short fields, high takeout and questionable medication policies and enforcement.
Should there be another boycott, I have some slogans at the ready:
. Let them learn to let us churn
.Go betless until the equine stars come out
.Save your scratch for Super Saturday and your bread for Breeders' Cup.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Even Tom Cruise Wants to Know: At What Cost Data?
LOS ANGELES, CA August 9, 2014--In the aftermath of the State-mandated installation of synthetic surfaces at major California venues, it was posited that more soft-tissue injuries were occurring on these new surfaces.
One way to validate that theory would be to determine the average number of days prior to a horse's next start after a race on each particular surface. If I had had access to a race-results data base, I could have done the research myself.
The best I could do, however, was request that information from a variety of on-line racing forums, but I never did get a response nor did I find any related content via Google.
I guess I'll never know, now that Keeneland, Del Mar and Meydan have decided to give up on synthetic surfaces and, with Hollywood Park long gone, Santa Anita has and, soon, Keeneland, Del Mar and Meydan will racing on dirt once again.
Since the early 1970's, I've longed for affordable access to a data base of thoroughbred race results similar to that maintained by the Jockey Club.
By 2010, it appeared possible to build and maintain such a data base on one's personal computer, analyzing the next day's races via either a JCapper program or other proprietary third-party data for under $90 per month. I longed for that hope to become reality.
However, considering the cost per month to acquire archival data was about the same and, unless one had the time and skills to keep the hardware and software resources functioning and the data current, the cost of technical support could exceed that of the data itself.
And that doesn't take into account the learning curve required to master complicated application programs that would yield useful results. What to do?
My lack of technical proficiency, combined with start-up costs, still prevents me from realizing my objective. What I would love would be to have on-line access to a data base someone else has built and maintains.
Given that, I could run voluminous queries that have nothing to do with the handicapping process, making the fee for such a service reasonable. Wishful thinking would have the Jockey Club or the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) becoming such a resource.
Indeed, HANA provides a very significant data subset
at no charge to the public; takeout rates for each parimutuel pool category for every North American racetrack. Player advocates at the HANA-supported playersboycott.org
have accumulated individual pool and cumulative handle figures from each pool at racetracks that have come under scrutiny by the organization after the tracks raised takeout.
It is in HANA's interest to provide this data as part of its mission to influence the industry while also trying to determine and implement optimal takeout rates. Common sense dictates that bettors increase their chances of profitability with lower takeout rates.
Some HANA board members have publicly acknowledged having access to the JCapper system. This reasonably assumes that there is a data base available to perform pari-mutuel pool research.
The most common utilization for Machine Readable Data (MRD) has been to: find relationships among the data that isolates potentially profitable pari-mutuel play; apply those relationships to races already run to test their potential profitability and further apply tested relationships to races yet-to-be run to further locate potentially positive outcomes.
Computer speed enables some players to handicap all races to be run on any given day and isolate races likely to produce profits in less time than it takes to peruse a Racing Form.
It makes sense that users of this data should be individually licensed to gain access to it. Indeed, a monthly fee to use the data is a reasonable expectation for those who would access it specifically for wagering purposes.
Computerized betting teams probably generate the most money from automated data usage but it is their ability to also access pool data in real-time prior to the running of a race that is the key to their success.
The next phase of money-generated computer processing of racing data appears to be in producing derivatives of raw data such as speed, pace, class and power ratings, then presenting it in a variety of formats for purchase by bettors.
Viewable past performance data vendors including Daily Racing Form, BRIS, Ragozin, Thorograph and now TimeformUS still cater to seldom-overlapping markets.
It is worth noting that all those vendors agree that automation alone cannot guarantee the unique predictiveness they claim for their products.
The above, as well as MRD vendors such as Handicapper's Data Warehouse (HDW), purchase the raw data from Equibase which is owned by the Jockey Club.
Surely, Equibase/Jockey Club could offer individually-licensed, less-expensive access to a limited, short term on-line data base that does not threaten the success of existing partnerships with major past-performance and data providers.
I still handicap the "old-fashioned" way, i.e., eyeballing traditional PPs, generally focusing on top class races. It's a very enjoyable process but the preparation time seriously limits what I'm willing to watch and wager on.
By extending this "joy of handicapping" by isolating new relationships among data I deem relevant to me, not only would I become even more enthusiastic about racing but very likely bet more races and introduce potential new players to the process.
That’s the real point of all this.
If more and affordable data became available, the more people would access to it, the more likely they are to discover creative ways to use it, it follows that more new people could become involved in racing to play the races on-line--the 21st Century way.
When racetracks finally understand that their future depends as much on the on-line player as the live gate, they finally might find a way to fuel wagering by making new, cutting edge data available, whatever the cost.
Unless they don’t believe that the business they have chosen is worth an investment in their future that just might help them survive in the short term, too.
What’s that famous line from Jerry Maguire? No, not that one, the other one, the one that goes: “Help me… help you.”
Written by John Pricci