Thursday, December 11, 2014
Make a Friend, Keep a Friend, Make Money
LOS ANGELES, December 7, 2014—Tom Jicha stimulated HRI readers recently when he challenged those commenting beneath a column
asking contributors to provide ideas how racing can best market itself.
The usual ideas were recycled: emphasis on sport versus gambling game; age group targeting; handicapping tournaments, etc.; resulting in the usual lack of consensus.
The only old saw missing was "Get the women in and the men will follow."
Actually, tracks haven't done all that much to entice women to enter racing’s emporiums, much less bet on races. The chic Del Mar and Saratoga meets get more than their share of women to attend but their effect on handle is minimal at best.
On-track customers are overwhelmingly male and for many of them racing isn't just about gambling; it's about enjoying time with friends, sometimes with those that also have a life-long passion for the game.
But racing needn’t be limited to either making money or sharing familiar time; it should be about creating opportunities for acquiring new friends in uniquely entertaining circumstances.
Just as racing needs new recruits to replace customers it loses through attrition, aging racing fans need new friends to spend time with when old ones move on to that race book in the sky.
What better starting point for establishing common ground than to recreate circumstances that were present when growing up?
Targeting age groups makes a lot of sense but each should be approached a little differently. Consider, for instance, the following demographical breakdown:
How about a plan to create as many multi-gender groups as feasible and reward each group with free vouchers that could act as seed money for each unit. What better way to randomly make new contacts and possibly forge new friendships than by splitting the proceeds of a parimutuel ticket?
This new “social promotion” could vary by themes: "Singles Day," "Ladies Day," "Couples Day," "Seniors Day," "Youth Day," etc. If there were a simple handicapping contest, e.g. “Pick the Winner, with the leading group entitled to some other perks.
Later on, there could be a battle among the groups for bragging rights and more prizes--and another way to make new friends at the racetrack. Why not leverage racing’s social aspects more fully?
Here's how it might work: Following an appropriate amount of new advertising. All interested new patrons would receive a coded "entry coupon" that randomly puts small groups of individuals within their category together.
If the promotion's theme that day happened by "Singles," a team would be created whenever three unattached females became available within the same age group. Later, they could be matched with similarly aged, unattached males to comprise a team.
Once a team is complete, whether they be chosen randomly or the use of color-coded ID cards, they would be directed to meet each other in a promotional area designed just for them.
Then the entire team would get registered in order to be eligible for the betting voucher, and possibly other discount vouchers good for food, beverages and the like, promoting further social interaction.
Some thought should be given as to whether teams be allowed to combine vouchers, provide participants with the opportunity to make even more new acquaintances while increasing the chance for potential financial rewards.
A positive by-product of a promotion such as this, in addition to getting new potential fans in the door, is creating an expectation that one's next visit to the track will also be a pleasurable experience.
Once people come in contact with other individuals who liked going to the track, wouldn't they be more likely to go to attend more often; even on their own?
An extension of the original matching process could result in individuals funding their plays in targeted pools, seeking out partners with similar investment goals.
However, before any new fans can be created, tracks need to start treating customers like people they value and want in their building today and as often as possible.
One egregious example of poor planning occurred in New York when Belmont Day patrons tried to leave the track by rail. No apologies were offered for the exceedingly inadequate service, only finger-pointing at the Long Island Railroad.
Racetracks need to start closing the gap between the perceptions created by the realities they create.
While the Internet has brought racing's customers closer together it has also widened the chasm between customers and track management.
There are many online forums like this one that can forge a meeting of the minds; what steps might be taken to handle specific complaints and criticism in general.
Sadly, there is seldom if ever an official response to issues raised at HRI and elsewhere on the Net, officials being either willing to ride out the latest storm or “not dignify” a complaint with a response.
I wonder if there is even one racetrack CEO willing to answer one customer email each day on his organization's website. That would be a good place to start.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Big Irony: The Ballad of Texas Red
LOS ANGELES, November 22—Until this year’s Breeders’ Cup Saturday, most horseplayers over fifty associated the name “Texas Red” with the outlaw whose legend was immortalized by Marty Robbins in his ballad, “Big Iron.”
It was either that, the badass cowboy, or the latest designer drug for which a test has not yet been developed.
Now everybody recognizes Texas Red is a Thoroughbred racehorse that was a last-to-first, field-distancing winner of the Juvenile.
Much of the post-race coverage was the novelty of a Breeders’ Cup winner being ridden and trained by brothers; Kent and Keith Desormeaux, respectively.
The media also picked up the refreshing frankness of the trainer: "The first thing I thought when he was drawing away was, 'How good is American Pharaoh?
“You never want to see a defection, but it had to help."
And isn’t it interesting that the trainer will be focusing on the Kentucky Derby, not the juvenile championship.
His comment helps make the case for American Pharaoh as the champion considering the horse's two Grade I victories included the Frontrunner Stakes over Texas Red in the first start on dirt for both.
For the Juvenile, Bob Baffert put four swift works into his front-runner while Desormeaux worked three times far more slowly. The Baffert trainee then went to the sidelines with a bruised foot, or worse.
Desormeaux's charge made it into the Juvenile’s starting gate race and he inhaled his field. The final time for both the Frontrunner and BC Juvenile was 1:41 4/5 but the six furlong splits were 1:11 4/5 and 1:10, respectively.
Who can be sure Pharaoh would have been able to withstand the greater early pace pressure?
The sire of Texas Red is Afleet Alex who won both the Preakness and Belmont following a narrow defeat in the Kentucky Derby. His results in the breeding shed haven't yet been as impressive as those on the racetrack.
But just maybe his second Grade I-winning son can accomplish what daddy didn't; become racing’s next Triple Crown winner.
American Pharaoh, it should be noted, is the first Grade I-winning son of Pioneer of the Nile, the Kentucky Derby runner-up to Mine That Bird.
However, the fact that the last three Triple Crown winners were all two-year-old champions makes the title more than just an honor.
And, for the record, a subsequent win in the upcoming Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity certainly would confirm ‘Red's’ championship credentials, this race propelling Shared Belief to the championship last year.
The Derby is still five months away, a lifetime in horse years, and much can happen. I’m sure Desormeaux is well aware that since earnings no longer are the Derby qualifier, another 10 qualifying points probably would be enough for inclusion. It has been the first two years.
Texas Red's sales price of $17,000 barely covered Afleet Alex's stud fee of $12,500, and it exceeded that of only one other Juvenile starter. Ironically, the post time favorite and runner-up, Carpe Diem, was a field-high $1.6 million purchase.
And that brings to mind a song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=999RqGZatPs
With apologies to Marty Robbins:
To the city of Arcadia came a jockey BC Day
Name was Kent Desormeaux, sometimes had too much to say
He had lost a lot of business due to fear he'd take a nip
But supporters knew when riding that he seldom made a slip
Seldom made a slip
It was earlier in the meeting when misfortune reared its head
Getting kicked by a horse put Kent in a hospital bed
Broken ribs were not the only cause for pain he felt inside
For in the BC Juvenile he had a big horse yet to ride
Big horse yet to ride
In Keith Desormeaux's stable lived a horse called Texas Red
He had faced two other entrants and they both finished ahead
Every pundit praised the winner, Red's improvement didn't warn
Of the brothers' shared belief they had a big horse in the barn
Big horse in the barn
From the East would come top finishers from other major preps
To confront the Frontrunner winner who had run the fastest steps
But a bruised foot scratched the favorite just days before the race
A real boon to both he'd beaten no longer having him to face
Not having him to face
Another Juvenile defection came the morning of the race
Was the other local prep runner who had finished in second place
No one had to be a genius, no one needed Twitter text
To find the pattern suggesting Texas Red might come out next
Red might come out next
It was forty six past two when they left the starting gate
The next one hundred and two seconds would determine each one's fate
Texas Red was the early trailer, but advanced on the backstretch
Circling horses on the turn, he blew by the leaders in the stretch
Blew by them in the stretch
Wasn't longer before the brothers started talking to the Press
The jockey gave the trainer all the credit for their success
He'd acquired the son of Afleet Alex as a bargain in disguise
And had him ready to fire when they ran for the big prize
Ran for the big prize
Big Irony. Big Irony.
Written by Indulto
Friday, November 07, 2014
NYRA Should Take Lead on Hong Kong Inspired Reforms
LOS ANGELES, November 6, 2014--The recent on-line petition calling for increased barn surveillance and harsher penalties for medication violations has already succeeded in applying pressure on racing regulators.
This was demonstrated at the October 23rd California Horse Racing Board meeting when the Executive Director complained about 'bloggers and such' who “villify” the CHRB “without having the facts.”
As I listened to the archived audio, the CHRB commissioners and directors didn't come off as villains, but rather as collectively incapable of meaningful reform – perhaps more so than their counterparts in most other state racing regulatory bodies in this country.
The problem is that too few individuals, nationwide, have any experience doing it a better way.
In the past, like many others, I've advocated for a National Horse Racing Commission that would reform racing from the top down. I now believe a prototype constructed in a single jurisdiction that – once proven successful – is more likely to affect duplication or expansion elsewhere.
In a recent Op-Ed debate at the Thoroughbred Daily News, Jerry Brown and Barry Irwin both praised the Hong Kong Jockey Club as a “Central Authority” that oversees drug-free racing at the highest levels of integrity.
Irwin wrote, “The reason the wagering pools are so astronomical in Hong Kong is because the horseplayers know that the integrity of racing is without question... the one unifying theme that pervades all of the schemes brought to bear to clean up the game is that honesty is at the core of the efforts. ”
Brown replied, “... Hong Kong takes the cheating issue maybe a thousand times more seriously than we do here--they test more horses, do it thoroughly and professionally (which is NOT being done here) ...”
Indeed the handle at the two HKJC tracks dwarfs that of all U.S. tracks combined, and pays for the unparalleled scrutiny focused on approximately 1200 horses (and owners), 24 trainers, 35 jockeys, and 83 annual racing dates – one at each track per week.
The not-for-profit operation employs approximately 5,700 full-time and 18,000 part-time staff, and generates a surplus exceeding one billion dollars after taxes for charities benefiting the Hong Kong community.
Executive Director of Racing, Bill Nader, described the HKJC's “defining trait” as “outstanding customer service and public confidence.”
At least, let’s give some credit to their monopoly on legalized gambling: It’s good to be the only game in town.
Their unsurpassed customer satisfaction is achieved by delivering: a top quality racing product, i.e., large, competitive fields of fast, sound, and consistent horses; the confidence that competition will be conducted honestly, fairly and with transparency; a wagering menu reflecting consumer demand, and the availability of extensive data and analytical tools on its website.
With no local breeding industry, all horses are imported and subject to comprehensive screening and monitoring. Each horse is assigned a handicap rating following each performance in a race at one of five class levels.
Entry eligibility based on this rating system ensures extremely competitive fields. All races are conducted on grass and there are no claiming races. Horse ownership is limited to HKJC membership which reflects immense prestige.
It's my understanding that takeout in some HGJC pools is a little over 17% in some and 25% in others. Rebates of 10% are offered only on LOSING wagers of approximately $1,300.00 US or more.
I haven't yet been able to determine which wager types fall into which categories, or what minimums apply to each. Nor am I familiar with the wager types that are not offered here, or how per capita statistics compare.
But there are blocks that exist upon which a better U.S. model can be built, assuming, of course, that the conduct of racing at a proven higher level of integrity is truly preferred by the horsemen.
Horseplayers should conduct themselves appropriately as well.
Fairness in the pari-mutuel area is a major integrity component, one which has been a point of emphasis for HKJC: pool integrity and fairness; rebates that are limited to losing wagers only with no high- volume wagering qualifier so that rebates are available wherever a qualifying bet is placed.
As with any enterprise, there is still room for improvement. A greater degree of fairness could be achieved by enabling smaller wagers to qualify once their total reaches a required minimum. A $10 bettor should have the same rebate rate as a $200 player.
If Brown's assertion that only 10 percent of U.S. handle is bet by the rank and file player, this should hardly represent to the high-volume bettor--especially if rebates are paid as a bet-only voucher.
Isn’t there one U.S. jurisdiction able and willing to seize the opportunity to expand its business by focusing horseplayer attention on a more trustworthy product and process?
Given the anticipated re-privatization of NYRA, New York seems a most promising candidate for immersion into increased integrity. The NYRA announced this week its intention to hold four customer meetings a year at which players could voice their concerns.
Perhaps NYRA would be willing to show their appreciation to the small, everyday player via rebates on losing wagers, instead of carryings very high qualification minimums on personal handle, proving they’re interested in more than paying lip service to customer issues?
Maybe Kentucky’s, California’s and Florida’s top class circuits might also wish to be proactive by following, however strictly or loosely, the Hong Kong model? With an eye toward the present and future, have at it.
Is the HKJC group potentially the most desirable bidder for the New York racing franchise? That’s something to ponder, a move that goes beyond local politics.
We’re sure the recently reelected Gov. Andrew Cuomo could demand—and get—very top dollar. After all, the international gaming Genting organization is already in place at Aqueduct.
Hopefully, Frank Stronach will begin to put in place and support his stated preference for on-track pharmacies in the very near future and one day could establish Gulfstream Park as the top handle grosser from December through March; they already have the product in place.
Unfortunately, Stronach’s Santa Anita property has not shown itself to be a strong candidate for integrity leadership, considering the self-interested control of racing there by the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the impaired regulation of the CHRB.
The image of the latter was further tarnished on Breeders' Cup weekend by the widely perceived inaction in the steward's stand; once again, and again, renewing the call for uniform rules in racing.
But until and unless one U.S. jurisdiction can demonstrate a willingness to increase handle growth emphasizing integrity in all things, the next Triple Crown winner will emerge before higher standards of conduct of are applied equally across all jurisdictions.
Written by Indulto