Friday, July 29, 2016
A Legacy That’s Worth Leaving
LOS ANGELES, July 28, 2016—Steven Crist's retirement from the Daily Racing Form qualified him as the most newsworthy development of last week. Though better known as a Daily Racing Form executive and columnist, acclaimed author of betting books and influential horseplayer advocate, he had also worked as a New York Racing Assn. executive under then CEO, Kenny Noe Jr.
In a subsequent Q&A interview by the Thoroughbred Daily News
, Crist candidly described the experience: "… It was frustrating. I discovered there was this whole political side to the job. Kenny and I took a lot of early morning plane rides up to Albany to talk to dopey legislators. You had to do them favors or give them things. It was just horrible."
Asked about his impact when writing about New York racing and politics, he replied, "… It’s hard to feel any sense of accomplishment. It just gets worse and worse and it doesn’t matter what they say… they’re never held accountable for anything. What Andrew Cuomo has done, making a deal with NYRA and then taking it back, it’s just disgraceful."
Crist's announcement came on the heels of another news-making development made by friend and former DRF colleague, Charles Hayward. The former NYRA CEO garnered media attention
with "the formation of Hayward Advisory Services LLC to assist racing companies grow their business through a strategic planning process and by introducing revenue and cost-saving initiatives."
This is Hayward's next step in an effort to restore his relevance in the wake of attempts to further assassinate his character by minions of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and assorted industry commentators.
In what some observers attribute to the Governor's ‘agenda’ to optimize state revenues from gambling through casinos at the expense of horse racing in the state, Hayward was fired upon the official discovery of NYRA's incontrovertible failure to lower takeout beyond the legislated sunset date for a temporary state-imposed increase.
Ironically, the wayward Hayward was condemned by e-mails from and to Crist, who had inquired about the issue at the behest of a DRF reader.
Interestingly, Hayward's announcement came the day after a "Times Union op-ed piece
by current NYRA CEO, Chris Kay, defending NYRA's accounting practices which had been criticized in a recent audit by State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli.
Kay is also struggling with his image in the face of repeated unkind Internet commentary portraying the former Toys R Us executive as a fish out of water; cluelessly tampering with – if not trampling on – tradition.
Kay has been held responsible for counting both empty “sold” seats in an attempt to bolster attendance figures. There also were perceived relevancies between LIRR trains and the stranding of legions of Belmont Stakes attendees.
Parenthetically, Kay's subsequent performance bonus was widely ridiculed and, eventually, officially challenged by the audit in question.
Offering little insight and even less originality, Kay not only reiterated points expressed in earlier responses by NYRA General Counsel, Joseph Lambert, and NYRA Communications Director, Patrick McKenna, but he also co-opted Hayward's position regarding franchise performance standards and VLT distributions from this month-old Thoroughbred Racing Commentary article
It's highly unlikely this display of "chutzpah" by Kay precipitated Hayward's action, even if his superiority over his successor never was so glaringly obvious.
In this piece, Hayward said his firing "by the NYRA board after NYRA was alleged by the State Racing and Wagering Board to have knowingly overcharged our betting customers 1 percent on all exotic wagers.
“At the time and to this day, I have continued to assert my innocence regarding this allegation."
In reporting his announcement, DRF characterized Hayward as "a lifelong horseplayer and racing fan."
Hayward's own press release stated that "Over the past 35 years, I have participated in the Thoroughbred racing industry as a horseplayer, a horse owner, a racetrack operator and a publisher. My passion for and experience in the racing industry will allow me to make further contributions to this great sport."
As NYRA continues to demonstrate executive and boardroom misjudgments regardless of who is at the helm, one must infer that the problem is institutional as well as political. Whatever strategic planning may have taken place under successive new foxes in the old NYRA hen-house seems to have been based on survival, rather than growth.
Perhaps Hayward's experience could most productively be utilized from the outside rather than on the inside as a horseplayer advocate committed to the survival of racing's customer base.
Hayward certainly has the industry contacts and insider insights to effectively manage and represent a horseplayer organization if indeed one of truly significant membership can be created.
Meanwhile, it is Crist who is one of the few individuals sufficiently well-known and respected to gain trust and attract financial support across diverse horse-playing constituencies.
More importantly, it is Crist who has the necessary stature to motivate cooperation among constituents, harnessing and helping to direct their collective strength to influence wide-spread adoption of the reforms needed to keep the game vibrant and meaningful.
Some of Crist's suggestions have included the following:
"… The problem is right now we have a lot of once a-year-racing fans and a lot of 200-day-a-year racing fans. We could use a lot more 10-to-15 days type of fans.
“… We need something again like the ACRS that organizes the sport. If people knew that on the first Saturday of every month something really special is going on in racing, that would really help.
“[And if you fix ... IRS regulations], I think there would be a surge in handle that people wouldn’t believe."
Crist and Hayward could become Gotham City's next dynamic duo; gray hair notwithstanding, leading the charge to rescue racing from itself.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, May 17, 2016
A Dubious Challenge to the Dubai World Cup
LOS ANGELES, May 16, 2016—A post-Derby announcement of a revised plan to unseat Dubai as the world's richest Thoroughbred horse race has piqued interest across the Internet.
Two factors are responsible: The first has to do with the novel strategy on how to fund the event, the second because it’s the brainchild of Frank Stronach, arguably the most powerful individual in North American racing.
The original "Pegasus World Championship," proposal called for a 10-furlong race with a $12 million purse to be held at either Santa Anita or Gulfstream Park, perhaps in rotation. Obviously both are Stronach properties.
In essence, 12 shares would be sold at $1 million each to investors who then can not only enter the race but also share in ancillary revenues generated by the event.
It's most recent reincarnation embraces Gulfstream--with far lower seating capacity--and the distance will be nine furlongs which unlike the longer race comes with a much shorter run to the first turn.
How would you like to put up a million bucks and draw the 11 or 12 hole?
Intended or not, this is a shot across the bow of the Dubai World Cup, but there are other factors worth noting, too.
The Donn Handicap is a Grade 1 event, of course, but recently won't be confused with what brand-obsessed individuals have termed a “Super Grade 1.”
The Pegasus World Cup may be due in part by the Donn's drop-off in quality since Invasor won the event in 2007. Further, the decline in field size recently may also indicate that the event has lost some of its appeal or because of a glut of alternative spots available .
Then there is the matter of how meaningful graded stakes are for any event whose eligibility is determined by ownership rather than performance.
Generating irritation in the name of innovation seems to be the effect this latest version of Stronach's vision to wrest bragging rights away from a rival, even one a half world away.
We're thinking what would prevent Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum from saying: “I’ll see your $12 million and raise you three, or eight million more?"
Stronach's $200 million renovation of Gulfstream Park has accentuated by the relocation from Austria a $30 million, 11-story, 715-ton statue of a winged horse defeating a dragon in an adjoining park.
However, is that as impressive as the Sheikh's $1.25 billion replacement of an entire racetrack, a huge five-story structure replete with a grandstand spanning five furlongs? Both seem monuments to excess.
Interestingly, neither man bets his money on horse races. Betting is not allowed in the UAE and Stronach was quoted as saying here "I’m pretty lucky with everything I do but I don’t bet."
Perhaps this accounts for the takeout differential that exists between Gulfstream and Santa Anita and business is bearing this out this difference; Gulfstream has been enjoying significant growth in recent years while Santa Anita has been struggling with its less friendly takeout rates.
Should the Pegasus World Cup actually fly, there will be more of racing’s 1% who would be willing to form an "elite dirty dozen,” so to speak, shutting the stall door on owners of legitimate contenders but can’t enter because they don’t have a loose million dollars to spare.
"Rather than worry about conflicts, DRF's Jay Hovdey argued, Jay Hovdey
[put] " the race right in Dubai’s face in terms of both distance and date. …,"
while also noting …"The Santa Anita Handicap in early March already was suffering from its 20-year proximity to the Dubai World Cup. Surrounded now by a $12 million pot on one side and a $10 million race on the other, the Handicap could shrivel away to nothing ..."
Additionally, Hovdey pointed out that "The Pegasus World Cup is ... theoretically funded by a dozen million-dollar antes for the 12 proposed starters...” "but that actual starters need not be named right away and the 12 starting positions can be syndicated, resold, or creatively monetized in ways that neither the racetrack nor the Florida racing authorities have yet to imagine."
What effect will all this have on transparency and integrity? Will all relationships and financial arrangements be made public? Would it be possible to determine the potential existence of an unworthy stablemate that might be employed strictly as a rabbit?
My guess is that Florida regulators and/or horsemen were considered to be a lesser obstacle than their California counterparts. Indeed, the Looney Tunes nature of the California Horse Racing Board proceedings always raises the question "what's up, Doc? Do you think Pegasus really will take flight?"
Written by Indulto
Monday, April 25, 2016
Weak-Eyed Worrier Becomes Winning Weekend Warrior
LOS ANGELES, April 24, 2016--I finally bit the bullet and opened a second on-line wagering account.
I was forced into action because not only has DRF Bets long been unable to deliver the Churchill Downs signal but also because the live video streaming suddenly stopped working properly.
According to DRF bets Customer Service, my DSL Internet service was now too slow to meet the minimum XpressBet platform bandwidth requirements--despite having operated correctly only one week before.
Watch and wager had become wager and wait for replays elsewhere.
I was further motivated by TVG's sign-up bonus, matching one's initial deposit up to $150, provided the full amount is wagered within 15 days of opening the account.
Indeed, that happy circumstance encouraged more frequent use of all entries in the third slot of superfectas when using them in the fourth slot seemed justified during the final rounds of Derby qualifiers earlier this month.
But another factor had bolstered bolder betting and it was just the prescription to heal my latest affliction, newly identified as “Derby Deprivation.”
I have learned that both wagering platforms have their strengths and weaknesses. TVG seems to make more efficient use of their displays for bettors with normal vision.
However, vertical exotic-ticket construction can be a challenge for low-vision bettors who may find the matrix of slotted selection boxes for the entrants too small.
Even after one adapts to this situation, the mouse pointer must be positioned perfectly in order to insert or remove a check mark.
Verifying that changes had been made likewise was difficult within the box in the adjoining ticket summary display that doesn't always show selections for each individual slot on a separate line.
Imagine my anguish upon learning I had inadvertently left out a horse in the third slot of what should have been a winning superfecta!
One might think that since there's a box to check atop each slot column, allowing for selecting ALL horses for one slot, perhaps there could also be a box at the right of each row in order to select ALL slots.
What makes the most sense to me would be to optionally enable filling out ALL boxes to the right when clicking on an empty slot box for any horse, thus including all lower slots.
The slot selection grid is presented in a separate window and I was unable to zoom there independently from the main window. Nor was I able to automatically get both windows back simultaneously after switching over to past-performance or result-charts viewing.
On the other hand, the XpressBet platform makes it easier for me to enter superfecta plays because it only permits entering one slot at a time.
(Note that this requires clicking on a highly-visible number immediately next to the horse's name rather than an empty box in a compressed grid).
The resulting ticket summary always displays selected program numbers for each slot on separate lines, simplifying the verification process considerably.
In fairness, the latter was what I had become accustomed to, and the stress of my mistake-prone early experiences lessened as I gained familiarity with the new environment.
However, the time it takes to process a confirmed play takes longer which impacts my ability to play multiple tracks.
I'm currently in the process of acquiring more bandwidth to support simultaneous use of both environments and SKYPE, too, that I may communicate with my old cronies on Derby Day. I'm looking forward to seeing how it all works out.
As it turned out, I qualified for the bonus predominantly by playing dime supers in the Derby preps and handicap-division stakes on those under-cards.
I was rewarded for my liberated use of the ALL button, or boxes, in three of the preps. It didn't help in the Wood or Lexington, but singling horse-for-course Brody's Cause in the Bluegrass and using two Tapit colts on top in the Arkansas Derby over logical horses made for a couple of really nice days.
(I would have had winning supers in the Santa Anita Derby and Oaklawn Handicap without the additional investment, but then so did plenty of other horseplayers.
What I momentarily considered--but quickly abandoned--was the possibility of playing dime supers in the 8-horse Wood Memorial, boxing ALL beneath Outwork for a “mere” $21.00.
With “impossible” longshot Trojan Nation finishing second, the Super paid $583.70. The tiny field and the mud said go, but good past-performance records of both Shagaf and Adventist made it a no-go.
The good news is that this weak-eyed worrier is now a winning weekend warrior having turned initial amount risked over multiple times. I eagerly await the on-line assault on Derby Day at the Downs.
In the continued absence of dime supers on Derby day, I'll focus on trifectas, although I might take a shot with a dollar Super--ouch!-- keying this year's highest point qualifier, Gun Runner, over a box of, say, five contenders underneath.
Whatever I decide to do, I will be sure to use a magnifying glass before doing so.
Written by Indulto