Wednesday, May 29, 2013
California’s Dire Situation Needs Gov. Brown’s Intervention
LOS ANGELES, May 28, 2013—Last Thursday, California Horse Racing Board meeting at CAL EXPO in Sacramento exposed its chairman, David Israel as an expletive-ejecting enabler of wealthy Southern California racing interests.
And If there was any consideration of Golden Gate’s replacing Hollywood Park in a statewide circuit rotation, I missed it. What I didn’t miss, however, were several earfuls of foul language and browbeating.
Even though the buffoon-turned-bully’s term on the California Horse Racing Board is up in January, seven more months of ineffective regulation while the state’s horsemen try to recover from the loss of a major venue can’t be a good thing.
The net result of the meeting was that Santa Anita and Del Mar will get most of Hollywood’s dates, with the remainder to be pursued by Los Alamitos and possibly Fairplex. The contentious stabling location and funding issue was not resolved.
One individual stood out in these discussions: Alan Balch, the Executive Director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. It’s unfortunate that the clarity and dignity he contributed to the proceedings aren’t a regular component of these meetings.
Does it make any sense for Santa Anita to race in the heat and smog of June and July and without a turf course in optimal condition? Who will make certain horses and riders aren’t at greater risk competing in such a climate? Is night racing reasonable given rush-hour commuter traffic on all freeways surrounding it? Who will be available to play after-hours racing live or on-line on either coast?
Now that destiny has dispensed with the notion of a Triple Crown winner that many fantasize will reinvigorate racing, we are back to the status quo where enthusiastic national attention is limited to five days per year and local attention is lavished only on boutique meets. But can Del Mar expand its highly successful window and remain the attraction it is now?
Why would the Breeders’ Cup risk dealing with the vagaries of San Diego tides, untested surfaces and unproven security when Santa Anita offers certainty and capacity? This point is moot, of course, if the TOC sticks to its own-foot-shooting decision by refusing to authorize simulcast signals even if only juvenile races are subjected to the Lasix ban.
Parenthetically, the Breeders’ Cup could easily circumvent that challenge by splitting days among venues and running the Juvenile races (along with two others, e.g., the Marathon and Turf Sprint) elsewhere; perhaps in Florida.
The Blood Horse
reported that two-day Cup handle and attendance were off from the previous three runnings, which begs the question of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. diluting its own product.
It is not unreasonable to dream that handle for the strongest possible single day card at Santa Anita could eclipse the two-day figures, allowing for a subsequent second day to re-introduce Hialeah’s beauty to a new television audience, is it? But, I digress.
Current events have made it fair to revisit recent history. The politically-connected Keith Brackpool and leaders of the Thoroughbred Owners of California engineered the takeout raising coup that was legislated in 2010 effective in 2011.
Those who rebelled against the table-tilting subsidy to the wealthiest horsemen at casual player expense learned that this was only one in a long line of leadership lapses, resulting in the loss of horses, horsemen, and participating bettors.
When I’m asked to state my occupation these days, it is all I can do to suppress the urge to say, “disgruntled horseplayer.” Consequently I’ve come to enjoy reading the commentary of fellow HRI blogger, Harry Hacek, who taunts us with tantalizing tidbits for thought as he targets those he deems responsible for California racing’s present morass.
I applaud Mr. Hacek’s efforts to rabble-rouse (myself included) in his Only Insurrection Can Save California Racing
where he concludes, "If the past has taught us anything, the odds are against positive change. Revolution of the rank and file is in order. If not now, when?"
Resurrection through insurrection? Not in California. The opposition will never give in, even to save itself. When faced with the inevitable they will take their ball and go home. Racing in this state will continue to contract as long as powerful horsemen are able to self-medicate, self-regulate and, if Mr. Hacek comments regarding race conditions-writing are accurate, self-officiate.
Higher purses for smaller fields won by fewer owners and trainers while attracting fewer dollars cannot be self-sustaining. In that scenario, it’s hard to imagine weekday racing after the Santa Anita Derby. If summer dates at Santa Anita don’t materialize, Mr. Stronach might acquire those dates for Golden Gate rather than vacate them.
None of the above can change without pressure from the top, but it’s the pressure from the bottom that still will be necessary to ensure that changes imposed by the top are in the best interests of all
Few would advocate the ham-fisted approach Governor Cuomo has used in New York but many would like to see Governor Brown become more involved, at least to the point of restructuring the CHRB into a body that truly protects the public interest. That would be a critical first step.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Derby’s Points System Revisited
LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2013--The 2013 Kentucky Derby is now in the record books and its new eligibility system awaits critiquing and tweaking. Apparently, however, the new rules had little effect on a trainer who was completely focused on a single entrant and probably picked the same spots he would have under the old rules in his attempt to annex the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The best horse won, and the manner in which it was prepared may have re-established the one-horse-one-trainer tradition for Derby Trail aspirants. With tremendous patience and mastery of his craft, Claude McGaughey made a convincing case for concentrated conditioner care; at least for those paying premium prices for premier bloodlines.
In contrast, Todd Pletcher displayed equally masterful management expertise in making multiple TC hopefuls eligible for multiple clients. Yet even with five starters (of which four were widely considered strong contenders), there was no trip for the trainer to the winner’s circle. Perhaps one his owners must be wondering whether full focus on his particular colt would have made a difference; then there are alternatives.
Joel Rosario eliminated all doubts that he is the nation’s top jockey. This year’s game of musical mounts returned Rosario to Orb but appeared to weaken Pletcher’s hand. Recently injured John Velazquez retained his choice of Pletcher mounts on Verrazano.
But Javier Castellano took himself off Revolutionary after having guided that colt to successive victories. There was no Garrett Gomez for Palace Malice because he already took a commitment aboard Vyjack. Joe Bravo opted off Charming Kitten for Black Onyx, who suffered a minor injury and was an early scratch.
It appeared that Orb was a selection more among those who could appreciate the effectiveness of his lengthy preparation at Churchill Downs; something that did not leap off the past performance charts but was noted by several workout observers. Orb’s potential was also camouflaged somewhat by many speed figure makers who thought his Florida Derby was on the slow side.
The sloppy track, the final piece of the handicapping puzzle, left many of us scratching our heads right up until post time.
Finally, did the new rules live up to expectations with respect to the outcome? Yes and no.
The winner was one of two co-top point accumulators with 150. Coming off five weeks rest he is more likely to win two more races in five weeks than if he had run again before the Derby. But the fact that Golden Soul with 14 accumulated points not only finished second to Orb but turned the tables on Revolutionary with 110 points suggests the qualifying point range might be too wide.
As an aside, Black Onyx was eventually scratched due to injury, the result being that the rail position in the starting gate was left empty so no horse suffered any ill effects from the rail post in a 20-horse field. The absence of the rail-position obstacle should be the rule rather than the exception.
Random post position draws are entirely appropriate when entrants require no qualification for entry and there is no significant hindrance associated with one particular post, such as the rail. There must never be a repeat of the Lookin At Lucky episode in 2010 when the top earnings qualifier, betting favorite, and subsequent Preakness winner, lost all chance at the start when pinned against the rail – just as everyone expected he would be!
To excel in mandatory trials only to face arbitrary obstacles at the last moment is self-defeating. Simply selecting post positions in reverse accumulated eligibility point total order might be an improvement but would excessively reward entrants competing in the higher point preps, which may or may not have been the most competitive.
Consider the following concept as a starting point for determining post selection order: Once all eligible starters have been identified, each would be assigned Draw Points. Unlike Eligibility Points, Draw Points would also reward participation in multiple preps, which promotes the creation of rivalries and rooting interests.
Draw Points could be as simple as inversely valuing the top four finishes in any prep; e.g., 1st-4, 2nd-3, 3rd-2, 4th-1.
Draw Points could also reflect the level of the preps by adding 1 if the race were worth 85 qualifying points, or 2 if it were worth 170.
Ties in Draw Point totals would be broken by accumulated eligibility points.
One change Churchill officials could consider is the status of the UAE Derby. I understand the politics. But consider that 3rd and 4th finishers might qualify on points, how realistic is it to expect they would ship into quarantine in a timely manner only perhaps to become also-eligibles?
Besides, winners of that race have yet to perform very well in the Derby, although Lines Of Battle ran creditably indeed, but also without mounting a serious win challenge. Perhaps that race under our guidelines could be downgraded to 85 points with a North American race taking its place at the 170-point level.
Illinois Derby redux, anyone?
The following is a synopsis of how each prep fared this year relative to Derby starters: The most productive prep was the Louisiana Derby with four. Three representatives were qualified by the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, Risen Star, Tampa Bay Derby, Delta Jackpot, and Kentucky Jockey Club.
Those preps sending two were the Arkansas Derby, Rebel, Spiral, LeComte, Holy Bull, Gotham and Remsen. Those with a lone representative included the Santa Anita Derby, UAE Derby, San Felipe, Fountain of Youth, Sam F. Davis, Southwest, Smarty Jones, Withers, Sham, Cash Call Futurity, Breeders’ Futurity and Champagne.
Those with no representatives were the Sunland Derby, Robert E Lewis, El Camino Derby, Derby Trial, Lexington, BC Juvenile, FrontRunner, Grey, and Royal Lodge
There always seem to be instances when races cannibalize one another because of scheduling conflicts within the same basic region. Rather than have short fields in each, perhaps the point values of those races could be tweaked vis a vis scheduling to one another. Those races figure to be weaker due to the likelihood of smaller fields. Consideration should be given to how better to deal with that scenario.
More food for thought: With six starters coming off five weeks rest, including the win-place-show finishers, the Lexington and the Derby Trial are unlikely to contribute again next year. Shouldn’t their point totals decrease from 20? This subtraction might have been enough to qualify an entrant this year from those major preps that should be as strong as possible, even if the later events were intended to enable horses with existing points to move up.
Written by John Pricci
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
TV and Internet Must Provide Better Racing Coverage
LOS ANGELES, April 30, 2013—The Pull The Pocket
blogger launched a true thought-provoker last week.
The piece, "Television is Not Trending Racing's Way" observed in part that "Churchill, the Jockey Club and others have been paying to have racing televised, with the hopes it catches on with the masses that matter - a new viewing audience. So far, it looks like things are not going overly well."
After observing that viewership of the preps had not increased appreciably, he asked "What strategy can be used to up viewership and get people excited to watch racing as a live event?"
The underlying problem is that while such telecasts currently acquaint the new viewer with the actual running of a live race, along with the pre and post-race pageantry, they provide very little of what gets most of us excited
about watching a race -- the handicapping and wagering strategizing that precede it.
Until novices get to see the variety of ways players use past performance data to make selections and construct wagers -- and then connect that with what happens both in the pools and on the track -- it’s hard to appreciate all the rewarding challenges the game can generate.
Additional TV money should provide extended exposure as to how past performance data products are used to support informed betting decisions prior to a live race broadcast.
One possible way to do this is to use each prep telecast to demonstrate the application of a product from one of the various popular data vendors, e.g., Daily Racing Form (DRF), Bloodstock Research Information Systems (BRIS), Equibase, Ragozin, Thorograph, EQUIFORM, JCapper, etc., in running down the featured race entrants.
Each telecast could also show that week’s resultant wagers being entered and processed through one of the various ADW vendors, e.g., Twin Spires, XpressBet, DRF Bets, TVG, etc.; all possible weekly advertiser.
The finale would take place on Derby Day when the pre-race activities would include a rundown by each data vendor -- a competition within the competition. A spike in ADW accounts to enable new fans to participate would seem a likely result of prep telecast advertising.
Another factor that increases interest is familiarity with the horses and their connections: Consider that the most well-publicized figure to embark on a recent Triple Crown campaign was Smarty Jones. His following included school children and empathetic connections. The result was unusually voluminous press coverage.
Rooting interests are the key to all sports. Working against this familiarity is the minimizing of opportunities for horses on the Derby trail to face one another multiple times. But taking the path of least resistance has always been part of horse racing’s DNA. Everyone needs to win to get in, but with so many ways to get there, rivalries seldom have a chance to develop.
In addition to the prep telecasts, perhaps more programs like last weekend’s Kentucky Derby Preview show could marry entertainment with education. Racing’s complexities should be embraced, not ignored. Once viewers are comfortable with the content, there would be plenty of time for traditional coverage; features on owners, horsemen, life on the backstretch, celebrities, etc.
Information, PTP points out, is motivation for participation: "... With twenty entrants and a world of social media, health reports, press conferences, clocker reports, video and free past performances at places like Brisnet, there are hundreds of ways and thousands upon thousands upon thousands of reasons to like one of those twenty horses."
"Reasons to like a horse."
is a key concept. Whether it’s the Derby itself, a prep, or some other race, bettors want/need more and different perspectives as to who could win under what circumstances. It’s no longer sufficient to parade pontificating "experts" across the screen to deliver folksy one-line summaries of an entrant’s chances.
Lower takeout, lower bet minimums and new wagering opportunities are proving to be viable incentives for increasing fan participation. Suppose takeout and breakage on win bets were uniformly lower at all venues, and minimums on 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6-horse parlays within and across them were $2, $1, $.50, $.25, and $.10, respectively?
Such "Select Six," "Flexible Five," "Friendly Four," "Thrifty Three," and "Daily Deuce" parlays would not only level the playing field with racing’s insiders but it also would reduce the competitive advantage that batch betting by computer teams give wagering syndicates.
Surrounded as we are by technology and its ongoing development, racing must jump on the information bandwagon and provide as much access to as many sources as it cost-effectively can.
One thing that’s missing is readily-accessible, low-cost/free, on-line past performance databases with or without proprietary values, i.e., speed ratings, etc., with a cut-off date disallowing the handicapping of current races). If such data were available such that viewers could look outside the box and discover new ways to interpret traditional data, a “handicapping problem” would be easier to deal with.
An area of viewing concern is that seldom are the horses of individual interest visible during the live race given how races are traditionally viewed by the camera. Views focusing on individual runners must be available for live racing as well as replays. There must be a way to provide multiple camera views simultaneously on a television or computer screen.
The emergence of Twitter and the resultant cult following celebrity handicappers is an interesting phenomenon. Like the Beyer speed ratings, their impact on the tote board is significant. Determining value has become increasingly difficult.
Imagine an app capable of creating a true odds line for any race and identify legitimate last-minute(s)-to-post overlays by factoring in actual odds movement, Tweeted information, and other relevant, late-breaking input, etc. Anything is possible if fresh minds are given free rein.
Written by Indulto