Monday, February 17, 2014
Scintillating Saturation Stakes Scheduling
LOS ANGELES, February 17, 2013—Governor Cuomo’s Not-Yet-Reality-Accepting racetrack management team is not permitted to bet on races yet they are willing to gamble that:
A: People will be willing to pay exorbitant admission fees on Belmont Stakes day even if no Triple Crown attempt materializes.
B: The weather is going to cooperate.
C: Sufficient quality horseflesh can be attracted to compete for absurdly inflated purses in wager-compelling fields.
By essentially combining Memorial Day and Belmont Stakes Day into one and increasing their total stakes purses by $3.1M, the New York Racing Assn. seeks to make their biggest day even bigger. By gutting other weekend cards of graded stakes and concentrating them on fewer, bigger weekends, they expect to increase total handle for the meet.
Even if that expansion occurs, will profitability even be possible given the recent purse hikes?
Some contend the amount of money available to racing on a weekend basis has its limits and base that conclusion on the fact that Breeders’ Cup total handle for Friday and Saturday cards hasn’t significantly exceeded the one-day Saturday event.
NYRA customers bet more than one out of every five dollars wagered nationwide. Belmont Stakes day is already NYRA’s best attraction in terms of attendance and handle; roughly doubling the 13 or 14-race Travers-day handle and more than quadruple the money bet on either of the 11-race Met Mile and Jockey Gold Cup programs.
With national television coverage available, many who could experience the event in person will opt to watch it in high-definition in the comfort and convenience of their living rooms. And many will be encouraged to bet more on-line with money saved from transportation/parking, food/beverage and admission/seating costs.
Raising prices on the latter is the best promotion for staying home.
Many observers agree that year-round live racing has already reduced the game’s specialness and eliminated the anticipatory excitement that seasonal venues experience.
And now the reverence normally observed for championship-level sport is being squandered by squeezing several month’s of stakes racing into a single weekend.
Worse, multiple events could cannibalize racing’s glamour division. Why risk siphoning off any three-year-olds from a possible Belmont Stakes run?
Both the G1 Metropolitan Handicap and especially the G2 Brooklyn Handicap likely would be better positioned after the Belmont, positioning it closer to the Whitney. The Met Mile might attract top three-year-olds prepping for the Haskell and/or Travers as well.
And I’ve always why there was no tie-in between last year’s Belmont Stakes winners and this year’s Brooklyn, a natural extension for Elmont-loving three year olds to return for some big money at four?
Is this year’s Brooklyn capable of attracting a field worthy of $200K, much less $500K? And will hiking the Met Mile purse from $750K to $1.25M adversely affect the handicap division nationwide? When will the competitive madness between racetracks end? (Since racing is more regional than national in scope, it appears that answer is never).
Raising the Belmont Stakes purse will prove to be a waste unless the Derby and Preakness winners both show up. And wouldn’t the race be better served if the winner of a Louisville-Baltimore rubber match be eligible for a bonus? Speaking of bonuses, shouldn’t the Triple Crown bonus scheme be reprised? In my opinion, no undercard race not named Breeders’ Cup deserves a $1M purse.
The purse elevations of the Manhattan, Ogden Phipps (even with Beholder and Princess Of Sylmar), and Acorn seem particularly unreasonable. What works for Breeders’ Cup doesn’t really have practical applications anywhere else.
Since management is willing to “experiment” with the allocation of slots revenue, why not try lowering effective takeout for on-track bettors rather than further subsidize the wealthiest owners? This could be achieved in either of two ways: paying a 10% bonus to on-track winners or selling one-day use betting vouchers at a 10% discount on-track.
Would any drop in revenue from a lower takeout come even close to the added infusion of cash into the purse accounts, with or without a Triple Crown bid?
Isn’t it ironic that the maximum takeout in Kentucky is lower without slots than New York is with them?
The Triple Crown trail through the Classics demonstrates the value of making horses recognizable to the general public. So, too, would the game benefit from additional divisional series that rewards consistent multiple performances against one another through a bonus program instead of bestowing higher financial rewards one race at a time.
Stacking 10 stakes on Belmont Day does not constitute a mini-Breeders Cup day or even a mini-Jockey Gold Cup day. In my opinion it’s a hastily concocted hedge against the absence of a Triple Crown attempt that does little to eliminate dependence on slots revenue and an unhealthy distribution of funds. Overvaluing races while undervaluing customers only reinforces the organization’s imperial image the Governor once indicated he would eradicate.
No decision of this magnitude could have been made without approval from the Governor’s inner circle, and I wonder if this plan truly was supported by feedback from the Racing Fan Advisory Council, the formation of which was an early attempt by Team Cuomo “regulators to consider more than just the views of owners, trainers and breeders.”
If nothing else, this decision has generated a lot of commentary that has raised the visibility of Belmont Stakes Day in February without spending any money at all. Is this is the wave of the future: marketing through controversy; customer acquisition by provocation? Horseplayers can’t always be organized but can easily be antagonized.
Written by Indulto
Monday, January 27, 2014
The Day the Musings Died
LOS ANGELES, CA, January 27, 2014— Even before we could recover from renowned handicapping theorist and practitioner Cary Fotias’s untimely departure, Paul Moran’s recent passing at 66 reminded many of us eligible for Medicare how short early retirement can be.
News reports indicated that the gifted turf writer left with the dignity of awareness, and in the presence of some who shared significant moments of his life and appreciated his worth. That’s crossing the finish line as a winner, in my book.
By definition, to muse is to “say something in a thoughtful and questioning way.”
The thoroughbred racing musings of Paul Moran often differed from those of his contemporaries in both tone and detail. He frequently appeared independent of the authority others seemed subservient to.
Perhaps some of those still surviving wonder whether that was achieved through abundant will power or the absence of concern for consequences.
I’ll remember Mr. Moran as a professional who was very kind to an anonymous amateur whom he had unknowingly inspired. His words weren’t just enlightening and entertaining, they were enriching like art. Some musicians are gifted with perfect pitch ... Paul Moran produced perfect prose.
Until I began reading his work a little more than a decade ago, I’d never felt the urge to write creatively. The Internet enabled access here on the West Coast to those Newsday articles from the East Coast, and eventually facilitated contact as well.
Indeed, one of the more compelling aspects of the switch from the print medium to cyberspace has been the ability of readers to interact with authors.
While some bloggers appear to embrace communication with their audience, it seemed to me that Mr. Moran had little enthusiasm for it. His public responses were an exercise in economy of expression. Even private responses I received were succinct and to the point.
In 2008, I submitted several opinion pieces for his blog’s Weekend Guest feature. After initially requesting a bio, he published them all after very brief acknowledgements. He became only slightly more expansive when I later thanked him for giving me credibility with other bloggers.
Some of his own pieces that he posted on his blog were published here at HRI, where he was featured along with other talented turf writers including Bill Christine, John Pricci, and Vic Zast. Moran previewed the comments on his own site, but the freedom of speech at this one too often rewarded him with petty abuse. He stayed above it all, publicly, and ignored his detractors.
Having since learned how it feels when they “shoot the messenger,” it was with great satisfaction that I saw my personal admiration for his work so widely mirrored in the myriad of comments throughout cyberspace in the month following his passing.
What I felt was missing from early accolades, however, was appreciation for his fearlessness in expressing disdain for circumstances and individuals that detracted from the game’s integrity and stability. Without writers like Moran to help hold the line, racing’s propensity for self-inflicted damage might have reached critical mass even sooner.
Eventually I encountered a piece by Michael Veitch who wrote the following while noting Moran’s death in the Saratogian
: “A veteran of the war in Vietnam, he loved New York racing and always saw the big picture, while never hesitating to criticize those whom he felt were not working in its best interests.”
In his book “Six Weeks in Saratoga,” HRI blogger Brendan O’Meara’s description of a news conference held by then CEO Charles Hayward included this reference to Moran:
‘The closer to New York, the grouchier the racing press gets. Hayward thought that award–winning columnist Paul Moran, formerly of Newsday, used to puncture him. Moran sliced into NYRA after the 2005 Belmont Stakes that NYRA “almost gleefully picks the pockets of those who remain interested in actually attending the races on days when they sense a demand.”
Hayward said, “We are always reluctant to raise our prices.” To which Moran continued, “Can NYRA completely mess up Saratoga too? Tough assignment, but not out of the realm of possibility.”’
I can only imagine Moran’s response to new NYRA CEO Chris Kay’s recent announcement of planned admission price increases at Saratoga and Belmont. The photographs of Moran were not always flattering but I‘m far more likely to remember the pictures he painted with his words. I hope he was a Don McLean fan, and allow me this:
As drug-free racing horsemen forsake
While states impose excessive take
A player couldn’t get a fair shake
The day the musings died
So I’ll be singin’ bye-bye, All-American Guy
With the lighting in your writing
One could read the truth by
The glimpses you gave of those sitting on high
Proved that changing the status quo we must try
Even more musings
: Discussion here can become addictive, the real danger being the possibility of deluding oneself that horseplayers can be motivated to join together in sufficient numbers to effect changes in racing’s status quo to their common benefit.
It would seem that old horseplayer advocates don’t fade away, they have to be carried out; especially since we have more to say as age advances. After several years of regular and sometimes adversarial interaction with featured bloggers and fellow readers in the comments section here, I submitted an opinion piece to HRI’s Executive Editor, Mr. Pricci. Fortunately for me he not only has extended me the same kindness that his friend and colleague had but his own friendship as well.
I wanted to find out if support could be mustered at HRI to influence long-needed change to Kentucky Derby eligibility rules. The project evolved into a weekly comparison of proposed points-based eligibility rankings with the existing one based on earnings as the qualifying process proceeded along the road to the 2012 Triple Crown.
Our efforts ultimately were rewarded when Churchill Downs decided to replace its earnings-based eligibility system with a points-based system of their own design.
Of course, we can only speculate as to the extent we actually influenced this action but hopefully it will encourage others to step forward here and keep the recreational player’s perspective in front of racing’s leadership.
This forum needs continually fresh ideas, and those with the topics, tools, and training should take the opportunity to do so. I believe devoted, recreational fans can make a difference.
In a game that depends upon diversity of opinion, shouldn’t there be more horseplayers seeking a debate than a rebate?
Written by Indulto
Saturday, December 07, 2013
What New York Needs Is… Its Own Triple Crown?
LOS ANGELES, December 6, 2013—New York Governor Cuomo took his lumps recently when he referred to Aqueduct as a “waste;” reviving speculation that the Ozone Park facility would be closed and its racing operation transferred to Belmont Park 10 miles away.
Whether the State maintains two tracks or three, NYRA must offer its patrons a new approach to the racing experience that deploys those facilities to their best advantage.
The sprawling Elmont plant, which contains the only 12-furlong oval in North America, is capable of hosting crowds exceeding 100,000 but it hasn’t filled to capacity since 2008. Such happenstances are limited to attempts to win the Triple Crown; an average of twice per decade since Affirmed in 1978.
Races around both turns of the huge dirt track are rare, and those at 10 furlongs which are forced to start on the clubhouse turn are even rarer. Inadequate maintenance of that section of the track recently compromised the start of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Could this be another obstacle besides weather and politics to prevent Belmont from hosting the Breeders’ Cup; a situation that further devalues the venue? Is there another head-turning option out there?
Belmont as a destination will always suffer in comparison to Saratoga. Ironically, Aqueduct is now located right next to a thriving casino whose clientele represent potential horse race bettors at an upgraded facility that shares its subway access.
So why prefer an isolated location whose physical layout makes one-turn routes out of many distances run around two turns almost everywhere else? Real estate property values for one; those who don’t understand this concept—namely politicians—another.
Going forward with only an outdated, underused property doesn’t seem practical without first demonstrating the ability to reverse declining on-track attendance in the face of growing off-track participation.
The decision is probably best delayed until a future private-sector bidder makes a proposal.
The State’s intention to privatize racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct in the near future, without current VLT revenue, will require innovation to increase the value of its franchise. Thus far, vision has proven myopic.
One opportunity to consider would be to take control of the Triple Crown by offering an alternate path that would increase the likelihood that a potential champion contests the Belmont Stakes. With equine safety consciousness on the rise, the timing is right to challenge the perception of what the Triple Crown represents.
Why shouldn’t any “qualified” three-year-old who, in confirmed graded company, wins at 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May – and then successively at 9.5 and 12 furlongs within eight
weeks be deemed a Triple Crown champion?
Purists insist that the five week duration is sacrosanct, that changing the spacing between legs would make it easier to win. Doesn’t it make sense, however, that 4 weeks rest between each leg would enable more contestants to deliver their best effort, thus making it more difficult?
The Triple Crown tournament is limited to the 20 horses that can fit in two starting gates, but why should the contests be limited to the same venues. Isn’t accomplishment more essential than logistics?
Churchill Downs broke with tradition last year by forcing Derby participants to compete in a smaller subset of prep races, giving greater weight to those scheduled within six weeks of the event.
Of course, if the Derby winner is not up to winning the Preakness two weeks later or does but is unable to compete again three weeks after that, the Belmont Stakes becomes significantly less-than, and Churchill management couldn’t care less.
This spring, would Orb have fared better in the Preakness with more rest? Could I’ll Have Another have avoided injury with more time between starts? Would Bodemeister have been more effective with three races in seven weeks than in five?
Where is it written that the road to the Triple Crown must
only go through Louisville and Baltimore?
It has been posited that the main obstacle to moving the Preakness back even a week is that Pimlico would lose the heavy college student that has returned home. But what if the “new NYRA” proposed a second path to the Triple Crown, a New York-based path?
The key to an alternate New York path would be a weighted bonus structure for multiple top-four finishes in the series, generating greater earnings for most participants. Once the series catches on, bonuses could be extended to Derby and Preakness runners as well.
New York needs to do something dramatic, something different, and it doesn’t have to be limited to equine participants. Rather than raise admission prices to increase revenue, the NYTC could feature, say, a customer-friendly dollar-minimum Pick Six. Any carryover from the previous day would be suspended and payouts mandated for the Saturday pool only. Try it on a limited basis and see if it bumps attendance. Look outside the box.
Expanded use of Saratoga seems unavoidable if a downstate track is closed. Perhaps two shorter meetings replacing the existing one might work, but only with the town’s support, of course.
Since the area is as beautiful in May as it is in August, a Spa spring meet might prove an attractive launching site for a New York Triple Crown, encompassing a reconfigured Jerome or Dwyer and concluding with the Travers.
Written by Indulto