Thursday, August 15, 2013
Let All Finish Cary’s Unfinished Advocacy
LOS ANGELES, August 13, 2013--When Cary Fotias passed away recently at age 60, horseplayer advocates lost their best-known and arguably most inspirational and popular leader. He was also the third -- and youngest -- contributing member of the Horseplayers Association of North America to pass away before their goals could be achieved. The late Richard Bauer was 70 in 2011; Roger Way, last year, was 75.
Last week, HRI Executive Editor, John Pricci, wrote a heartfelt piece after attending the memorial service for his friend and shared how they got together
Another writer/friend attending that service added to the picture, "The Loudest, Brashest Horseplayer of Them All
". That piece reminded me of one I had read earlier about the Equiform
operation at the Times Ledger
My own interaction with Mr. Fotias was limited to exchanging comments with him at HRI but I was always impressed by his contributions here and elsewhere in cyberspace.
Cary’s larger than life personality referred to by those who knew him is apparent in this video:
What I discovered and learned from his views on HRI was how horseplayers are adversely affected by racing's leadership.
In my view, the following six blog pieces and comments which spanned five years are mandatory reading for those interested in what he stood for as a player representative.
(1) July, 2007 "Well, Here I Go Again
" by Cary Fotias
(2) July, 2007 "Declaration of Horseplayer Independence
" by Cary Fotias
(3) June, 2009 "If Tracks Had Access …
" by Cary Fotias
(4) September, 2010 "Get Out the Lifeboats
" by Bill Christine
Comments #47, #72 by Cary Fotias
(5) March, 2011 "McKinsey $1,000,000, Horseplayers 0
" by Cary Fotias
(6) June, 2012 "State of the Game Address
" by Cary Fotias
Fotias as activist will probably be best remembered for his "Declaration of Horseplayer Independence":
"... We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all horseplayers are endowed with certain unalienable rights, that among these are market-driven takeout rates, ... and the embracing of new technologies that could make it easy to bet on any race, anywhere, at anytime."
(7) September, 2009 "An Interview with Cary Fotias
" by Michael Veitch.
In October, 2008, Fotias joined HANA as an advisory board member. He explained his motivation in this interview with "The Saratogian": "I think it has a chance to make some changes. I am on the advisory board and I think if I am going to complain I ought to get involved this way."
"... If we fail to take action and don't make our voices heard loud and clear, we'll continue to be considered degenerate gamblers who will play under any circumstances."
When asked to comment on rebates, Fotias said, '"…My return on investment would actually be higher if I didn't get rebates. It's a subtle point. If I just play selected races with good prices, my return is higher. But my absolute dollar return is higher when I bet thousands of races and get the rebate on my high volume.
However, Fotias insisted that lowering the pari-mutuel tax is a "universal rebate."
Contrast the preceding remarks with some he included a few months earlier in his comment #17 from HRI blog piece #3: "... TAKEOUT REDUCTION IS A UNIVERAL REBATE and should be pursued at all costs. The smaller bettor is at a competitive disadvantage with his larger-volume counterpart and the gap needs to be closed NOW.
“As a rebate player, one might think I would be somewhat indifferent about takeout rates since the lower rebates I would get as a result of lower takeout rates would be offset by an almost identical decrease in takeout, for a net effect of zero. But the reason I am such a vocal proponent of lower rates is that it would keep less skilled players of all bankroll sizes in the game longer. This means more profit for the really top players and much better "entertainment value" for weaker players.
“... Rebating will probably never end, but its effect would be severely dampened by significant takeout reduction. Very good customers should get special treatment, but not at the expense of other players...
“It will take a concerted effort by all constituencies involved to make [lower takeout] happen. And the constituency that has the best opportunity to make it happen is the [PLAYER himself]. SPEAK (vociferously) NOW, or forever hold your peace. ..."
I believe the above response reflected recognition that a combined horseplayers’ voice has to represent minnows as well as whales, and that Fotias’ confidence that he could beat the game without a subsidy allowed him to champion that position.
Almost two years later in a blog piece, comment #5, Fotias lamented, "HANA ... is a great resource for players and it's a shame that after a couple of years it has only 2,000 members. Nobody is going to fight this fight for us. Horseplayers are going to have to do it themselves. It's an uphill battle for sure, but it would nice to have 100,000 troops on the wagering front."
Fotias spearheaded an effort to make the 4% takeout Pick-4 at player friendly Ellis Park a success and conveyed his frustration at HRI when that didn’t happen Comment #1:
"... I am ashamed to say that my fellow horseplayers have not yet supported [the ELP Pick-4] with the handle it deserves...
“... Chasing big Pick-6 payouts provides a lot of entertainment value and, once in a blue moon, a life-changing score. But day-in and day-out, it is LOWER TAKEOUT RATES that will keep us in action and give skilled handicappers a real chance to win in the long run. ...
... Are you tired of horseplayer/handicappers being referred to as bums and compulsive gamblers? Here's your chance to show the powers that be what we are really all about. We love the intellectual stimulation of handicapping and, when coupled with the majesty of the thoroughbred, we are playing the greatest game in the world. We will not all die broke. But certainly many of us will give up playing the game seriously if takeout rates and other issues are not seriously addressed in the not too distant future. ..."
While Fotias was able to attract serious students of the game to the cause, his efforts on behalf of an overwhelming majority of less successful players has fallen on deaf ears. Recruiting from this group will require a different approach. In August, 2012 here, I wrote "Rebates v Takeout: On Leveling the Playing Field.
" [Comment #1 by Cary Fotias].
Last year, he encouraged me to keep fighting for a level playing field. Indeed, he was one of the few rebated players I’ve encountered on-line who seemed to understand that horseplayers won't get respect if they don't give it to each other. Diversity of opinion drives this game but we have to resolve the differences that deny us a collective voice.
Hopefully, it’s not too late to reset our top collective priorities to match those Fotias identified: 1) lowering direct takeout for all while ensuring equal return on investment for all, 2) obtaining recognition of horseplayers as industry stakeholders, and 3) establishing a central racing authority.
It would honor the late horseplayer advocate if HANA were to take the lead in that direction. A more inclusive leadership focused on expanding the membership might attract the numbers necessary to give horseplayers the kind of united voice that Cary Fotias envisioned.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, July 28, 2013
On Staggering the Stakes Schedule
LOS ANGELES, July 19, 2013—Horseplayer advocates were amused when the http://pullthepocket.blogspot.com/2013/07/upside-down.html"
target="_new">Pull The Pocket Blogger asked who his readers thought said the following: "… I want to discuss … your future and what it depends on. It is more than about the money, it is about the customer. Your future depends on how many people are coming to the track and how many people are coming to the track and betting. … Everyone, collectively, has to think about how you attract bettors and customers to the track and regain interest in the industry."
My question to HRI readers is "What is most likely to bring you out to the track?" In my case, it’s the appearance of racing’s equine and riding stars facing one another in large, competitive fields and the opportunity to get together with friends.
This new focus on customer satisfaction comes on the heels of another failed opportunity for crowd-pleasing competition on the last Hollywood Gold Cup ever when many customers, on-track and off, bemoaned the five-horse fields that "headline" Saturday’s cards virtually everywhere.
Traditional divisional scheduling conflict has always cannibalized the best races, the handicap division usually hit the hardest. Recently, smaller foal crops have exacerbated the problem, especially considering commercial breeding prefers brilliance to stamina and soundness.
For years, turf writers and horseplayers have called for industry cooperation in coordinating divisional events that would create more competitive contests with larger fields – the time-tested tonic for anemic attendance and handle. The latest to do so was Bill Finley
, who stated the problem as follows:
"There aren't nearly enough good horses around to be able to have so many major stakes at so many different racetracks and hope to attract the type of fields with quantity and quality that customers demand."
Then the writer offered this possible solution:
"Once a month, and once a month only from January through October, racing will have a mini-Breeders' Cup Day.
… There will be one championship race per month for every division … The races will all be Grade 1's and no one will be allowed to schedule any other major races with big purses to compete with the championship events.
… The championship events will be held on the same day but at two racetracks."
He further proposed that "By getting rid of [races such as] the Suburban and so many other stakes races across the year, the NYRA could afford to make all of its races on championship days with huge pots."
I’m not convinced that staggering stakes races by itself is sufficient to attract increased trainer participation. I believe the current mindset of extended rest between starts and large barns avoiding competition between stablemates needs to be countered not only with fewer black-type opportunities but also with incentives that reward horses capable of high-level performances across multiple events rather than one-hit-wonders.
In essence that would involve 1) reducing the purses of all graded stakes to specified minimums for grade level adjusted by field size, and 2) allocating the remainder to bonuses that reward top-four-finishes in specific multiple-stakes sequences on a sliding scale.
An additional grade level -- Grade Zero (G0), perhaps -- would reflect the top level of open competition, e.g., the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Breeders’ Cup Classic, Turf, Mile, Sprint, and eventually perhaps the Dirt Mile and Turf Sprint. The remaining Breeders’ Cup races would remain G1 or below, as would prep races for the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup.
It seems to me that Finley’s multiple mini-Breeders’ Cup days at more than one venue would dilute enthusiasm for the concept as surely as expanding the original single-day’s card into two days with overlapping divisions diluting the competition. What would the attraction be for the remaining weekends and holidays each month? The handicapping puzzle can be enhanced by an undercard of varying levels of races with competitive if not full fields, but only a hard core player would stick to a non-stakes diet day after day.
Single-venue stakes buffets like Haskell Day or Jockey Gold Cup Day are already served prior to Breeders’ Cup Fridays. It could be argued that Travers Day and Pacific Classic Day already function like back-to-back mini-Breeders’ Cup days.
In lieu of monthly mini-Cup days, Grade 1s for each non-juvenile division could be organized into one or more bonus-incentivized three-race series with one culminating in a Cup event. Each divisional series should then be scheduled independently within a ninety-day window to ensure top-quality racing on a weekly basis throughout the year.
Consider the following non-overlapping possibilities for the Classic division with some creative rescheduling:
1) Clark H.(Nov)--Awesome Again S.(Jan)--Donn H.(Feb)
2) Santa Anita H.(Mar)--Cigar Mile(Apr)--Metropolitan H.(May)
3) Stephen Foster H.(Jun)—Whitney(Aug)
4) Woodward(Sep)--Jockey Club Gold Cup(Oct)--BC Classic(Nov)
A series for the Turf division might include:
5) Gulfstream Park Turf H.--Woodford Reserve Turf Classic--Manhattan H.
6) Arlington Million--Joe Hirsch Turf Classic--BC Turf
The following are viable candidates for the Mile division:
7) Frank Kilroe Mile--Maker’s Mark Mile--Shoemaker Mile.
8) Woodbine Mile--Shadwell Turf Mile--BC Mile
The Sprint Division could be represented by the following:
9) Santa Anita Sprint Champ.--Triple Bend H.--Bing Crosby S.
10) Vanderbilt H.--Vosburgh Inv.--BC Sprint
The reader is encouraged to check out this sortable spreadsheet
and come up with examples of their own for other divisions.
My other question to HRI readers is "What would induce you to watch and wager on thoroughbred races almost every Saturday?" For me it would be the opportunity for a relatively large payoff on races I enjoy analyzing without having to risk amounts that would take me out of the game too early if I got off to a slow start.
How about a multi-venue, all-graded-stakes, non-carryover Pick Six every weekend televised as a one-hour broadcast?
Imagine the popularity of such a product nationwide with low-takeout and a 25-Cent minimum wager--a dime minimum could be made available at tracks with live racing starting 30 minutes prior to the first leg. No need for life-changing scores, just inspirational reward for inspired handicapping.
Expanding the visibility of the best racing while creating additional opportunities for enrichment should expand the number of promotable winners. Free on-line Past Performance for these raves, together with early bird betting available at least two days in advance, would stimulate participation. The increased positive exposure should lead to greater awareness, interest, and enthusiasm for the game. No one track or state can do this on its own.
Racing needs a new perspective. Somewhat ironically, the Blood-Horse stakes calendar now reflects the rescheduling of the G2 Hawthorne Gold Cup from an unproductive Classic prep to Thanksgiving weekend in conflict with the G1 Cigar Mile--a race that already competes for runners with the G1 Clark. I assume they expect to attract a few Classic also-rans, but the possibility of a Grade 1 win elsewhere might prove irresistible.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
Beware the Invasion of the Track Snatchers
LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2013--In his recent redirection of attention
, Vic Zast focused on the planned consolidation and privatization of racing in New York state: "There’s a franchise to sell … the media should ask questions, e.g. was Kay’s appointment impacted by New York’s very public decision to replace NYRA with a private operator in three years?
… If [Kay’s] bonus provides standards connected to maximize an end result when time rolls around to get Frank Stronach or Churchill Downs to step in – watch how quickly the tracks get a facelift."
This is a good time to recall that the last time those two titans tried to "step in," slots revenue was still the primary attraction for would-be track operators. Churchill Downs Inc. and the Stronach Group allegedly were represented by a group called "Friends of New York Racing" (FONYR), which later morphed into a bidding entity called "Empire Racing Associates."
That organization had the blessing of the powerful former State Senator Joseph Bruno, now a convicted felon. Once it was clear that the anti-NYRA confederation was not going to succeed, CDI and Magna backed away.
Some think that Stronach lost any chance of acquiring Saratoga following his appearance
before the State’s "Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing" early in 2006, and that any attempt on his part to do so would be futile. At the time, Stronach advocated separating racing from slot franchise bidding. Actually, that’s exactly what New York State wound up doing.
Any protection for Saratoga from Mr. Stronach’s vision might lie in strong and sensible historical landmark safeguards. But will the present Governor and legislature step up and create them? And who will enforce this as time marches on? Wouldn’t the master of bankruptcy manipulation likely find ways around it anyway?
If procurement procedures such as those policed by NYRA watchdogs fulfill their promise of fairness and neutrality, how can a court-savvy owner of several successful corporations including racetracks be denied ownership of an entity he seems eminently qualified to operate?
As for Saratoga, which belongs to the sport as much as it does New York racing, there’s more than just the physical plant and ambiance to consider. Will the focus be on improving the racing product or increasing the venue’s luxury accommodations? Will high takeout rates continue to punish non-professionals while masking rebates that reward high-volume professional? Will exotic wager minimums be reduced to allow all customers to compete on a level playing field?
As for CDI, their attitude toward Florida horsemen is now on display for all of New York to see, as is the chilling result of their willingness to sell Hollywood Park to a land developer and the emasculation of the Illinois Derby. The success of their only non-slots property is solely due to Kentucky Derby weekend.
And what does the current free-for-all between South Florida’s two formidable rivals say about the wisdom of having either company operate racetracks in New York, anyway?
If and when the properties put up for grabs again, the current franchise operator likely will be one of the bidders. Kay just told the Daily News
that he ’… will rely on the expertise of his own team of employees, who are well-versed in the sport. "There’s already a great team here," he said. "But I’m going to bring in a variety of talented people and promote and encourage the talented people we have… somebody with that racing experience very well may be one of those people."’
Under the present legal structure, the question becomes can this group legally form a private company? Despite the obvious déjà vu
of it all, what else could successfully motivate such "talented" people to increase attendance and handle, extending their careers in the process?
It seems that in the absence of gaming’s involvement, there will have to be a partnering of racing stakeholders. Wouldn’t it be great if that entity finally included horseplayers, at least as stockholders. Can you conjure up a horseplayer who represents bettors sitting on the new NYRA board?
Let’s face it. New York’s racing elite became obsolete when they permitted their Sport of Kings to become the Gambol of Governors. Now the pastime that still can’t even coordinate post times is in danger of becoming more remote, strictly recreation for retirees and rest home residents that can hardly remember when racing was run rationally.
Written by Indulto