Tuesday, October 01, 2013
It’s Never Too Early to Think Triple Crown
Los Angeles, September 29, 2013—It’s said that everybody loves a lover … or a winner!
The latter case seemed to apply when Florida thoroughbred breeders recently embraced Gulfstream Park, and helped to tighten its choke hold on Calder Race Course with yet another race-napping of FL-bred events; this time absconding with the entire card scheduled for November 9th.
This clash of racing conglomerates in the Sunshine State keeps delivering opportunities for parody and sarcasm.
The Stronach Group (TSG) may not yet have completed its conquest of Calder but previous competition from Hollywood Park was eliminated when the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) formally extended Santa Anita’s 2014 winter meet through the end of June. Thus Santa Anita now can host huge crowds on its three days of live racing bouyed by Triple Crown event simulcasts.
Who thinks the undeniable bad blood between Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI) and TSG will go away with the end of CDI racing operations at Calder? We’ve already seen CDI’s tendency to hold a grudge when it effectively took Hawthorne off the Derby Trail.
Might Churchill Downs withhold its simulcast signal [read Kentucky Derby here] from Santa Anita racetrack? Would TSG answer that salvo by offering a very rich race for three-year-olds on the first Saturday in May? Anything is possible when corporations collide.
CDI is likely less concerned with developing a Triple Crown than maximizing revenue on Derby day and in Derby preps at CDI-owned racetracks. It enjoys the attention their classic gets but privately it likely to care less if Derby non-winners soldier on to Pimlico and, of course, the air rushes out of Belmont’s balloon if the first two legs of the series are split.
In the first year of the new Derby eligibility rules, a different horse won all three TC legs. By forcing most starters to perform well in races run 3-5 weeks prior to the Derby the likelihood of a formful Derby winner may have increased but it made the challenge to come back two weeks later tougher than it already is now.
The only motivation for CDI to be more interested in the success of the entire series is if it becomes the successful bidder when the NYRA franchise is made available and, by extension, the Belmont Stakes, in 2015. But would TSG dare get in a bidding war for the NYRA?
In my opinion, TSG is the stronger candidate because with both the Preakness and Belmont under its control, it would be in a position to experiment with spacing between TC events.
I had always opposed this notion on principle until I noticed that the gritty Moreno kept his form over six races in the course of 20 weeks, including a blanket finish in the Travers against the likes of fully matured Will Take Charge, Belmont winner Palace Malice and Derby hero Orb.
I researched the amount of rest this year's classics winners had between starts and now believe the minimum time afforded any Triple Crown aspirant should be four weeks. At least, serious consideration should be given to moving both the Preakness and the Belmont back one week. The study also took into consideration major races in the summer through "Super Saturday" weekend.
It all comes down to whether one prefers to see all Triple Crown contestants prepared to deliver their best effort in each leg, or wait decades more for a modern-day freak of nature to emerge that's capable of maximum exertion in four races--including the final preps-- from nine to 12 furlongs over a two-and-a-half month period.
And there is another matter to consider, the one about "doing what's best for the horse" that we keep hearing so much about.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, September 22, 2013
The Return of Multi-Race Exotics, Television, and Racing’s Future
Los Angeles, September 17, 2013-- Though seemingly skeptical regarding the success of the new Thursday-only Belmont-Penn National Pick Four wager, Steven Crist embraced a disappearing concept that has disappointed in the past.
In a recent DRF column
he wrote, "...it's a glaring omission that there's no national pick-whatever bet combining the top races from around the country every Saturday afternoon. Giving people what they want at a price that makes them feel like they're getting a break - that sounds dangerously close to a winning business strategy."
Insufficient industry cooperation and support combined with regulatory intransigence have been the downfall of several previous attempts to implement multi-track horizontal wagers; specifically 1) the TRA National Best Seven (1994-1996), 2) the NTRA National Pick Three (2002, 2003), 3) the NTRA National Pick Six (2003), and 4) the NTRA National Pick Four (2004-2006).
The definitive coverage of the Best Seven at both its start
was provided by Andrew Beyer, but one of his conclusions doesn't hold up today and is a bit self-serving: "... the organizers of the Best Seven subverted ... possibilities [for excitement]. By setting the unit of the wager at 50 cents, they reduced the size of the payoffs and made it too easy for bettors to cover too many possibilities."
Indeed, the Pick Five has proven that 50 cents is not only a workable minimum--even with two less races since its inception at Monmouth in 2007--but the wager has proven highly successful in increasing handle.
According to the DRF back in 2003
, the NTRA's Ken Kirchner said, "... the pick six wager is a "trial run" for the NTRA, which has already had measured success offering linked pick three bets during the summer with races televised live on CBS-TV. ... We're pretty hopeful we can get some interest."
Apparently, it wasn't a rousing success as I couldn't find any more about it on Google--and the NTRA offered a National Pick Four from 2004 through 2006.
At the beginning of 2004, the "Magna 5" wager was introduced with a $2 minimum on races at concurrently active MEC tracks -- Laurel, Gulfstream, Santa Anita, and Golden Gate. The minimum was dropped to $1 in 2009, but the wager was last offered in 2010.
For its 2010-2011 winter meet, Gulfstream debuted a 50-cent Pick Five with a 15% takeout; arguably as an alternative for horseplayers preparing to boycott Santa Anita in response to California's legislated takeout increase on exotic wagers. (The subsequent Hollywood Park meet added a 14.3% Pick Five in an unsuccessful effort to stem the losses in California handle that started at Santa Anita).
But while an overall handle decrease could not be avoided, the new wager did take hold. Indeed the pool sizes achieved by the low takeout Pick Five at Hollywood exceeded expectations--thereby enabling its continuation at Del Mar and then the subsequent Santa Anita fall meet.
The success of the wager itself, however, enabled its continuation at Del Mar and then the Santa Anita fall meet. Keeneland apparently saw the value of the bet when it replaced a $2 minimum Pick Six with a 50-Cent Pick Five at its 2012 spring meet.
Unique to Keeneland is the unusually high quality and relatively large fields at its short boutique meets. This situation reputedly stimulates syndicates of non-whales with superior handicapping skills in search of scores, as opposed to tracks in California and New York where fields are predictably smaller.
But the Pick Seven is a different animal.
In 1995, Bob Mieserski, described some of the Best Seven challenges
that still face today's innovators:
"Among the problems ... are a telecast that most of the time is painful to watch and a program of inferior races."
"... it's a struggle to put seven quality races together, and there has been discussion about eliminating a race or two and fitting the show in a half-hour period rather than an hour [which] would be less of an impact on the tracks. ... there's [also] a struggle reaching the TV audience and [bettors on track]. It's hard to get bettors at the track to watch an hour program."
Like Beyer, Mieserski also alluded to late surface changes and scratches as obstacles to be overcome, using alternate selections as opposed to pari-mutuel post time favorites.
Following the inaugural Best Seven, Bill Christine
made this observation: "The Best Seven will have the same effect on racing as an interactive TV betting network will have: It will serve the customers the sport already has. No new fans will come from marketing strategies that preclude actually attending the track and watching live horses."
That's true, of course, but what will it take to focus a potential horseplayer's attention long enough to make him/her consider attending a track for the first time?
A weekly half-hour of fast-paced, live action--involving familiar rivals likely to continue competing against each other--just might do the trick. Obviously, existing players will be doing almost all of the betting, but their enthusiasm and excitement level could become infectious to those watching at home or in restaurants.
A racing telecast would be a perfect opportunity to offer promotional packages to viewers for their first trip to the track, including free admission, complimentary seating, parking, concessions and all-important wagering vouchers. Registration could be performed on-line or by telephone during or after the telecast.
Sadly, racing has been incapable of cooperating to the extent necessary to present high-quality racing frequently enough to generate levels of excitement and interest that might mitigate a decade of decline.
Just as soundness and stamina are steadily eroding the Thoroughbred population, increasing self-interest and stubbornness among American horse owners, breeders, racing executives and regulators haven't helped. If the marriage of wagering excitement and television can't reverse recent history, I can't imagine what will.
Written by Indulto
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Through the Looking Glass? Hardly
LOS ANGELES, September 10, 2013 -- Is the promised transparency at the "New NYRA” headed down the rabbit hole?
Lucky for me blogger Tom Noonan has the constitution to sit through entire NYRA board meetings. I dozed off shortly after NYRA’s CEO started his statement.
That also seems to happen to me at the sound of Bo Derek’s voice when I listen to California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) meetings. Maybe if they had video as well as audio, like New York …
As usual, Noonan pulled no punches
‘"…we first had to sit through Chris Kay’s reading of a prepared statement for almost 40 minutes. …
… Then, with only about five minutes left in the meeting, Skorton asked if "everyone was comfortable" with operating as if there were no VLT revenues …
… I wondered; was I hearing correctly? The Chairman of the Board allows the CEO to drone on for 40 minutes about a host of inconsequential matters then prods every other speaker to move quickly so the meeting can end on time.
Then he drops a bombshell leaving little time for discussion.
Fortunately, not everyone was comfortable with this approach. After several Board members raised legitimate concerns, Skorton allowed "these subtleties are important," and that a "fuller discussion" was warranted.
But he also wants to have that discussion in private while simultaneously stating his commitment to operating in public.
It is a discussion that is necessary and important, which is why it must be conducted in the open. "’
Listening to the replay, it seemed as if much of what was presented to the board could have--and should have--been read beforehand for public discussion.
For example, CFO Susanne Stover’s reporting of 6-month figures included such stats as NYRA’s accounting for 16% of total handle nationwide while paying 12% of U.S. purses over 5% of live racing days. During that period, "every dollar paid in purses generated $15.29 in handle compared with $10.93 industry-wide."
Average field size declined to 7.39 from 7.78, but average betting handle per betting interest increased 6%. Interestingly, none of the preceding stats for any reported period elicited any questions from the board.
Why was there no dialogue as to how these figures relate to NYRA’s net operating loss for the associated period, as well as who were the top three performers according those metrics, to provide needed insight?
Or as Fred Pope posited in his open letter to NYRA: "… As the leading producer of live racing ... [NYRA] has sufficient handle to make a lot of money and restore purses, marketing, staff for live racing and infrastructure.
“But, it cannot achieve its mission to maximize revenue from its races without changing the amount it receives from off-track wagers.
“NYRA exports 5 times more than it imports. Last year the races generated over $1.8 billion in off-track handle. Every 1% increase NYRA earns on its exported races is worth $18 million to its bottom line. … In the short term, NYRA can earn over $100 million in new revenue by solving this distribution problem.
“The huge demand for NYRA races can drive partnerships with other major producers, direct distribution to customers and revised distribution agreements. Anyone saying it cannot be done has the mindset of a bet taker, not a producer …"
Indeed a common internet wagering platform operated by a consortium of tracks could increase revenues for all through lower operating costs, quicker settlements, and a higher share of revenue to each host. Absent a
National Horse Racing Commission (NHRC), however, it seems highly unlikely that such a cooperative venture will emerge.
Suppose either Twinspires or Xpressbet were to become NYRA’s new provider of ADW services. Would that improve the chances of their parent companies becoming the new franchise holders?
One has to wonder whether any NYRA investment in an ADW upgrade -- collective or independent – would be premature prior to privatization.
Near the end of the Board Meeting, one of the "uncomfortable" directors pointed out that the VLT revenue was contractual payment for NYRA’s giving up the land to the State.
Would privatization legally terminate that contractual obligation? Would the same be true of union contracts? If so, no current contractor/service provider should be qualified to bid. The sweep must be clean and the franchise operation entirely separated from State government.
Per usual, Pope left horseplayers out of the equation:"As a non-profit, NYRA returns everything back to the sport, racehorse owners and breeders. As our largest, most-sophisticated market, New York is and always has been Thoroughbred racing’s True North."
A "New North" is needed so that something goes back to bettors as well in the form of a more attractive racing product for all pari-mutuel participants.
Fat chance, of course, but VLT revenue in the next three years should go to fund lower takeout initiatives so that legislators will get the message that parimutuel price-points matter, that less equals more.
So far, the “new NYRA” has been transparent in name only. What’s everybody afraid of?
Full fields with familiar foes featured more frequently is a future racing fans could look forward to.
Written by Indulto