Sunday, October 13, 2013
Nothing Exceeds Like Excess
Los Angeles, October 11, 2013--Even as stamina has decreased among thoroughbreds, it has apparently increased among horseplayers as simulcasting extended their play from coast to coast, and expanded their day by three hours at the back end. Time on the front end also increased for those whose handicapping is not automated.
The graded stakes smorgasbord introduced by the Breeders' Cup (BC) whet players' appetites for sequences of large, competitive fields prone to producing profitable plays on pick-able longshots; a phenomenon unmatched even by the undercards for the three year-old classics.
The attention paid to the BC came at the expense of several traditional fall graded fixtures that previously determined the equine recipients of Eclipse awards but which now function largely as preps.
Many of these are among the 47 North American races designated as "Win-And-You're-In” (WAYI) events, guaranteeing the winner a starting berth in the corresponding divisional race, along with the entry fee and travel expenses.
In all, 31 WAYI races out of a total 65 graded stakes were scheduled from September 7 and ending this weekend, including 21 Grade 1s.
The preps most likely to produce BC winners were run during the first two of five weekends. Weekend #1 included one, 11, and four preps on Fri., Sat., and Sun., respectively, and two, 14, and six on weekend #2.
The premier preps, of course, were hosted by industry giants Belmont Park, Santa Anita and Keeneland, with the first two staging 11 WAYI events, 10 of them G1s. “Super Saturday,” indeed.
If the all-you-can-bet buffet can be hyped as "Super," then perhaps last weekend should be called "Stupefying" since the status of several equine stars did not shine in the prep spotlight:
Sweet Reason, Strong Mandate, Obviously, Groupie Doll, and Golden Scents all lost as favorites, and Wise Dan's Horse of the Year candidacy took a major hit, off-the-turf conditions notwithstanding.
These attempts to replicate the appeal of the Breeders’ Cup all at once result in smaller fields and less attendance. Scheduling duplicate divisions on the same day always dilutes fields. Owners and trainers may like it; bettors not so much.
In "Super Saturday is too much of a good thing
," HRI blogger Tom Jicha made a good point when he wrote, "[NYRA] finally managed to bottom itself with the Thursday Pick 4, combining the last two in New York with the first two at Penn National, a track that might as well be Assiniboia Downs to Big Apple players.
Yet with an opportunity to link four championship caliber races on the biggest day of the fall outside the Breeders' Cup, NYRA and Santa Anita did nothing. Why?"
Why indeed? Thirty-six preps were run on those six prep days. And why not offer a multi-venue Pick Six on each day? Such a horizontal wager could be completed in an hour without compromising opportunities for those coming out to the track to get a closer look at the champions as I do.
Using the Classic division as an example, couldn't the Jockey Gold Cup and the Awesome Again be run on separate weekends to offer different rest periods--as well as distances--while also enabling unintended defections to compete the following week?
Here are just two examples of how something like that could work; showcasing the marquee events while also providing a stage for each division. (Perhaps entire weekends—Friday through Sunday—could be devoted to the Breeders’ Cup fall preps. It could prove a marketing bonanza to the host tracks as well as creating special events for the simulcast audience:
SA:*G1-Chandelier -- Juvenile Fillies – 8.5 f
SA:*G1-FrontRunner – Juvenile – 8.5 f
REM: G3-Oklahoma Derby -- Classic -- 9 f
BEL:*G1-Beldame – Distaff – 9 f
BEL:*G1-J.Hirsch Turf Classic – Turf – 12 f T
BEL:*G1-Jockey Club Gold Cup – Classic – 10 f
HAW: G3-Hawthorne Derby – Turf/Mile – 9 f T
IND: G2-Indiana Derby – Classic – 9 f
KEE:*G2-Thoroughbred Club of America – F&M Sprint – 7 f
KEE:*G1-Shadwell Turf Mile – Mile – 1 m T
SA:*G1-Zenyatta – Distaff – 8.5 f
SA:*G1-Awesome Again – Classic – 9 f
*denotes WAYI preps
Players will only return to the tracks on a regular basis for better wagering value and/or an experience that beats staying at home. (A Breeders' Cup Prep Pick Six could have a 50-Cent minimum but with incentives to come out to see the live product).
Additionally, this can provide an excellent opportunity to test a voucher system proposed by cyber-commenter Kyle: On-track bettors could purchase non-refundable discount vouchers for concessions and/or wagering in designated pools.
Such vouchers could also apply to enhanced seating, including multi-purpose rooms providing patrons with amenities such as wireless ear pieces capable of switching between Sunday’s NFL telecasts.
In retrospect, there appeared to be too little cooperation between tracks, leading to fewer people betting fewer horses in too many races over too long a period, subverting the success that should have rewarded the tracks that enable the best equine athletes to compete against one another.
“Super Race Days” are good for the business and for the sport’s fans. But there should be a concerted effort to maximize exposure over the short term as opposed to glutting the market all at once.
Written by Indulto
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