Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Friday, September 03, 2010

Servicing Bettors’ Needs Is the Bottom Line

Unlike the days when I regularly covered racing as a Newsday columnist and its lead handicapper, I’m pretty much a weekend warrior except during the Saratoga race meet.

Wherever I am, Saturday is a Holy Day of Prognostication.

I make no other plans, needing to be at the racetrack or simulcast facility. If I’m not, someone either had the bad taste to get married on a Saturday or I’ve died, in which case I wouldn‘t even be alive in the double.

Saturdays, such as today’s card featuring two Grade 1s; the Woodward, not a great betting race, and the Forego, a real head-scratcher.

Cards that feature high class races generally are more difficult as there generally are not as many easily eliminated no-hopers. Chaos is difficult and time consuming to deal with, but the reward often is more than commensurate with the risk.

I prefer the vertical pools; exactas, trifectas, superfectas. Sorry, no Super 5 spoken here. It’s not that I have an aversion to the “all” button, it’s just that I have too much respect for my bankroll.

Besides, here’s the rule: The cleaner the punch, the better the value.

Because I love playing Monmouth’s 50-Cent Pick 5 with 15 percent takeout, I’ve gotten into the horizontals, mostly late Pick 4s because of the better stock.

But I’ll also look at the Pick 6. If there are two legitimate singles, preferably three, I’m in. Otherwise, I’m like 90 percent of the other players; if I can’t afford the spread, I’m out of the pool.

On Thursday, for instance, I spent $24 chasing the $400,000 carryover. Serious players spent a lot more, of course, wagering $1.5 million in search of a score. Four players did just that, taking down $337K.

Thankfully, players like myself are not limited to one track or one life-changing wager. Players can look at 20 or 25 races from around the country and select from the most promising Pick 4 sequences.

When I first started handicapping professionally, some non-regulars would approach me and say something like “the track wants you to lose.”

I explained two things: If that were true, eventually there would be no fans left to play the game, and that, by definition, the word parimutuel derives from the French meaning “between us.”

So it’s you against me, with the track taking a 20 percent blended rake from everybody. At that rate, parenthetically, it’s a wonder that more players haven’t left the game.

But now it turns out that because of disparate takeout rates in the Pick 6, it’s in the vested interest of New York Racing Association tracks that players lose. To wit:

And that’s because now the track wants you to lose money in the Pick 6 pool. At New York Racing Association tracks, the P6 takeout is 16 percent on non-carryover days; 26 percent on carryover days.

In fairness, at least 25 percent is mandated by the state in all pools combining three of more finish positions, a Pick 3 or greater; Trifecta, Super, etc.

I’m no math whiz, but a 16 percent of a $100,000 non-carryover pool nets the association 16 percent of $75,000, after $25,000 was paid out in Pick 5 consolations.

With a carryover in play the next day, the handle would be, say $400,000, which has been roughly the rule of thumb this meet, 4-1, when chasing a carryover. The track’s cut on the new money bet would amount to over $100,000.

From the track’s perspective, disparate rates for different situations is good business.

But the problem here is that not all Pick 6 winnings are churned back the same way conventional wagers are. Some of it goes to buy a new car or pay the rent.

Further, if the sequence is made too difficult by the placement of the most difficult races on the card in the sequence, the tack can backfire when the cost of spreading becomes too prohibitive, even for the biggest players.

Tracks think that high payouts are a great marketing tool. They’re wrong. Winning is the better tool. Straight wagers and multiples such as doubles and exactas keep players in the game longer; it doesn’t bust them out the way super-exotics do.

But if betting a little to make a lot is the preferred tack, fractional betting has been the players’ best friend. All players, not just the rank and file bettors. Monmouth’s Pick 5 is not an easy bet to cash but it’s been highly successful this year, the product lower takeout and lower cost to wager more comprehensively.

The New York Racing Association, meanwhile, has not embraced fractional wagering, with the exception of the Dime Super. On an Internet chat Thursday, NYRA President Charlie Hayward indicated they are “reviewing fractional wagering on other bets.”

However, he lamented that while Dime Supers have been very popular with NYRA’s customers that it did not increase total wagers on superfectas but that‘s OK because it was “income neutral.”

Hayward then explained what would happen in a Pick 6 scenario but never addressed specifically institution of a 50-Cent Pick 4 or Pick 5, which is not very encouraging to its rank and file customers.

When the NYRA approaches the State Racing and Wagering Board next year with requests it’s unlikely they’ll request anything they don’t believe would help the bottom line. Take care of your loyal customers and the bottom line will take care of itself.

Written by John Pricci

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