Friday, November 21, 2014

Emulating Yonkers Raceway Would Be Good for Thoroughbred Business

PLANTATION, FL, November, 20, 2014--Remember watching the start of this year's Breeders' Cup Classic over and over, trying to pick up exactly when and where the horse beneath #7 orange saddle-cloth crashed into the one wearing the black #6?

In the simulcast era, colored saddle cloths have become indispensable when trying to decipher which of the two horses battling head to head two the wire 10 lengths behind the runaway leader are going to win the photo.

Was it the horse racing on the inside or the outside? Did I win the trifecta? Are those the horses I used to complete the super?

Colored saddle cloths certainly have made it easier for fans and bettors to enjoy horse racing and, for that, Thoroughbred racing owes a debt of gratitude to those who work on the Harness side of the street.

The Standardbred folks introduced the innovation, Thoroughbred racing followed, altering the original color scheme so that the saddle cloths wouldn't match exactly--as if product differentiation were completely necessary.

There has been some talk in Thoroughbred circles recently about using tote boards that display the precise win payoff and a range of prices that the second and third runners-up would pay, depending on the odds.

Harness racing already has been there, down that. A tote board displaying actual payoffs was in use, "where it all began" but now defunct Roosevelt Raceway, a half century ago. Yes, contemporaries, it has been that long.

While it might have existed earlier, the popularity of importing international races into the U.S. got the most visibility with the advent of the Dubai World Cup.

Watching Cigar win the 1996 inaugural from the Hialeah press box was an indelible moment, as it was when Silver Charm got the job done two years later.


But beyond major events such as the Breeders' Cup, Thoroughbred racing has done very little exporting its races--the kind of product available on non-event days--overseas.

Well, the Standardbred game again stole the march in innovation idea when Yonkers Raceway began exporting its signal to France at 11 a.m. on Sunday mornings as Parisians began thinking about supper time.

Not only did Yonkers export five races on an experimental basis that will run four more Sundays but they did so by catering to the betting audience they were anxiously trying to attract.

All five races were on the trot, and all five were lengthened to 1-1/4 miles with larger fields, conditions more familiar to European horseplayers.

The numbers were remarkable, Europeans wagering 1.75 million Euros on Nov. 9 and 1.81 million one week later on the specially tailored “French race cards."

The second week, Yonkers raised the profile by featuring handicapping insights harness race great Mike Lachance, the European audience not only including French bettors but those from Austria, Basque, Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Holland, Luxemburg, Malta and Switzerland, as well.

The Sunday morning experiment has been an unqualified success. The first week, nearly $500,000 was bet on the five European style races. Last Sunday, $450,000 was bet on the first race alone.

FOLLOW THE LEADER: It seems like the time is right for Thoroughbred racing to follow the lead of their Standardbred brethren once again, to see what the future might hold. Consider:

U.S. tracks such as Arlington Park, Belmont Park and Gulfstream, featuring either multi-positional inner rails or two or more turf courses, could export five turf races overseas.

If one did, the recommendation here would be to resist the greed factor and limit or entirely exclude horizontal wagers, giving the experiment its best chance to churn the race by race handle.

American racetracks, in addition to its standard vertical wagers, might offer, say, one lowest possible takeout Pick 5 with a 25-Cent minimum, giving Europeans horseplayers incentive to bet-and-breakfast with this exotic enticement.

If offered as a special "promotional wager experiment," tracks might be able to get around pari-mutuel takeout restrictions mandated by their states. And, please, no carryover jackpot wagers.

Either way, some enterprising American Thoroughbred racetrack might learn that exporting Euro-centric grass races can result in attracting old and new audiences alike.

It seems like it might be worth a try and, just maybe, a late Sunday morning first-race post might spark state-side business, too.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Taking a Pick 10 Shot Finally Makes Sense

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, November 15, 2014-- The HRI faithful know how I feel about the Pick 10 when it was first offered over a series of four Mondays.

The surmise is that Gulfstream wanted to kick off South Florida’s Gulfstream Park West era with a bang, and to see if the concept had legs beyond Miami Lakes, long enough to reach Dec.6, the start of the parent track‘s “championship meet.”.

To be kind, the Pick 10 was and is a way-over-the-top mimicking of the Rainbow 6, a wager that proved highly successful virtually since conception.

So popular was it, in fact, that management flirted with success by tweaking it in the hopes of doing even better. In the main, they succeeded

With a higher percentage of the winnings paid daily and a lower percentage of handle carried into the next day’s jackpot pool should a lone winner devour the entire enchilada, the wager continued to prosper.

The catch was that the dime minimum was doubled, the added cost spun as a way of allowing Woodbine bettors into the pool. In Canada, the legal minimum is 20-cents.**

Of course that was not the only motive as management sought more of a good thing. On a daily basis, the tack worked, but then it didn’t work, too.

The only time any real buzz was created is when the jackpot reached the magic million-dollar mark.

With more money being paid daily to bettors having the most winners, pots continued to grow, incrementally at first, then exponentially. When the jackpot reached a pot-of-gold status, every manner of player jumped in because the consolations often would reach four figures, enough to warrant an investment.

I’m not a big bettor by high-volume standards; somewhere between $300 and $500 per on-track gambling session dependent upon how much I’m able to churn. I bet much less online weekdays.

Beyond putting money where my feature-race mouth is, I limit my plays to horses-to-watch, a total of two or three bets a day max. I have neither the time nor inclination to do the research required to go beyond a few races.

Today, all racetracks are learning that just building it doesn’t means they will come: The entire industry has learned this with no small amount of pain, national handle cut by nearly one-third over the course of a decade, an unsustainable trend.

Even as my visits to Gulfstream increased as the championship season gained momentum, my participation in the Rainbow 6 was zero, my personal protest to the price increase.

Only after reaching a level where the reward was commensurate with the risk--for me, a pool approaching $500,000--would I look at the final six races in a sequence context.

By any measure, even at a dime, even with a 10 percent takeout, even if it was offered on a Monday when the simulcast cupboard is bare, the Pick 10 was a flop, a big one, for reasons even the late, great Ray Charles could see.

That said, I will jump into the pool tomorrow because it finally makes sense to do so. Despite the Pick 10’s absurd degree of difficulty, I feel as if I have a fighting chance to make a small score, the reward finally being worth the risk.

Notwithstanding the bet’s features listed above, the pool will be guaranteed at $25,000. I have no idea what the jackpot is now but clearly it’s not at the level it needs to be to garner interest

The reason it makes sense is that the entire pool will be distributed; Monday the mandatory payoff to those picking the most winners. All will share equally, minus the rake, of course. I’m setting the over-under success rate at 7-½ winners.

Due to Monday’s circumstances, prescient handicappers could have a very good day at a reasonable cost. Using two horses in eight races with two singles, for instance, the cost would be $25,60.

If seven winners gets it done, I might have a slim chance to win but it’s a shot worth taking. This is one of those rare instances when a bevy of impossible longshots can work in the favor of the average player.

I have no idea how much money will be bet but high-volume players are likely to pass because $25,000 represents a pittance. Either that, or they’ll throw enough money at it to hit 8 , 9 or even 10 winners.

But that’s why all this is called gambling; no one owns a secret decoder ring,

**correction re Woodbine reference made at 5:05 p.m. 111614

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Gulfstream Finds Temporary Fix to Palm Beach Workouts Flap

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 14, 2014--Bruno De Julio is an independent published clocker, horse owner, bloodstock agent and syndication manager, a man certainly not lacking in either portfolio or credibility.

But when he contacted Palm Beach Downs, a training center in Del Ray Beach earlier this week, he was told that he would not be able to enter because the facility was private property, essentially racing’s version of a “gaited community.”

When he questioned what the protocol for entrance was, a PBD spokesperson, who may or may not have been the general manager, pointedly said “you want to come here for some hidden motives.”

As a private, published clocker, De Julio has a partnership arrangement with to sell workout reports through their auspices. His wealth of credentials has given him access to most every major racetrack in America.

In the course of conversation, De Julio was told that no one is allowed in “for the protection of the horses.” Additionally, he was instructed that the workouts were being recorded because “horses can’t run without workouts.”

“I then informed her that over 20 horses of Todd Pletcher’s worked on Nov. 12th but no workouts were recorded,” De Julio said by phone from Del Ray Beach Thursday. I asked him how he knew that since he was denied admission:

“The workouts are up on Pletcher’s website.”

Todd Pletcher’s program often involves company workouts which he hand-times, also relying on corroboration from an assistant trainer or an official clocker. Given his prolific accomplishments, it’s safe to infer that his methods work.

When the story first surfaced, racing’s Internet outlets began buzzing. Grassroots activist Andy Asaro apprised myriad industry types of the situation and Jeff Platt, Horseplayers Association of North America CEO, sent an email to the Jockey Club which took the matter under review.

With the Palm Beach Downs issue as catalyst, the bigger question becomes: What to do with horses that run at racetracks off private training centers where most workouts are hand-timed by the people who condition them, honor bound to supply timing information for wider dissemination.

Workouts timed by trainers on the honor system? What could possibly go wrong?

In California, and at other major circuits, licensed private clockers work alongside official clockers employed by Equibase, the industry’s information disseminator responsible for official charts, past performances and workout times.

Having official and private clockers work side by side provides “a good system of checks and balances,” De Julio explained. “It’s worked very well in California.”

Clearly, the entire parimutuel system could not exist at this point in racing history without making serious attempts to supply the most reliable and transparent handicapping information available.

Another related issue might be the most important of all; the accurate timing of the races themselves. At present this is unachievable as long as there are variances in the head start or run-up horses get before the timing process begins.

Parenthetically, with respect to timing grass races, the imperfect system in place is exacerbated when the position of the temporary rail is altered, which is done to provide the safest footing possible and preserve course longevity.

The day after De Julio had his exasperating conversation with the PBD spokesperson, published workouts began to surface. Finally, by late Friday morning, the situation was resolved, albeit far from the perfect solution.

Gulfstream has reached an agreement with the owner of Palm Beach Downs property offering a compromise after it became apparent that the property owner had no interest in hiring a clocker.

Gulfstream hired its own clocker who they hope to have in place by Dec. 1 at the latest. Further, it intends to hire another to time workouts at Payson Park, another private training facility 90 minutes from Gulfstream Park.

Workouts from Palm Beach Downs and Payson Park will be published in past performance data. Gulfstream will foot the bill and later be reimbursed in part by Equibase.

Racing Vice President P.J. Campo hired a clocker who will report timing information to Equibase, the track hoping to avoid any political issues which could arise from Daily Racing Form or private clockers like De Julio seeking access.

It remains to be seen how well the system will work. With a horse population of 1,200 at Gulfstream, the track has three clockers to cover morning workouts, Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch as the occasional fourth man in the booth.

Palm Beach Downs has an approximate horse population of 200; Payson’s about twice that. How one person is expected to handle a crush of workouts that traditionally come after track maintenance breaks seems an extremely tall order.

Additionally, will that person be a truly skilled timer, or someone on Gulfstream’s payroll will to take information supplied to them by a horsemen and simply perform data-entry tasks for Equibase? Only time will tell.

Until then, as some other boss might say, you can’t light a fire without a spark.

Written by John Pricci

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