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 and finish 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.