Saturday, September 06, 2014
Standing Up for Horseplayers Everywhere
OLDSMAR, FL, September 1, 2014—Watching and wagering in air-conditioned comfort while my wife enthusiastically engaged the tropical humidity of a Tampa summer elsewhere, I couldn't help wondering why horses were still forced to compete when and where the weather is inhospitable to both man and beast.
As I lounged, listening through my laptop, my fellow horseplayer advocate and friend, Andy Asaro, stood in front of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) last week and experienced how difficult it is to effectively deliver a message challenging the status quo; particularly as an individual--an independent one at that.
The experience led me to conclude that chilly receptions for some horseplayers aren't just limited to wintertime. It's not easy being a stand-up guy.
Imagine yourself trying to clearly and comprehensively communicate multiple aspects of a complex issue within three minutes before answering questions from your audience, some of whom probably preferred that you hadn't showed up in the first place.
Now suppose those questions came from someone that had little official standing in the proceedings or a stake in its outcome; how do you think this would all shake out?
Usually in these cases the speaker would be ignored, but even the CHRB knew better than to say nothing, not in the wake of the recent boycott of Churchill Downs, an action that succeeded in denying CDI's highly-compensated executives as much revenue as the previous year when takeout was extracted at a lower rate.
The CDI team made their intended “killing" on the Kentucky Derby/Oaks weekend but then witnessed a major fall-off in handle for the remainder of the meet.
In California, it’s the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) that controls takeout rates, not the racetracks.
Asaro got his message across. However, the response he received exposed the CHRB’s apparent disinterest in, if not incapacity for, dealing with the issue of optimal takeout rates despite its potential to horsemen, the state, and horseplayers.
You can listen to that portion of the meeting which occurs near the beginning of Segment A of the CHRB meeting chive for 8/21/2014
In a dramatic moment, CHRB commissioner and former TOC board member Madeline Auerbach expressed concern that manipulating the takeout numbers might cause people whose money, lives, and careers were invested in racing to go out of business.
When Asaro asked why she anticipated that result, Ms. Auerbach indicated that she didn't know for certain but suggested his own conclusions were no better.
The problem here is that Ms. Auerbach's comments appeared to contradict both the CHRB's mission statement and her own stated goals while serving as a TOC director. The former
includes such concepts as "… regulating pari-mutuel wagering for the protection of the public ..." and "promoting ... wagering opportunities."
mentioned "increasing the handle" and "making the racetracks more fan friendly environments."
Surely, Ms. Auerbach is aware that horsemen are not the only participants invested in this game. Bettors also invest their money, their lives and their careers pursuing the game and are just as entitled to a fair gamble and return as owners.
Since decreasing handle pits owners against players in the never-ending struggle for larger slices of the wagering pie, growing handle is essential to the best interests of all stakeholders.
Lower takeout and larger field sizes have historically attracted more handle but California racing’s leadership is either unable or unwilling to apply the best elements of those principles.
The result is that fewer people stay interested and potential new players instead find alternatives that separate them from their money at a slower rate.
Clearly, it is more difficult for bettors to come out ahead unless they receive rebates on their wagers – win or lose. That not only is unfair, it’s unsustainable.
How "fan-friendly" can an environment that subsidizes professional players and powerful horsemen at the expense of rank-and-file bettors be? What percentage of the population view six-horse fields with heavy favorites as desirable betting opportunities?
Ms. Auerbach’s demand that Mr. Asaro ‘guarantee’ that optimal takeout would improve the situation for all participants was amusing considering that the CHRB in 2011 failed to demand that added takeout rates when applied to purses would guarantee field size would increase.
It was rumored that the Board might invite Jeff Platt, President of the Horseplayers Association of North America, to work with them on this issue. That could be a very good thing if done in an open forum including non-rebated bettors and players outside of HANA.
Had Asaro not stepped forward forcing the issue publicly, this possibility likely would never have reached even the rumor stage. Until learning otherwise, I'll assume such a move was meant to delay any meaningful takeout-rate reductions.
I have admiration for player advocates such as Asaro, Platt, Barry Meadow, Dr. Caroline Betts and the late Roger Way; all of whom answered the call to face off with California racing's power elite in 2011 after takeout rates were increased for exotic wagers.
I might not agree with each of them on all facets of the issue but I know that if I support individuals like them, eventually we will see an industry that treats all of its customers with greater respect and fairness.
I cannot help but think that the CHRB and TOC are really concerned that the upcoming fall meet at Santa Anita will suffer a fate similar to that of Churchill Downs in the spring. Santa Anita may be even more vulnerable because its big days occur later in the meet.
It is no longer difficult to motivate bettors of California racing to ignore unappetizing wagering propositions created by short fields, high takeout and questionable medication policies and enforcement.
Should there be another boycott, I have some slogans at the ready:
. Let them learn to let us churn
.Go betless until the equine stars come out
.Save your scratch for Super Saturday and your bread for Breeders' Cup.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Even Tom Cruise Wants to Know: At What Cost Data?
LOS ANGELES, CA August 9, 2014--In the aftermath of the State-mandated installation of synthetic surfaces at major California venues, it was posited that more soft-tissue injuries were occurring on these new surfaces.
One way to validate that theory would be to determine the average number of days prior to a horse's next start after a race on each particular surface. If I had had access to a race-results data base, I could have done the research myself.
The best I could do, however, was request that information from a variety of on-line racing forums, but I never did get a response nor did I find any related content via Google.
I guess I'll never know, now that Keeneland, Del Mar and Meydan have decided to give up on synthetic surfaces and, with Hollywood Park long gone, Santa Anita has and, soon, Keeneland, Del Mar and Meydan will racing on dirt once again.
Since the early 1970's, I've longed for affordable access to a data base of thoroughbred race results similar to that maintained by the Jockey Club.
By 2010, it appeared possible to build and maintain such a data base on one's personal computer, analyzing the next day's races via either a JCapper program or other proprietary third-party data for under $90 per month. I longed for that hope to become reality.
However, considering the cost per month to acquire archival data was about the same and, unless one had the time and skills to keep the hardware and software resources functioning and the data current, the cost of technical support could exceed that of the data itself.
And that doesn't take into account the learning curve required to master complicated application programs that would yield useful results. What to do?
My lack of technical proficiency, combined with start-up costs, still prevents me from realizing my objective. What I would love would be to have on-line access to a data base someone else has built and maintains.
Given that, I could run voluminous queries that have nothing to do with the handicapping process, making the fee for such a service reasonable. Wishful thinking would have the Jockey Club or the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) becoming such a resource.
Indeed, HANA provides a very significant data subset
at no charge to the public; takeout rates for each parimutuel pool category for every North American racetrack. Player advocates at the HANA-supported playersboycott.org
have accumulated individual pool and cumulative handle figures from each pool at racetracks that have come under scrutiny by the organization after the tracks raised takeout.
It is in HANA's interest to provide this data as part of its mission to influence the industry while also trying to determine and implement optimal takeout rates. Common sense dictates that bettors increase their chances of profitability with lower takeout rates.
Some HANA board members have publicly acknowledged having access to the JCapper system. This reasonably assumes that there is a data base available to perform pari-mutuel pool research.
The most common utilization for Machine Readable Data (MRD) has been to: find relationships among the data that isolates potentially profitable pari-mutuel play; apply those relationships to races already run to test their potential profitability and further apply tested relationships to races yet-to-be run to further locate potentially positive outcomes.
Computer speed enables some players to handicap all races to be run on any given day and isolate races likely to produce profits in less time than it takes to peruse a Racing Form.
It makes sense that users of this data should be individually licensed to gain access to it. Indeed, a monthly fee to use the data is a reasonable expectation for those who would access it specifically for wagering purposes.
Computerized betting teams probably generate the most money from automated data usage but it is their ability to also access pool data in real-time prior to the running of a race that is the key to their success.
The next phase of money-generated computer processing of racing data appears to be in producing derivatives of raw data such as speed, pace, class and power ratings, then presenting it in a variety of formats for purchase by bettors.
Viewable past performance data vendors including Daily Racing Form, BRIS, Ragozin, Thorograph and now TimeformUS still cater to seldom-overlapping markets.
It is worth noting that all those vendors agree that automation alone cannot guarantee the unique predictiveness they claim for their products.
The above, as well as MRD vendors such as Handicapper's Data Warehouse (HDW), purchase the raw data from Equibase which is owned by the Jockey Club.
Surely, Equibase/Jockey Club could offer individually-licensed, less-expensive access to a limited, short term on-line data base that does not threaten the success of existing partnerships with major past-performance and data providers.
I still handicap the "old-fashioned" way, i.e., eyeballing traditional PPs, generally focusing on top class races. It's a very enjoyable process but the preparation time seriously limits what I'm willing to watch and wager on.
By extending this "joy of handicapping" by isolating new relationships among data I deem relevant to me, not only would I become even more enthusiastic about racing but very likely bet more races and introduce potential new players to the process.
That’s the real point of all this.
If more and affordable data became available, the more people would access to it, the more likely they are to discover creative ways to use it, it follows that more new people could become involved in racing to play the races on-line--the 21st Century way.
When racetracks finally understand that their future depends as much on the on-line player as the live gate, they finally might find a way to fuel wagering by making new, cutting edge data available, whatever the cost.
Unless they don’t believe that the business they have chosen is worth an investment in their future that just might help them survive in the short term, too.
What’s that famous line from Jerry Maguire? No, not that one, the other one, the one that goes: “Help me… help you.”
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, July 13, 2014
Panza’s Extravaganzas is Grist for the Bettor’s Mill
LOS ANGELES, July 13, 2014-Phase II of NYRA's experimentation with graded stakes concentration and purse inflation is in the books. Whereas Phase I essentially merged Memorial Day and Belmont Day weekends, NYRA's new race-card-filling impresario, Martin Panza, gave a “Martin the Magician” performance in the second phase.
Martin created two new Grade I turf stakes for three-year-olds from the “old” Jamaica and Garden City, sandwiching the traditionally featured July 4th Suburban Handicap.
Say this about Phase II: The move sparked fireworks in three straight Superfecta pools. Lamentably, however, the racing office/marketing/simulcast departments once again failed to get together on a [Graded] All-Stakes Pick Four.
The new Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks at a mile and a quarter were both improvements over their previous incarnations, even if both million-dollar events failed to attract commensurate quality in our view. In any case, it did produce a highly bettable card.
Jockey Jose Lezcano and trainer Chad Brown were the humans whose equines put on the best show, together and separately, with multiple stakes wins.
Appropriately, Brown's Suburban winning Zivo took us back three decades to his mentor, Bobby Frankel, who accomplished the feat with a former claimer named Barometer. Unfortunately, I allowed my bias against betting New York Breds in open company cost me a couple of Dime Supers even if the rest of the ticket was correctly structured by using two Met Mile participants, a pair from the Stephen Foster, a handicapper’s best friend, the ALL button.
The class dropping Met Mile approach did provide a winning Sprint Championship superfecta and I enjoyed watching Clearly Now's track record performance. But the profits were short-lived when Mr. Speaker suddenly woke up to snag the Belmont Derby from Europeans Adelaide and Gailo Chop in a ground-saving good trip performance.
I chased the Superfecta brass ring once again and missed as I failed to box-up my key and money performers. Maybe by Whitney day, I will have regained my composure and try again on what promises to be a strong supporting card for what is now a $1.25 million headliner.
I give in to this temptation because real money can be won in the Super-Dime on days like these giving modest players like me a real chance. At least NYRA gives us that ability on their event days, unlike Churchill Downs which steadfastly refuses to offer Dime Supers on Derby Day.
Panza told to Jerry Bossert of the NY Daily News: "So for me it’s trying to narrow down big days and narrow down holidays and try to concentrate on those days, provide people with good experience at the track and hope that they will come back on a Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.
'"Racing needs to reinvent itself," Panza added. "People want to see a good product and they want to be entertained. That’s the way we can do it."'
Such scheduling greatly suits weekend warriors such like me. As a recreational bettor who wants to be entertained, too, I limit my handicapping to the type of races which experience shows gives me a chance to compete for high profits on a consistent basis.
Personally, this usually precludes non-stakes events restricted to non-winners, state-breds, or races in which consistent soundness, stamina, and speed are rare. But in any case, I'm certainly not going to fight excessive takeout, short fields, and high exotic minimums.
I have to admit that watching and wagering on only those four races on the Phase II card from 3000 miles away in the comfort of my living room, simultaneously SKYPE-ing with a racing buddy on the East Coast was as good as it gets without winning. The only thing lacking was the ability to chase those supers with pooled resources that can divide tax liability with friends or in a group, many of whom are now unable to deduct gambling losses from winnings on State income tax return.
Additionally, SKYPE can provide the camaraderie common in OTBs, now absent from New York City's five boroughs. The loss of restaurant OTBs was lamented recently in HRI comments but we believe most horseplayers would rather bet like a whale than eat like one.
While opportunities for outings combining fine dining and race-betting have occasional appeal, I suspect that NYRA's future lies with those preferring to pool their resources than please their palettes. Imagine if NYRA took the lead in offering independent, pre-registered, online wagering partnerships to individuals and capitalizing on social media and other Internet interaction to grow the business.
Guess it hasn’t happened since the pols don’t know what to do about the lack of OTBs. The Governor’s people in essence are running the NYRA show but a Mayor still runs the city. Maybe this is supposed to be a chit when NYRA finally becomes privatized.
Whatever happens here, the racing industry itself should sell (lease?/comp?), service, and support reasonably-priced personal computing devices with 1) SERY-like voice-recognition and information presentation, 2) SKYPE-like simultaneous multiple account-holder communication support, 3) multiple video output connections, and 4) on-line viewing and betting wherever live racing is being conducted.
In the 21st century, it should be as easy to play a horse race as a slot machine in one's own virtual OTB parlor. I fully realize that at present I’m asking way too much.
Written by Indulto