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
Friday, June 27, 2014
Recreational Players Finally Getting Takeout Message
LOS ANGELES, June 26, 2014—Churchill Downs will be the focus of many horseplayers this weekend as it closes out the track's spring meeting. Unlike the situation earlier this year at Gulfstream Park, however, the pursuit of a mandatory exotic payout will not be a motivating factor.
Instead, horseplayers, and the industry itself, will be looking at the final handle numbers in light of revenues gained or lost because CDI’s decision to increase takeout rates. Going into the final weekend, the home team is losing.
Compared to the previous player's boycott in 2011 of California racetracks--in response to a legislated takeout rate increase by the state--the current action against CDI tracks has garnered far greater support from bettors.
What remains to be seen is whether the results will lead to a desired rollback in rates.
Such was not the case in 2011. The only “concession” that player representatives negotiated at that time was the addition of a new, lower-takeout, lower-minimum, exotic wager, the Players Pick Five.
The bet was ridiculed initially by some who considered it a “tossed bone” to horseplayers. Instead, it proved to be a successful example of what lower takeout could accomplish and bolstered the argument for more study of optimal takeout rates.
Negotiations at that time revealed to players that the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) was in control, not track managements, and that TOC was putting the squeeze on customers, aided and abetted by those TOC members who also serving on the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
Indeed, the failure to force a rate roll-back in California probably encouraged Churchill's own onslaught on the wallets of its customers, but this time the message from the folks at http://playersboycott.org/
was more aggressive than the approach taken in 2011.
The boycotters’ most potent weapon this time is the analysis of Churchill's daily and meet handle figures. Recall that Churchill was the first track to stop providing total attendance and handle figures in results charts. This time boycotters were armed with data collection and analysis skills honed three years ago.
The results are striking as presented by Jeff Platt, President of HANA:
through the first 34 days of their meet:
DOWN $46.8 Million (-11.69% “
“What happens if we break the Kentucky Oaks Day Friday and Kentucky Derby Day Saturday cards out as special event days - and remove both of them from ... [consideration]? “
“... handle has fallen for 30 of the 32 regular race days so far this meet:
• Total handle? DOWN $45.6 Million (-26.90%)
• Avg Handle per Race? DOWN -$111,316 (-21.68%)
• Avg Handle per Day? DOWN -$1,424,385 (-26.90%)”
“Could everyday horseplayers be saying "no" to higher takeout?”
This begs several more questions: Who are everyday horseplayers? Are they more likely to be professional bettors, or recreational ones?
Turf writer, Nick Kling, suggested in a comment here at HRI that “20 percent of the bettors wager 50 percent of the handle.” The ratio is probably even greater than that.
Rebated bettors are not affected by takeout increases to the extent their non-rebated competitors are. My surmise is that these bigger players are probably continuing at or near their same level and that the missing handle is more attributable to grassroots players who are sending their action elsewhere.
If this is true, then those of us who have been spreading the lower takeout gospel over the last three years are starting to make some headway. What mustn't happen once the Churchill meet ends is for horseplayers to give up the good fight.
As horseplayer activist Andy Asaro reminds industry A-listers in his daily e-mails: ”We never quit.”
Whales Feel Entitled
One reason professional horseplayers are generally able to make a living is because they are able to exploit inexperience, lack of skills and motivation, and underfunding among recreational players.
I have no objection to that providing the playing field is level for all – as it once was in racing and still is in honest casino games. Neither do I object to casinos “comping” high-rollers, which is more a marketing tool than a subsidy.
The presence of big players at the tables stimulates more action from less affluent customers and helps to attract new ones. This is not the case in racing. If anything, racing’s whales are less visible whales as are the amount of rebates they receive. In my view, this discourages smaller-bankroll bettors and drives recreational players away from game altogether.
In response to a prior Players Up blog piece
mentioning rebate subsidies to big bankroll bettors, several comments were posted by a former NTRA Players Panel member.
His observations were informative and, while some were accurate, they nevertheless showed a level of contempt for those forced to play without rebates, opining instead that everyday players bet unrealistic amounts or change their state of residence. The following remarks should be viewed in their original context:
“... I haven’t seen any studies that show that rebates make you a smarter bettor but clearly smart bettors get rebates. ...”
“... You don’t have to be a huge bettor to get rebates. But wouldn’t you agree that a person who reduces their cost of betting by getting a rebate is certainly smarter than one who doesn’t? ...”
“... Rebating, in and of itself, does not give a bettor an advantage. Being a smarter bettor gives one the advantage. Being a smarter bettor with rebates just increases the possibility of making a profit.”
'... Racing needs “dumb money” in the pools so the smart bettors can continue to prosper. If that doesn’t happen the effective takeout rate will not be low enough to keep the whales around. “'
“… the vast majority of players ... have neither the skill nor the knowledge to recognize overlays.”
“... The vast majority of players lose year in and year out. Do you need more evidence than that?”
“... Losers at the track need to be victims so that they can believe that it is the big bad rebates that prevent them from winning and not the fact that they lack the skills and know how. ...”
Recreational bettors are not only under fire from incompetent or corrupt government officials, greedy horsemen, and self-preserving racetrack management, but also from predatory gamblers benefitting from the rebate status quo.
Horseplayers will take an edge they can, which is what gives definition to the term parimutuel wagering. But Beware the Pied Piper unconcerned with fairness and balance for all.
Written by Indulto
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Coburn, Espinoza Easy Prey for Critics
LOS ANGELES, June 9, 2014--To many observing the 2014 Triple Crown series, the Belmont Stakes wound up a bigger and better show than the Kentucky Derby, and a more rewarding handicapping challenge to boot.
Sadly, another Crown desired was another Crown denied, and sportsmanship took a hit in the process.
Indeed the owners of California Chrome had been providing a view of racing as the Sport of Peasants, but the initial pleasantry was replaced by futility and frustration that fueled a co-owner's unflattering allegations that the fight wasn't a fair one.
Steve Coburn's remarks set a new standard for the “sore loser,” eclipsing the shock value of Barry Irwin's “sore winner” statement following Animal Kingdom's Derby victory.
And to think it took the “fickle finger of fate” to expose this side of Coburn by failing to follow the script of phenomenally good fortune to which he felt entitled.
Coburn has since apologized but the damage to racing, to the Chrome fan experience, and to the remaining connections, has been done. Still, his message was not without merit.
Chrome's conquerors all had four or five weeks rest going compared to the Preakness winner’s three. It was also his third race in five weeks and fourth in nine weeks.
Coburn's demand that only horses that ran in the first two legs of the Triple Crown should qualify for the third and final one is unworkable and more than unreasonable.
Only 14 of 20 Derby runners could contest the Preakness, anyway, and how many that already had run three races in five or six weeks could add a fourth run over an eight or nine week period without suffering possibly debilitating long term effects?
If there is no move to alter spacing between legs AND provide a bonus for horses participating in all legs, answer possibility might be to restrict the Belmont to three-year-olds that have previously run at least twice in graded stakes, particularly at 9 furlongs during a five-week interval beginning Kentucky Oaks Day.
Rachel Alexandra and Rags to Riches would have fit that scenario, the latter beating Curlin. (Now there's a breeding match worth exploring)!
The NYRA could move the Dwyer to the Sunday following the Derby and the Peter Pan to the Sunday after the Preakness, thereby creating tow qualifying paths to the Belmont Stakes that provides a race over the track in addition to a bonus for participation.
The problem is that each Belmont starter this year ran on Lasix which dehydrates them and requires longer rest between starts to reach a suitable energy level.
We can keep running these amazing animals into the ground to satisfy trainers—as opposed to horsemen--but only a hypocrite would claim they were doing what's best for the horse.
The Coburn debacle didn't deter the jockey’s critics from making their self-appointed rounds. In my opinion the race was lost when ‘Chrome’ veered sharply out of the starting gate and slammed severely into Matterhorn, suffering a minor injury in the process.
But many others disagreed, blaming double Triple-Crown-losing rider Victor Espinoza, a dubious distinction he shares with Kent Desormeaux.
Andy Beyer, stating nothing we haven’t heard before
said that Espinoza committed a “gross tactical error.”
While his justification for that conclusion was certainly entertaining, it was hardly enlightening given the brutal bumping at the break and Espinoza’s own description that the colt was “empty,” also acting uncharacteristically quiet in the paddock by several trusted sources.
Beyer's buddy and fellow handicapping author, Steve Davidowitz
, less elegantly echoed that assessment with “... it can be argued that Espinoza strategically contributed to the horse's defeat.” Maybe, maybe not.
More objective opinions
were available from ex-jockey Eddie Delahoussaye and trainer Bob Baffert, whose triple Triple-Crown-misses (including one each with both Espinoza and Desormeaux) possesses a truer understanding of what's involved.
Baffert absolved Espinoza’s tactics, saying “[rival jockeys] were going to get him; they were going to go after him,” he said. “I think the horse didn’t respond [because] he didn’t have the horse. That’s why the Triple Crown is so hard; it wears on the horse. The horse was a little flat, but you don’t know that [until the race starts].”'
Said Delahoussaye, “...I know when a horse gets cut like he did at the beginning of the race, because of the adrenalin they don’t feel it as much. But once they start relaxing, they’ll feel it. It was just bad racing luck. Victor couldn’t have done anything.”
Conversely, money-rider par excellence Joel Rosario not only won the Belmont, but also the 12-furlong Brooklyn that same day. John Velazquez (who many consider “the ultimate jockey change”) replaced Rosario on Ride on Curlin but he performed as if he were totally exhausted and finished last.
Hopefully, all will have other opportunities to succeed in the Triple Crown’s final leg, and that includes bettors and critics.
Written by Indulto