By Bob Heyden, for Harness Racing Update — This is where we are, folks. It’s 2021. Let’s take a look from the bettor’s point of view of how we can maintain, improve, improvise — you name it — for the bettor/viewer going forward. Here are 21 areas of concentration for our sport/product:
1. Please, public handicappers, do not give us more than two picks per in a daily double or three in a Pick 4-5-6 sequence. The exception being with a huge favorite and then finding that single or then all race. Nobody wants to bet three with two in the early double and get back $17.40.
2. The average age of today’s bettor is right near 65. You don’t have to like it; you have to deal with it. Generally, they are lazier, they like things presented to them. They don’t want to search for stuff. Emphasize comfort and convenience.
3. Dead air. Our entire society has far less of an attention span than ever before, certainly the customer in racing is no different, maybe worse. Dead air is indeed the devil’s workshop, his playground. You are inviting the bettor to turn the channel, do something else by turning a simulcast into the Yule Log on Christmas Eve.
What stars are racing at your track soon? How extensive is the history of tonight’s stake race? Who is this exciting new driver? How about some Did You Knows? for the screen or This Date In Racing History?
4. Program pages. No white should be showing. Short field? So? Get something in there. An update on the Horse of the Year winners, leading drivers in the nation, the next big stake, the history of million-dollar races. Anything to fill it up. Blank paper we can get anywhere.
5. Telestrators in white the explanations of a disqualification or an inquiry. Remember that at the track many have no sound. So the judges are talking to themselves when a horse is placed fourth for a lapped on break. But, at home, you are likely to be listening, and you still want to see and hear why.
The very first Breeders’ Cup in 1984, in their Classic no less, had a 20-minute inquiry and we were taken through each and every step of it. A national audience. We need more of that.
6. The bettor cares about that day’s card. He doesn’t care about in-fighting, regionalization of the sport or pretty much anything else except the pages in front of him.
Know why the Adios Day card presentation was so effective? They were coming from everywhere — drivers, trainers, horses and owners. You know, the very thing that made the Meadowlands great back in 1976 and a huge turning point for the sport.
7. Better rule clarification. The 30-day rule, scratch lines. If a horse was entered and there was a snow-out, then what? Or when a superfecta is not hit, does that money carry over into the very next superfecta race or does it pay out with the first three and then ALL? This varies according to where you are.
8. New driver? Bio, please. I know Todd McCarthy is Andy’s brother, but what else can you tell me? He just won the Goldsmith Maid with Anoka Hanover for over $450G. Is he staying? What about their brother Luke? How many other top drivers are from New Zealand and Australia? We want to know and many bettors don’t have Hoof Beats handy.
9. What is happening to the stars of the sport? I know a simulcasting program is more or less bare bones, but we have to get this info, fun facts, etc. out to people who probably don’t even know what they are missing. Party Girl Hill coming back? Whatever happened to Papi Rob Hanover? Is Jimmy Takter retried for good?
10. Driver of equal ability rule. They had it in New Jersey years ago. California has it now. Common sense. I’m not positive who does and doesn’t have this in play, but either way it is subject to opinion/interpretation.
Early in 2020 at Hoosier, they had a race where a local top driver was taken off late a huge favorite. For those at home with money on the race, the unthinkable then happened. The trainer took over the lines to drive and let’s just say it was pretty clear he not summa cum laude in his driving school class.
I remember something like 2-5 odds, he started 20 lengths off the gate and finished a hundred lengths back. The defense against this would be something like: You saw the driver change, you had opportunity to change your bets. Yes, but personally I was already into a Pick sequence. Plus, I bet early. I like Early Bird.
I purposely do so as not to change anything — like my mind. The judges everywhere need to look out for that person betting early, which is pretty much why they had/have the rule anyway. There was a bad taste in my mouth after than one.
11. Scratches. I am so sick and tired of someone in the backstretch or paddock telling me on Wednesday or Thursday that their horse is scratched 2-3 days out. Then, up until approximately 30 minutes to post time 2-3 days later, you can still bet that horse. Racing Commission rules? Really? Change them then.
Over the summer, I was at a track and at 5 p.m. the odds appeared for the first race 90 minutes away. The #10 in the opener was scratched, but you could still bet him from 5:00 until 6:00. When I asked the teller why the horse was still in the pool with the scratch flowing across the bottom of the screen for changes, she said that until 6:00 that was the way it was. Then, at 6:00, the horse was taken out.
So, for the person who might have bet $20 on the horse from 5:00-6:00, they might check the results and not see their horse in the top three. Then what, throw the ticket out, or check for scratches? Of course, the responsibility is on the player. But there’s such a thing as common sense and good faith — both ways.
12. Inquiry-objection. Pretty much all the tracks do this, but Australia doesn’t. Keep the camera on the tote board only — nowhere else. We don’t want scene shots at this moment of decision. We’ve already seen the geese. Money is on the line. Keep it right there.
13. Meadowlands Pace elimination favorites click at right around 70 per cent. The Meadowlands Pace final favorites at around 40 per cent. Put this on the page. Usable info. What can it hurt?
14. Odds-on favorites. How are they doing this meet? This week? This month? Again, no harm in this. Some people love 2-5, many don’t. But both sides would probably like to know.
15. The two biggest words in racing currently are CARRYOVER and GUARANTEE. Why not? What’s not to love? The future is now for these bets, and bettors are responding. Along the lines of Gimbels/Macys from yesteryear, when people at your track are loading up on a carryover somewhere else, you can plainly see why everyone wants in. Love ’em. Keep ’em coming.
16. Prices, probable payoffs, pool sizes, minutes until the Pick-?? begins: This is what matters to the bettor. Sideshows, giraffe racing and clam-eating contests, especially when you are at home, are simply filler. Commercials? Okay. Got it. Just don’t make the commercials intermissions.
17. How does it work with scratches in Pick-4-5-6 sequences? Refund? Betting favorite? Make this fact clear please.
18. From 2007-2009, the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (NJSEA) AVERAGED $3.4 million per year on uncashed tickets. That money reverted back to the state.
Can you think anything more distasteful than the state benefitting from this? It’s tough enough to win without blindly donating. Always check for scratches, the main cause of this state windfall. You know anybody who wants to enrich the state at year’s end?
19. Barn changes. Let It Ride N was sold this week but will retain Nifty Norman and Todd McCarthy will drive. Maybe not vitally important to the bettor, but let them know.
Remember Chapter Seven was slow coming back in 2011 after a strong 2-year-old season and was heading to the Hambletonian. He had issues; Linda Toscano told us so. But not everyone was listening or privy.
So, he goes into the Hambletonian, was sent off at 2-1 and was relatively listless (fourth). From that point on, for the next 16 months he won everything in sight, including Horse of the Year.
Tell the fans. Keep them updated. The final decisions (AKA wagering) are always theirs. Informed is better.
20. If your average age is near 65, then updates on Carmine Abbatiello, Del Insko, Tommy Haughton and scores of others is not trivia at all, it’s news. Whatever Happened To? Oh yeah, I remember him. One man’s minutiae is another’s treasure. Tell them. Inform. Good conversation fodder. They can get this on a program insert, direct mailing, track program, wherever.
21. Never flood the screen with a bunch of numbers. Handicappers don’t want a 4th grade math book dumped on their lap. All 2-year-olds and unraced at 2 sophomores, show their yearling prices. Show as many warmups as possible. Handicapping contests are great, too. Each race give us an update. We all know somebody in there.
And finally… In 1975 in the spring, Roosevelt Raceway had a tellers’ strike. For two days only OTB wagers. By that time (1974-1986) the OTB TV show featuring Stan Bergstein was carried two or three times a week on Superstation 9. The fans responded by betting well. In 1976, around Christmas,
Yonkers experimented with a full card where you could only bet it at OTB, by design. They bet big time. This is exactly where we sit, much of it not by choice. At home viewing, at home wagering. 2021 marks the 50th year since OTB debuted in New York. Many attribute the decline of live racing to OTB. Let’s take advantage of this, play the hand that is in front of us. The time is now.