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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Let’s face it; it appears the time for the $2 Pick Six has come and gone.

Early this week, we took at brief look at the NYRA’s newly instituted Empire 6 based on the same principles as Gulfstream Park’s highly successful Rainbow Six. The New York pool figures were very solid and encouraging.

By comparison, Del Mar’s numbers were depressing.

With a mandatory Jackpot Payout scheduled for today, Pacific Classic day, it was anticipated that a seven-figure handle day was a possibility. Maybe; maybe not. Not by the numbers we saw this week, anyway.

Yesterday, one on-track bettor invested nearly $1,700 and scooped up a lone ticket worth $85,000 [all figures rounded]. (The amount of the Jackpot Carryover being chased did not appear in the today’s Equibase chart).

We looked at the Jackpot numbers for each of the last three days at both tracks and this is what we found below. And tell me, what do you math whizzes out there make of the following?

At Del Mar, pool figures for the last three days were $60,000, $77,000 and $106,000 yesterday, yielding the $85,000 payoff.

By comparison at Saratoga, after $209,000 was bet Wednesday and, with no perfect ticket, $254,000 went into the Jackpot pool. The next day’s $196,000 left a hangover of $293,000. Friday’s pool reached $264,000, leaving $346,000 in today’s Jackpot.

Many things affect handle, of course: the amount in the jackpot carryover; field size; track condition; type of races and Del Mar’s late post time for East Coast bettors must be a factor as well.

Del Mar and Saratoga are both considered boutique meets, but the reality is that it’s an apples to oranges comparison. Screw perceptions of East Coast bias: For a sustained race meet, Saratoga remains America’s strongest racetrack brand.

As an aside not meant for comparison to Pick Six Jackpot pools: Today’s universally promoted Cross Country 50-Cent All-Graded-Stakes Pick 5 begins with Saratoga’s G2 Lake Placid at 5:26 pm EDT, and concludes with the Pacific Classic with a scheduled post of 9:43 pm Eastern.

And by the way, many of those California races could not be more wide open, makin for an extremely difficult sequence. Whales probably are licking their incisors, but I know of at least one minnow who won’t be swimming in the pond with the big fish.

The Jackpot results above have little meaning in the long term, but early trends are interesting and could not be clearer: Giving rank and file bettors the possibility of out-handicapping the big boys and scoring out, is good for business and fan friendlier; it’s just that simple.

What appears in the offing is that the Empire 6 will continue to grow in popularity and it would be no surprise if Del Mar decides to adjust its betting menu for 2020. Change can be a good thing.

Hey, do you think that Churchill Downs Inc. will look at this little comparison and rethink their $1 superfecta policy on Oaks and Derby day?

Neither do I.

©, All Rights Reserved, 2019

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20 Responses

  1. Pretty sure the Del Mar Pick 6 is different in that it has a carryover provision AND and jackpot provision. NYRA’s is like Santa Anita’s

    1. You are correct Andy, but I was careful to compare apples to apples in an item earlier this week and I do believe the handwriting is on the wall relative to the two wagers… Will continue to monitor. BTW: Mandatory Empire 6 payout today…

  2. Once there was a $3.00 big triple at Roosevelt. Jack E. Lee would announce the payout, if it was larger than normal, with emphasis on THOUSAND dollars. Almost as funny as Larry Lederman. He called one horse with Pizza in the name at the wire a winner “by a slice (close finish, I guess).” True, some purists would find this obnoxious but to the rest of us who see so many races they start to all blend together, and lose most of those, it’s funny. As for the affordable Empire 6, I see it differently. When the NY and CA pools for the $2.00 version swelled to over a million dollars, albeit not that often, the prospect of even sharing with other folks who hit the damn thing that day, was enticing. Not interested in trying to be the lone winner of the single ticket format because it seems even more daunting. All bets are off, or should I say on, when it is a mandatory payout as in the final day of a particular Gulfstream meet and the pot is in the MILLIONS. Then a ticket with many winners can still be significant. I agree with you, the Empire 6 will be successful with or without my contribution.

  3. I’ve been relegated to what Harvey Pack called, “The Ping Pong Balls (lottery).” The odds of li’l ol’ me being the single holder of an Empire 6 ducat are close to zero. Biggest score ever at an OTB in Suffolk Co. where I keyed a single horse with 4 below. Played for $10.00 so the bet cost $120.00. This was so long ago that you had to fill in a computer slip, not unlike the lottery now. With 5-mins to post I looked more carefully at all my markings on the small boxes and realized I screwed up. Instead of keying the #2 horse (favorite) I had keyed the #3 (a bomb). Raced to the window and asked the teller to cancel. She said there was now only a couple of mins to post and it was too late. Too bad for me, right? Wrong. The chalk led all the way and quit like a cheap umbrella in the stretch. There was a three horse win photo and they put the #3 up (18-1). Yes, my B and C horses completed the trifecta. I was smart enough to realize the parlor would not be able to cash so it was off to OTB Corporate the next day. Had to fill out 10 separate tax forms since each wager was for $1.00. Hey, I had all the time in the world to fill out these forms. Sure, Uncle Sam got his but it was a nice pick up for a mistake. Someone once said at the track, “Never cancel!”

  4. Mr. Smith: We’ve all got stories to tell about ‘happenings’ at the track – thousands of ’em!

    I guess it is fair to conclude that you are one of the pick six, Rainbow six, or Empire 6 players who are showing a profit to date. Congrats!
    Nothing wrong with luck supplanting skill. A novice or casual player would be a fool not to take a flyer on the exotic bets. But if one bets on the plodders most every day, ya gotta consider the odds on the plater you like and the bet being made winning. Otherwise much time is going to be spent picking up bottles and cans along the road going home.

  5. Funny you should mention it; not yesterday; but it did lead to a small bet on the P4 ($4) and a small payout. Just enough to churn back today with a mandatory payout.

  6. Mal, good story. Suffolk OTB. Had a cu of coffee there for about a year and a half. Worked with some nice people. P.S. I never cancel, but it wasn’t because of Harvey. Had to learn that lesson the hard way, of course. We’re horseplayers; consequently, we love pain.

  7. Yes, Mr. Corrow, I am a novice but not by choice. Have you heard the saying, “study long, study wrong?” Sure, I tried to read the pp’s and agree that it is work. Then I went to betting numbers. No effort involved and once in a while a big payday (night). Tried charting, watching where the “smart” money was going. That was a fool’s errand, for me anyway. I applaud you for grinding out a living, very hard to do. Takes discipline which is sorely lacking in many, myself included. I know there are folks who wait, then wait some more, for their “spot” and then, and only then, step up to the window (or machine, Alice). I respect those people. I am not one of them. Basically have thrown in the towel which is why I go down “Memory Lane” with tales of past glories. You only hear about the wins, never the losses, ha, ha.

  8. I can assure you Mr. Smith that if I had to rely on money won gambling on the plodders my residence would be a cardboard box under a local bridge. I have managed for decades to win enough to cover bets, the daily bar bill, to keep the refrigerator supplied with Foster’s, and to enjoy a steak now and then; and, to feel the utmost joy of seeing the plater I bet in contention down the stretch as I crumple the ticket in my sweaty paw – now, since women and golf are no longer a sphere of influence, does it get any better than this?

    1. You have done what most cannot. Win. I bet $1000.00 on Foolish Pleasure (to win, Alice) in Belmont at odds of 4/5. Willie Shoemaker took Avatar “coast to coast” and Jacinto Vasquez closed within a length but got beat. Here’s the really bad part of this “story.” Avatar paid around $28.00 to win and Foolish Pleasure returned $3.20 to place. For a measly EIGHTY CENTS DIFFEENTIAL I collected zero dollars. Thus my brief career making sizable win (or place and show, Alice) bets came to an end. Not much later the betting numbers and mumbling to myself began in earnest. I got beat by a legend, The Shoe, and my horse lost at 4/5 and paid 3/5 to show. Did I think FP was a lock? Yes. Did I lose? You’re goddamn right I did…In conclusion, I enjoy your comments and tip my hat to you for surviving this very tough game. You have succeeded where I have failed (see above-referenced Foolish (good choice of word, Alice) Pleasure horror story. I was only in my twenties back then so I’ll chalk it up (FP was the chalk) to inexperience and youthful exuberance. A few Fosters would’ve helped soothe the pain of that “day at the races.” P.S. Hope you don’t mind me ripping off your use of Alice in parenthesis. Thanks.

  9. Hope no one objects to getting back on point, but did anyone notice the mandatory Empire 6 payoff? We lost $19.20 but was excited for a while. Ran second in the 4th leg, won the 5th, and wanted to see the 2 or 5 lose the last race because 5 of 6 would have left an emotional scar. So, 5 + 2 = 7 and that’s who won the last race. Mal, I know you can relate to numbers…

    Looks like you can’t trust those lower class plodders either, eh Wendell?

  10. Ah, numbers. Once (many moons ago, Alice) I arrived at Beautiful Belmont Park before the 3rd race. I asked someone on line (there were lines at the windows then, Alice) “who” had won the first two races. I was told the number 7 swept the early (and only) double. I put a bet in on number 7 at 9-1 since who says this post position can’t win three in a row. Yup, the seven got up in time and it was back to the teller’s window to collect. Wendell is correct, we all have racetrack stories, thousands of ’em.

  11. What gets me, and is an insult to serious ‘cappers, is how any horse bettor can go to a betting window or self-service machine and just bet numbers; doing such IMO is a betrayal of the reason gambling on the ponies is so challenging, interesting, exciting, and worth one’s time. To realize that people very close to Thoroughbred racing simply bet numbers (looking for a score, Alice ,and tossing the handicapping challenge) has me heading for the toilet.

    Can Thoroughbred racing be cheapened anymore, now that the Empire 6 is aboard?

    Purses funded by casino dole, all kinds of exotic bets where only numbers are required for 50 cents, six/seven figure purses that only a handful of trainers win, and stake races galore where not one owner of an entrant will lose money. And there is me, at the local joint, trying to pick a couple of winners hoping for a dinner out “on the house’ so to speak.

  12. Yada, yada, yada…

    So we can’t allow anyone to just be themselves, to do as they see fit with their time, to, God forbid, do something for the fun of it?

    People such as myself love the challenge of handicapping, the ability to predict just how a game of chance will go once in a while. Betting less than I used to, the challenge becomes all that much more important.

    This discipline, the approach, can be mastered, but never to the point anyone has the answer. And that’s the point of it…

    So, let’s just live, have some fun, however we choose, and allow others to do the same.

  13. Nicely put. To be clear, I am talking about many years ago and “rolling the dice” on a pure numbers play was a lark. I have nothing but respect for anyone who puts in the time to try and find the winning horse but some of us are lazy. John is right, whether it be pulling the lever on a slot (or pushing the button, Alice), plunking down a double sawbuck on a number in a ten horse field, or boxing the four outside post positions in a trifecta in the hopes of a tax job, it’s up to that person to decide. Very low likelihood of winning, true, but absolutely no thought or effort required. That in itself can be fun.

  14. Believe that ALL pool minimums should be ten ($.10) cents. I know this would increase, not decrease handle in all pools. Stop stealing our breakage. Not all change is good. Tear down the new monstrosity the1863 thingy. Institute a dress code regarding cleavage at Saratoga; I just can’t take it anymore! More latet.

  15. Ted, they know handle will increase with lower take but they don’t want the short term revenue shortfall; revenue is a different animal.

    Didn’t have time to check out the 1963 building. I agree it is stark and somehow; stark doesn’t fit the Spa. But if you want air-conditioning, now you’ve got it, albeit at premium prices.

    Are you suggesting cleavage restrictions? This probably will get me in trouble in these times, but if they do as you suggest, what will men do between races?

  16. JP, you should be able to bet ten cents to win, place, show, quinella, exacta, trifecta, pick 3, double, pick 4, pick 5, pick 6. Handle would increase not decrease. Cleavage distracts me from the job at hand.

  17. The next time I read a blog, Hopefully it won’t fail me just as much as this particular one. After all, Yes, it was my choice to read, nonetheless I actually thought you’d have something helpful to talk about. All I hear is a bunch of crying about something you can fix if you weren’t too busy seeking attention.

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