HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, August 22, 2021—From a competitive perspective, the 2021 Saratoga race meet, even from afar, has been one of the most entertaining I can recall. And we’ve been at this full time–live and from afar–since 1977.
The competition among the deepest jockey’s room we’ve seen has been sterling. It wasn’t until yesterday before Luis Saez was able to open a double-digit lead on the Ortiz brothers, and that’s after visiting Arlington Heights on Million Day.
On the trainer’s side, it even took Chad Brown, odds-on at the beginning of the meet to win another Saratoga title, until Alabama day to catch frontrunning Mike Maker for the lead with 22 victories.
Now, all of sudden, Todd Pletcher is in third, only two behind the leaders entering Sunday’s program. On the racetrack, Essential Quality, Malathaat, Knicks Go, Jackie’s Warrior and a number of juveniles from both sexes provided many memorable moments.
But I’ll remember 2021 Saratoga for one glaringly important reason; the New York Racing Association doing something for local horseplayers which we’ve championed for years, in New York and elsewhere: They leveled the playing field for 99% of rank and file horseplayers who wager regularly on New York racing.
The only curious aspect is why the announcement took so long to make? In a development confirmed on August 19 by Daily Racing Form, NYRA placed time restrictions on the game’s biggest bettors who place bets via computer assisted wagering algorithms (CAW) 22 days earlier.
The NYRA policy began calling for CAW platforms to place straight win bets on its races prior to three minutes to post time. Consequently, those bettors have stopped wagering into the NYRA win pool entirely, a development NYRA management confirmed to DRF only last week
Resultingly, NYRA has seen handle in its win pool decline, which means the association was willing to take a financial hit to do what’s best for the overwhelming majority of players who now have a chance to react to large odds swings made by computer-assisted whales in the final minutes of wagering.
Odds will continue to fluctuate, of course, many of the live runners likely to go down, but at a far less precipitous rate. The concept of wagering value is, after all, in the mind of each individual handicapper.
Now bettors are far less likely to see 9-1 shots at post time finish first and pay off at odds of 6-1 or 7-1 after the race has begun. This happenstance has been embarrassing, bad-message-sending occurrence that gives the impression that the Drexel Gang 2.0 are alive and well, past-posting the rest of us.
The benefit is that now $10, $20, and even $200 players can assume that even if their horse’s odds drop, they will get close to the odds posted at the time their bet is made, odds they consider fair at minimum fair or even viable overlays if their handicapping turns out to be spot on.
The decision was made to address the perception that CAW programs capable of placing hundreds or even thousands of wagers virtually instantly, providing them with a huge advantage when it comes to taking rewards created by pool inefficiencies.
The NYRA does not have a parimutuel death wish thus the time restriction applies to win bets only. The special bet-processing access afford CAW bettors while at its core remains unfair, still works to a syndicate’s advantage in vertical pools.
Between that and sizably elevated rebates based on high volume discounts, as compared to the average “whale,” made possible by relatively high parimutuel takeout rates.
While exacta and super-exotic payouts can be affected significantly, those changes are likely to be far less dramatic because of the large number of permutations involved. That means Will-Pay information will be somewhat skewed but still looms a more acceptable consequence.
The game is difficult enough without having a solid idea of what your winning choice is likely to pay. Further, it makes explaining the nuances of the risk-reward value concept more easily to the casual fan, never mind the newbies.
Put another way “for the everyday player, dramatic late odds shifts are a frustrating side effect of high-volume wagers placed at the last possible second,” NYRA senior communications director Patrick McKenna via a prepared release.
Also confirmed by the DRF report was that NYRA banned CAW wagering programs from its Pick 6, late Pick 5, and weekly multi-track Cross Country Pick 5 such as yesterday’s All-Graded-Stakes X-C Pick 5 from Saratoga and Del Mar.
While win pool handle was affected adversely, overall per-race handle remained flat as CAW bettors arbitraged their wagers elsewhere. Saratoga’s 2021 meet handle remains on course to set an all-time wagering record.
While NYRA was not the first track to place restrictions, it stepped out by limiting time access to CAW bettors interested in wagering on North America’s most popular brand, Saratoga.
This policy change has performed a great service for present and future players by taking a long term view that helps horseplayers anywhere they place wagers, particularly those on-track who support live sport.
Without controversy, the NYRA has done as much for the fiscal health of the players as changes in medication and riding crop policies in California and New Jersey have done for the health of racing’s equine and human athletes.
By leveling the win-pool playing field for the benefit of those who wager on industry leading New York racing, straight wagering is in position to grow in the future, just as NYRA’s lengthy takeout reduction grew handle in the 1970s.
Betting marketers, especially those at Advance Deposit Wagering companies, have an incentive to promote more costly horizontal wagering given its “life-changing” message. But coupled with that comes a high degree-of-difficulty wagering product.
All businesses have an obligation, and a right, to grow their bottom lines. But giving players a chance to maintain bankroll liquidity is the best long-term gift that racing can give itself and its loyal fans.