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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Changes for Horse Racing in 2014

Like most industries, a new year brings about changes and horse racing is no different.  Here are a few changes we will see in 2014: 

Racing in Southern California - This is probably the biggest one with the closing of Hollywood Park.  There will now be more racing at Santa Anita and Del Mar while Los Alamitos will also run thoroughbreds along with their usual Quarter Horses.  The following is the 2014 schedule:

     Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2013 - June 29, 2014
     Los Alamitos: July 3 - July 13
     Del Mar: July 16 - Sept. 3
     Fairplex: Sept. 4 - Sept. 23
     Santa Anita: Sept. 25 - Nov. 2
     Del Mar: Nov. 5 - Dec. 3
     Los Alamitos: Dec. 4 - Dec. 21
     Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2014 - Dec 31, 2014

Aqueduct racing Thursday - Monday - From January thru March of the Aqueduct meet, they will change from Wednesday - Sunday to a Thursday - Monday schedule.  This will change in the month of February when they will race four days a week with a Friday - Monday schedule.  In April, they will return to a Wednesday - Sunday schedule.  Santa Anita tried the Thursday - Monday schedule a few years back and it was not successful.  Maybe this will as Aqueduct will likely be the "headliner" on Mondays for the east coast simulcast player.

Preakness Stakes purse now $1.5 million - It appears that Maryland racing is on the improve and a 50% increase in The Preakness Stakes purse seems to prove that theory.  This is the first purse raise since 1998 and it will be interesting to see if The Belmont Stakes purse is raised soon.  It is nice to see a healthy circuit and maybe Maryland can make a profit on a day outside of The Preakness someday soon.

Rolling Doubles eliminated at Santa Anita - There will now only be three Doubles offered on the card at Santa Anita with a lowered 18% takeout.  A Double wager can now only be made from races 1-2, 4-5 and the last two races on the card.  Click here to view my blog about this change.

Omni wager debuts at NYRA tracks - This wager will be offered for every race with a 15% takeout.  It requires a better to select two of the first three-place finishers.  In order to win, your two horses can finish 1-2, 1-3 or 2-3.  This has been tried at Hollywood Park and Keeneland in the past and it has since been cancelled.  They probably should think about eliminating the Grand Slam wager as it only handled $61,097 on Belmont Stakes day and only $18,362 this past Dec. 14.

Graded Stakes - There are always good and bad discussions about this as with all other human judgements.  I feel there are way too many Grade 1 races and it is hurting the sport (click here for my take on Graded Stakes).  The La Troienne at Churchill Downs is now a Grade 1 while The Prioress at Saratoga and The Princess Rooney at Calder were downgraded to Grade 2.  Four races were upgraded to a Grade 2 while seven races were downgraded to a Grade 3.  Two races, The Sapling at Monmouth Park and The Ohio Derby at Thistledown, lost their Graded Stakes status.

A change that has been discussed, but not implemented yet is a possible increase in admission at Belmont Park and Saratoga.  The NYRA has explained that this is needed to make a profit without help from the slot machine fund.  Outside of Belmont Stakes day, there is rarely a crowd of over 10,000 at Belmont Park so this wouldn't seem to help and it may keep angry customers away.  At Saratoga, why would you want to keep people away from such a successful and grand meet by raising admission prices?  Let's hope they see the light and do not increase admission prices.

With change comes hope and these changes (whether you like them or not) will likely make their impact.  Whether it is positive or negative that remains to be seen, but let's hope for more positive changes that will help improve our industry for the years ahead.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Can trainers really be that good?

It is no secret that when certain trainers on various circuits claim a horse (or receive a horse from another trainer by the owner) that many of the horses improve dramatically in their next start.  Are these trainers that talented?  Do they know something that most all the other trainers don't know that can make a horse improve more than a few lengths?

Here are a few examples of recent runners on the NYRA circuit who were claimed or switched barns and they improved a lot per their Today's Racing Digest Final Time Ratings in their next starts:

Claimed from Wesley Ward by David Jacobson July 28, Barrister Jim returned to win Nov 1 and improved his Final Time Rating (second last column on the right) from a 108 to a 135.

Moved into the Jason Servis barn after his 7th June 22, Dr. Wesley won his next two starts and earned a 137 and 156 Final Time Rating.

Claimed from Gary Contessa by Rudy Rodriguez Sept 19, Inmyfathersimage won by over eight lengths earning a 125 Final Time Rating Nov 7.

Claimed from Eddie Kenneally by David Jacobson off his win Oct 4, Pass The Tap went from a 105 Final Time Rating to a 129 Final Time Rating Nov 8.

Moved from the Bob Baffert stable to the David Jacobson stable after his 4th vs. $20,000 Maiden-Claimers Oct 5, Spirited Touch easily beat $50,000 Maiden-Claimers Nov 7 earning a 128 Final Time Rating.

As those of us know that go to the races or the OTB, when these runners win and/or improve their numbers dramatically, you will hear from other horseplayers "that trainer knows what drugs to use" or "they have the juice".  Now imagine yourself as a new fan and you hear this.  You might think to yourself:  "Is this what is really happening and that some trainers have better drugs?"

Most horseplayers will assume that this is the case.  They can't explain what happens to turn around a horse like this as we do not know what a trainer does to make this happen.  The trainer doesn't come out and say what they did and who could blame them.  They do not want to give out their methods.  

Unfortunately, this assumption of drug use is difficult to hide as legal medications such as Lasix and Bute are allowed on race day in this country and Canada.  Can these medications hide other illegal substances?  Are current drug tests not finding new substances?  

Until there are new methods to detect if there is any illegal drug use going on, this assumption by many horseplayers will not change.  A recent movement to rid any race day medication has deteriorated.  There are no 24/7 security cameras in the barns on the backstretch to catch any illegal activity.  Because of this, expect to see more of these big turnarounds to continue to happen without any reasonable explanation.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My final visit to Hollywood Park

Honestly, I did not think I would visit Hollywood Park again after Zenyatta's last California appearance back in 2010.  I never really had any motivation to go back there after that, but an opportunity came up on Sunday, Dec 1 and I took advantage.

I was visiting family and friends in Los Angeles for the weekend and I noticed earlier in the week that Rookie Sensation was entered in the Hollywood Derby.  A good friend of mine has been on this horse all year including the Twilight Derby on Breeders' Cup Friday and he suggested we should go see him run in person.  I was all for it as I rarely turn down a visit to a race track.

It was certainly a nice day weather-wise, but there still was not a lot of people at the track.  This day being the Hollywood Park Turf Festival and the vibe felt like it was a late December Thursday.  

We arrived about 30 minutes before the Hollywood Derby and had no problem grabbing a good spot by the paddock.  

Surprisingly, Rookie Sensation was 2/1 the first time I looked at the tote and while I would place some money on him to win, I did play some Exacta's with him in the second slot with a few horses on top.

He looked great in the paddock as he was snorting and feeling full of himself (I'm talking about Rookie Sensation here though the same could be said about my friend on the right!).  He is also a pretty big horse and he looked to be sitting on a big effort.

My favorite jockey for a long time has been Corey Nakatani.  He is especially at his best when riding on the turf and he was aboard the foreign import Seek Again who had a recent haircut as he still had some of his winter coat.

We took a spot just before the finish line on the grandstand apron and Rookie Sensation would drift up to 3/1 as the second choice when the odds finalized.  As the field passed us to the first time, we could not believe our eyes as Rookie Sensation was on the lead!  Both my friend and I looked at each other with bewilderment as this colt has been a deep closer in all of his turf routes.

As the field turned for home, Rookie Sensation was still going strong and it looked like he had a chance.  However, there was a horse rallying along the rail and it was Seek Again.  He proved best in deep stretch while Rookie Sensation tired a bit and finished 5th.  What a disappointment especially for my friend as he wanted to see that big rally that Rookie Sensation has shown in the past.

My final wager at Hollywood Park turned out to be a winner.  I bet $9 in the race and got back $12.40 for a net win of $3.40.  We left a few minutes after that race after we each took a few last pictures.

While it is sad that another race track will be torn down, it really did feel like Hollywood Park was on its last legs.  It is too bad that the race track still couldn't be remodeled to fit the current crowds while using the rest of the space for the future development of the land.  I especially feel bad for those that were employed there as they will now have to look for another job/career.

2014 will certainly be a big change for California racing with the closing of Hollywood Park.  It could be a big opportunity for Los Alamitos to be a major player and it will be interesting to see what the attendance will be like at the Del Mar Autumn meet in November.  Will the Santa Anita turf course hold up for the upcoming six month meet?  Can Golden Gate turn their business around after years of downsizing cards and races per day?  It's all up in the air, but either way we will lose Hollywood Park forever.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

No more rolling Doubles at Santa Anita

The Daily Double, as it was called, was one of the first if not the first exotic wager offered at race tracks and it was offered on the first race of the day.  To win a Daily Double, you had to select the winners of the first and second race.  As exotic wagering began to expand so did the Double wager.  As I remember a Double would also be offered as the Late Double for the final two races of a card probably around the early 1990's.  Currently, many race tracks offer rolling Doubles with a $1 minimum, but it has always been a $2 minimum in California as far as I know.

The Double is my favorite exotics wager.  I can remember I hit 11 straight Doubles at Del Mar one season when it was the Early and Late Double.  It's the "keep it simple" approach which makes it attractive for me and I usually have success at the track when I stay away from many of the other exotic wagers available. 

It was announced (among other things) at the latest California Horse Racing Board meeting that there will no longer be rolling Double wagers at the upcoming Santa Anita meet.  Instead, there will be three Doubles offered per day with a takeout of 18% which is down from the current 22.68% rate.  The Double will be offered in race 1, race 4 and for the second to last race on the card.

From a race track point of view, I can see why they think this will work.  There will be larger pools with only three Doubles offered a day and that in theory will lead to bigger payoffs.  However, with the already large pools wagered at Santa Anita I do not think it will make that much of a difference.  

After reading a few forums about this news of only three Doubles a day, it appears that many horseplayers are upset at Santa Anita.  Taking away something rarely makes anyone happy and I believe horseplayers have a right to be upset.  Sure, the takeout is lowered, but why can't it be lowered for rolling Doubles?  It was bad enough that takeout rates in California were risen a few years ago and now they want to take away at least four Doubles per race day? 

With a near six month meet upcoming for Santa Anita, they should be trying to attract horseplayers and not give them a reason to stay away.  They should allow the Double takeout at 18% and bring back the rolling Double.  This may help to build the pools and give more back to horseplayers.  Isn't more business good business?  Let's hope Santa Anita will change its mind.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Final Days of Hollywood Park

(originally written May 13, 2013. I've added updates)
Ever since Bay Meadows Land Co. bought Hollywood Park back in 2005, we knew that the track would be torn down someday.  With this week’s announcement, the last day of racing at Hollywood Park will be Dec 22, 2013.  This is the 75th and last year at the track since opening its doors in 1938.  The same fate happened to Bay Meadows race track in 2008 where the rubble laid there for a few years (and still may be).

A few things delayed the closure of Hollywood Park as there was a chance it would remain open if slots were to become available on-track, but that was shut down by the voters of California.  The real estate market also plunged with the recession that has happened the last few years, but has now started to pick up some steam.  The land will eventually be developed into condos, a retail district, a hotel and a park among other things while the casino will still remain.

California racing in 2014 should see quite a change.  There is a need for stalls for all the horses who usually stay at Hollywood Park year round.  There likely will be more racing dates at Santa Anita and Del Mar.  Also in the talks has been opening Fairplex Park or Los Alamitos.  Will those that worked at Hollywood Park now shift to the other tracks or will they just lose their jobs?

Stalls should be the first priority as all these horses now will need a place to live.  Fairplex may have some room, but most likely we will see training tracks such as San Luis Rey Downs to help fill the need.  Along with the horses, trainers and their help would need a place to work and live as well.

(Updated for 2014: Santa Anita will race from Dec 26 thru July 6.  Los Alamitos will race from July 10 thru July 20.  Del Mar takes their usual spot from July 16 thru Sept 3.  Fairplex will race from Sept 4 thru Sept 23.  Racing goes back to Santa Anita from Sept 25 thru Nov 2.  Del Mar will race from Nov 5 thru Dec 7.  Finally, Los Alamitos will race from Dec 11 thru Dec 21.)

It is no secret that California racing has declined in recent years.  Smaller fields, higher takeout and higher living costs have all had an effect on attendance and wagering.  Trainer John Shirreffs took his string of horses to Belmont Park as he said he could not see a better future in the short term for California.  It would not be a surprise to see a few others follow.

Now that a change has to be made for the survival of racing, maybe now the leaders of horse racing in California can help turn things around.  Sometimes it takes something drastic to happen to make something drastic happen and change is certainly needed.  Unfortunately, we will lose a track filled with lots of history.

For this blogger, I can remember attending the 1997 Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park, but nothing prior to that.  I do remember going to closing day on a December Monday in 2001 and it was a first look at greatness.  Azeri made her second career start in an Allowance race and I was in awe when she raced through the stretch.  I really thought she was going to be a top-class horse and she proved me right.

 Azeri 2nd start 001
Azeri in the Hollywood Park paddock Dec 17, 2001.

My last visit was in 2010 for Zenyatta’s final race before heading to Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  There were 25,000 fans that day and she made it 19-for-19 as she thrilled the crowd once again.
Zenyatta at Hollywood Park in 2010 approaching the gate.

If you would like, share some of your Hollywood Park memories below.  For now, we will have a few more months of racing to enjoy and we’ll hold our breath hoping for a better future for California racing.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

2013 Breeders' Cup recap

This was my fifth in-person Breeders' Cup and third at Santa Anita.  The other two were at Hollywood Park and Arlington Park.  I won a contest on Twitter which included four Grandstand seats for Saturday only which included admission and program along with a signed hat by the winning jockey of the Classic.  Thank you Lockerdome!

The seats were not bad, but as you can see the finish line was a furlong away and the retail price was $200 each.  No way would I pay that much for these and it seemed obvious not too many others did either as the section I was in and further down were pretty empty.

I'm guessing the section that was most crowded in the picture was the least expensive seats while closest to the finish line.  

In past Breeders' Cups I've attended, it was usually a routine of standing in the betting lines for at 20 minutes for each race with large crowds surrounding the area.  Well, that was not the case in this area as wagering was no problem.

I would not be surprised to see a substantial decrease in the price of these seats next year as I was surprised that attendance was up for both days.  The plus side of this was that it was a really relaxed atmosphere and wagering was no problem.  

The first Breeders' Cup race was the Juvenile Fillies and while it turned out to be a controversial finish, it was really sad to see the breakdown of Secret Compass.  I don't think too many fans witnessed it, though, as there was not that "ohhh" you hear when something dramatic happens.  I did not see it either, but I could see that the horse was injured and I knew it was not good.  

Fortunately, that was the only significant injury that happened the rest of the card.  I collected my first winner with the Dank-Romantica Exacta for $11.60.  I followed my betting list almost to a tea throughout the day and I was never close in the following three races. 

I turned it around with the 9th race, the Turf, as Magician at a generous 12/1 wore down favored The Fugue to kick off my Double wager.  Secret Circle was one of my three key plays of the day and he just held on to win the Sprint giving me a payoff of $110.20.  I knew then not only was I going home with cash in my wallet, I would also have a winning Breeders' Cup.

In the Mile, Wise Dan proved he was the best turf miler in this country as he overcame a troubled trip to win at odds-on.  This is where I added to my betting list as I played a $5 Double from Wise Dan to Mucho Macho Man in the Classic.  Wise Dan also received a nice applause when he returned to the winner's circle which is always nice to hear.

The Classic was next and there were cheers from the crowd as every horse was introduced.  The biggest cheer was for the favorite Game On Dude with the next loudest for Mucho Macho Man.  The race proved to be one for the ages as Mucho Macho Man held off the 3-year-old Will Take Charge and the foreign invader Declaration Of War in a thrilling three-horse photo.  

I actually think Will Take Charge was in front just before the wire, but he lost the head bob at the wire.  It was fun cheering on Mucho Macho Man in the stretch and keying a Double that returned $19.20 for every $2 wagered.  My winnings for the day was $100.20.  Of course as you noticed, all these wins were in the late Pick 4 which I did not wager.  That paid $381.45 for a $.50 bet.  

The celebrity performances by Toni Braxton and Kristin Chenowith received solid applause from the crowd and was well-deserved.  However, we have to question the Richie Sambora performance of a 12 second guitar solo which I think received maybe three claps.

Six of the nine Breeders' Cup races had payoffs of $10.00 or less and that is probably why handle was up as many people collected and churned it back into the pools. 

I did spend the day with a pair of friends I met at my time at U of A and I hadn't seen them in 13 years.  It was great to catch up and we promised it would not be another 13 years for the next meet-up.  

As I was leaving the track and headed to the car, I ran into another RTIP friend of mine Jim Mulvihill.  It was amazing how we each left from different places of the track and at the same time to meet in the darkness of the parking lot.

And of course, there is not a complete day at the races without dinner with another RTIP friend and current horse identifier Jennifer Paige.  

The day started at 6:00 am as my wife and I made the journey to Santa Anita and we did not get home until around midnight.  We were both beat, but it was worth it to enjoy a day at the Breeders' Cup!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Breeders' Cup Saturday selections

Here are my selections and wagers I will make for Breeders' Cup Saturday.   My car broke down this past week so I won't have a lot to play with.  My three best bets of the day are in stars. 

4th race: Untapable, Sweet Reason, She’s A Tiger
Bet - $.50 Trifecta box 7,9,10 = $3

5th race: Romantica, Tiz Flirtatious, Dank, Marketing Mix
Bet - $3 win 2, $1 Exacta 1, 3, 6 with 2 = $6

6th race: *Dance To Bristol*, Book Review, Starship Truffles, Sweet Lulu, Judy The Beauty
Bet - $6 win 8, $1 Exacta 2, 3, 12 with 8 = $9

7th race: Havelock, Capo Bastone, Rock Me Baby
Bet - $2 win 2, 9, 10 = $6

8th race: *Smarty’s Echo*, Havana, We Miss Artie, Mexikoma
Bet - $6 win 1, $1 Exacta 3, 10, 13 with 1 = $9

9th race: Magician, The Fugue, Point Of Entry
Bet - $2 DD 7, 8, 11 with 9 = $6

10th race: *Secret Circle*, Justin Phillip, Gentlemen’s Bet, Bahamian Squall
Bet - $6 win 9, $1 Exacta 1, 3, 6 with 9 = $9

11th race: Olympic Glory, Wise Dan
Bet - $2 DD 5 with 1, 6, 12, $2 DD 8 with 1, 12 = $10 (If no hits $2 DD 5 with 6)

12th race: Mucho Macho Man, Flat Out, Last Gunfighter, Game On Dude, Declaration Of War
Bet – $1 Exacta box 1, 6, 12, $2 win 1, $1 Exacta 9 with 1, 12 = $10

Total = $60

Good luck and look for a recap next week.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Should The Breeders' Cup be a two day event?

The first Breeders' Cup 30 years ago had seven races all in one day and it has since doubled with 14 races spread over two days:  Five races are run on Friday and nine on Saturday.  Personally, I do not have a problem with the amount of races and maybe they have the right schedule after six tries since switching to a two-day event.

The two-day expansion began in 2007 when they added three new Breeders' Cup races: The Filly & Mare Sprint, The Juvenile Turf and The Dirt Mile.  These three were run on Friday with the other eight the following day.  

In 2008, they deemed Breeders' Cup Friday "Ladies Day" with five Breeders' Cup events all for fillies and mares and the new name for the Distaff was The Ladies Classic.  The all-male schedule of eight races was run on Saturday.

The next year they added The Marathon to the five female Breeders' Cup races on Friday and the remaining eight were run on Saturday.  The same schedule was kept for the 2010 edition.

In 2011, another Breeders' Cup race was added: The Juvenile Sprint and that was added to the Friday program while The Marathon was added to the Saturday program.  This was also the order for the 2012 Breeders' Cup.

This year, the Juvenile Sprint was eliminated, The Ladies Classic went back to its original name The Distaff and the schedule for the two days was changed once again.  Five races will be run on Friday: The Marathon, The Juvenile Turf, The Dirt Mile, The Juvenile Fillies and The Distaff.  The other nine races will be run on Saturday.

Four of what may be the least popular races are on Friday along with The Distaff which is the marquee event of the day.  The Marathon and The Dirt Mile often attracts horses that are not quite Grade 1 material, but they do merit a chance for a Breeders' Cup Trophy.  As for The Juvenile Turf and Juvenile Fillies Turf, these two events are often grab bags as the average odds of the winner of The Juvenile Turf is 8/1 and the average odds for The Juvenile Fillies Turf is 10.4/1. 

This seems like a good schedule especially as The Distaff deserves its own spotlight as we have seen three females win horse of the year honors over the last five years (Rachel Alexandra, Havre De Grace and Zenyatta). 

There are those that may see this as greed by The Breeders' Cup and there are those that think there are just too many races.  Well, we live in an age where horse racing is marketed around multi-Stakes days which often includes the biggest race of a meet (i.e. Travers Stakes or Pacific Classic).  We see this at meets across the country and this is a way to attract fans (new and old) along with corporate sponsorships.  Race tracks are not exactly money makers anymore and we have seen that recently with Bay Meadows being torn down a few years ago and next year Hollywood Park closing.

I do feel that The Breeders' Cup is now more than established in the industry and is a marquee event in the world of sports to have 14 races spread over two days.  True, it is expensive for admission and seats, but it is that way for the championships in the four major sports in this country and those around the world such as the Olympics or World Cup Soccer.  Who knows, maybe in the next 10 years we'll see a few more races added such as The All-Geldings Nine Furlong Dirt or perhaps The All-European Marathon Turf.  Either way, I'll be more than interested!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Withholding taxes on winnings to increase?

A new law went into effect in Massachusetts this year for any net gambling winnings of $600 or more will have a 5% withholding tax.  This is not only for exotic wagers it is for win, place and show wagers.  That means if you wagered $100 to win on a winning 6/1 shot at Suffolk Downs, the payout will result in a 5% withholding tax by the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.

How about if you hit an exotics wager that pays over $5,000?  Not only do you have the 26% takeout on exotics wagers at Suffolk Downs, you have the nationwide IRS withholding tax of 25% (for any winnings of 300/1 or more and pays $5,000 and up) and now you have the 5% withholding tax!

Horseplayers are smart, though, as they reportedly are wagering smaller tickets multiple times.  Instead of a straight $100 win bet, they place two $50 win bets.  This is similar to those playing the Superfecta as they will play a $.10 wager 10 times instead of playing a $1 wager hoping that the payoff is less than $5,000 on a $.10 payoff to avoid the IRS withholding tax.

I can remember there was a push to raise the IRS $5,000 withholding tax a few years ago to I believe $25,000 and haven’t heard from it since.  It was called The Pari-Mutuel Conformity and Equality Act of 2009 and it died in Congress that year.  All other forms of gambling are not subject to this withholding tax outside of pari-mutuel wagering and it may be a good idea to try to get this act back in the spotlight.

Back to the new Massachusetts 5% withholding tax, this is for all gambling in the state.  Other states will likely pick up on this and try to enact this as well.  It always seems that the government does not understand the meaning of churning money.  With higher takeout rates, there is less winning returns for bettors which leads to less betting.  Most all gamblers will churn back their winnings whether it is a slot machine or a horse race.  Each wager is already taxed and the government just can’t seem to grasp that concept of a lower takeout will actually work in their favor.

Takeout rates have really come into focus the last 10 years or so and pressure from horseplayers have helped lower the rates at a few tracks.  It looks like we are going to have to spread more awareness about this new Massachusetts withholding tax to try to eliminate it.  Maybe this will lead to another bill to repeal the IRS withholding tax from $5,000 to a higher amount.  Let’s not be silent on these issues and spread the word about these unfair taxes!

Below are a few horse racing websites that represent these type of issues:

1. American Horse Council: “Your unified voice in Washington”

2. Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA): “Giving horseplayers a voice”

3. National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA): “Putting horseplayers on the hill”

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Five Favorite Horse Racing Movies

Becoming a fan of horse racing had to start somewhere.  Whether it was a trip to the local race track, watching the Kentucky Derby on TV or maybe it was a movie that captured your attention.  I have not seen every single horse racing themed movie and I'm not saying these are the definitive five.  But I'm guessing that these movies gave some people a beginning into the world of horse racing.

The following is my five favorite horse racing themed movies in order:

5. Secretariat - This is the story of one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time and I thought they did a pretty good job with it.  It describes how the owner, Penny Chenery (who makes a cameo appearance in the film), ends up with Secretariat and his run through the Triple Crown.

I didn't care for the way they portrayed trainer Pancho Martin (who was the trainer for Sham), but I guess since it was a Disney movie they wanted to have a "villain".  The scenes were filmed at Churchill Downs, Keeneland and Evangeline Downs and you can recognize them if you keep your eyes open. 

4. The Killing (1956) - I just recently watched this movie for the first time and I really enjoyed it.  It keeps you on your toes as to what is going to happen next as the main character, Johnny Clay, takes careful steps to make a race track heist.

This was one of the first full-length films directed by Stanley Kubrick (The Shining, 2001) and all the race track scenes were taken at the now demolished Bay Meadows Race Course.  This one probably didn't make any true fans of the sport of horse racing, but I'm sure it could have made some from the money/gambling point of view.

3. Seabiscuit - He was beloved in the 1930's as the runt who became a champion.  The movie is based on how Seabiscuit started out as a perennial loser and how he was given a second chance by those involved around him.

Jockey Gary Stevens received good reviews for his portrayal of rival jockey George Woolf and the race track scenes were taken at Keeneland, Santa Anita and Saratoga.  Not only is this about the horse, it is about trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard which makes the movie even better.

2. Let It Ride - For those who have been to the race track and see/know of the many characters you see there, this is a hilarious take of one horseplayer who is having "a very good day".  

Most of the movie is shot at Hialeah Park when it was a major race track at the time and I think what makes this so great is that all of us horseplayers have been in Jay Trotter's shoes from the lows to the highs.  It is easy to relate to the characters and there are some classic lines in this film.

1. Phar Lap - In terms of story, acting and cinematography this movie has it all.  The story of one of the greatest race horses of all time as Phar Lap becomes the "people's horse" as he just keeps winning and winning.  

What may be the biggest tragedy of this movie is that it is not available in this country on DVD.  Finding a copy on VHS is even tough to find and it may be why not a lot of people know of the movie.  But low and behold, you can view this on youtube (click here) though it is a different edit of the one that I've seen as they show the ending first.

Please share your favorite horse racing movies in the comments below.

Monday, October 14, 2013

A Day At The OTB

Belmont Stakes day is one of my favorite to wager on. I’ve had some big hits and have had a few bucks on winners Sarava (70/1), D’Tara (38/1) and the best being the 1999 renewal with Lemon Drop Kid (29/1) keying a $2 Trifecta payoff of $5,343. The day also includes four more Graded events and large wagering pools. My budget is tight these days and I only had a bankroll of $40.  We’ll take a look at what I wagered with the results of wins and losses.

5th race: I arrived at the OTB for the 4th race, but did not play.  My top selection was Howie’s Tiz (2/1).  Two other contenders I liked were Accelerare (6/1) and Rap D’oro (22/1).  I’m a value bettor and I thought Acclerare was playable odds.  I played a Double with Accelerare with two horses in the 6th and another Double Acclerare and Rap D’oro with one horse in the 6th.  Then, I singled Howie’s Tiz in a Pick 3 using two in the 6th and one in the 7th.  Over the years, I’ve learned to never disregard your top choice no matter what the odds are.  Moreno won the race with Accelerare in 2nd.  Howie’s Tiz was 7th with Rap D’oro 9th.  Results: -$6

6th race: It really looked like favored Power Broker (6/5) would be able to control the pace.  New Line (8/1) looked like he would be able to be within striking range while Micromanage (11/1) came back a winner and he could be a late threat.  I played an Exacta keying Power Broker with New Line and Micromanage while playing New Line and Micromanage to win as well  Power Broker led all the way with Micromanage rallying for the second spot for a $24.40 payoff.  Result: +$18.80

7th race: Reload was scratched and I thought the A-entry of Justin Phillip and Fast Bullet looked tough to beat.  They were 4/5 at post time and I decided not to play.  Fast Bullet led all the way with Justin Phillip chasing in 2nd for a 1-2 finish.  Result: no play

8th race: I thought this race came down to Stephanie’s Kitten (3/1) and Centre Court (5/2).  I decided to use these two in a Pick 4 with two in the 9th, a single in the 10th and five deep in the 11th.  When I made this bet, Stephanie’s Kitten was 2/1 and I decided not to play her to win.  I was surprised she drifted up to 3/1 at post time and she proved best late.  This was a mistake as I should have had some win money on her at those odds.  Pick 4 ticket is alive.  Result: $10 Pick 4 ticket alive

9th race: This is where I made a big mistake.  I did not have the confidence to single Stephanie’s Kitten in the 8th and only used two in this wide-open race.  I used Declan’s Warrior (9/2) and Clearly Now (9/2).  The race had a lot of early speed and it looked like it would set up well for a closer.  My two selections rallied, but finished 2-3 as they were outfinished by Forty Tales.  No doubt Forty Tales was a contender and he was a closer.  Result: -$10 (Pick 4 ticket)

10th race: Point Of Entry was a total standout on paper.  He was the class of the race, he could handle a yielding course and he was the heavy favorite at 1/2.  Usually if there is an upset, it can be by a frontrunner so I placed $2 win on Plainview (23/1).  I then played a $10 Double from Point Of Entry to Freedom Child.  Also, I played a $2 Double Point Of Entry with longshots Palace Malice and Midnight Taboo.  The Double payoffs to Orb and Revolutionary were too low for me to play. Point Of Entry grinded out the win with Plainview fading to 6th.  Result $14 in Doubles alive

11th race: Since I did not have my other contenders Orb or Revolutionary in my Doubles, I used them in an Exacta on top with my three Double horses, Freedom Child, Midnight Taboo and Palace Malice.  That way, if one of my Double horses finishes 2nd I have a chance to catch the Exacta.  I also played an Exacta using Freedom Child and Palace Malice with Midnight Taboo hoping for a big payoff.  Freedom Child popped and stopped.  Midnight Taboo finished 12th and Palace Malice won.  When I bet the Doubles, the payoff to Palace Malice was $54.  It only paid $36.20 and the parlay would have paid $45.80.  That’s the chance you take in Double wagering.  Results: +$14.20
Total winnings $17.00

It was a winning day, but certainly nothing to brag about.  In my opinion, the betting part has always been harder than the handicapping.  That Pick 4 was very hittable and I did spread in the right races.  I just did not spread far enough to catch the $447 payoff.

The Double has probably been my favorite wager as value can be found and you can see the estimated payoffs to find value.  Most of the time the payoff is bigger than the parlay, but there was some heavy action to Palace Malice for it to move from $54 to $36 with 10 minutes to post.  Obviously, I was not the only one who saw the value on the board.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Get ready for even more six-horse fields!

Unless something pokes it in the eyes the horse racing industry will not blink.  The same problem that has plagued the industry over the last few decades is still lingering and it seems nothing is being done to help it.  Thoroughbreds continue to make less and less starts in their careers and with the sharp recent decline in the foal crop, it is going to be very difficult to have as many races as there are today.

Recently, we have seen race tracks card 12 and sometimes 14 races a day.  I would be very surprised to see that again over the next two years as the foal crop from 2012 has dropped 36% since 2007 with a total of 21,725.  

Race days for 2014 have mostly been set across the country and there has not been a large cut back in racing days.  Will there be less races carded per day or will days be cut on a day-to-day basis?

This past winter we witnessed Aqueduct go from five days to four days a week for six straight weeks.  Many tracks have already moved to a four day a week schedule and with this news about the sharp decline in the foal crop, it would not be surprising to see both Aqueduct and Belmont move to four days and Saratoga moving from six to five.

A typical race week in Southern California consists of eight races on the two weekdays and nine races on the two weekend days for a total of 34 races.  What may need to happen to keep race days up is to card six races on weekdays and eight on weekend days which will cut six races a week which equals about 17% less.  More than likely, though, is that the amount of races will remain the same with an average of 4-6 horses per race.

In Northern California, the situation is already on the ropes as they have cut to seven races on one weekday a week and it is not like they are exactly bragging about their field sizes.  

As one that works in the industry, I do not want to see a cut back in race dates as I will lose days of work.  I'm sure there are plenty of other people who feel the same way yet it seems as if the industry has no plans to attack this upcoming situation.  I'm always optimistic that things will work out and that life goes on, but it is difficult to have the same attitude when it comes to the horse racing industry as it continues to show that it lives for today and not for the future.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Super Saturday or Alarming Saturday?

With five Grade 1's races and a Grade 2 at Belmont Park along with five Grade 1's at Santa Anita, this past Saturday, Sept 28 was deemed Super Saturday.  There were great performances on the track along with some surprising results in what was a major prep for the Breeders' Cup five weeks away.

Belmont started the day off with the 3-year-old Princess Of Sylmar beating the mare Royal Delta in the Beldame.  'Sylmar, like most top class female runners, is very consistent and she may be even better as a 4-year-old.  Royal Delta will probably still be a top contender in the BC Distaff as she did not run badly; she just got plain outrun. 

Then we watched three consecutive races won in gate-to-wire fashion by Graydar in the Kelso, Private Zone in the Vosburgh and Laughing in the Flower Bowl.  Graydar and Laughing both set soft fractions and we would be surprised if they were allowed this kind of lead on Breeders' Cup Day.  Private Zone was game in his previous win at Del Mar after losing the lead in the stretch entering this race and he did the same thing in the Vosburgh.  This guy seems to be in top form and he has learned how to win after a string of close finishes.

Little Mike hadn't won since last year's BC Turf, but Mike Smith rode him the way Ramon Dominguez did in that race by sitting off the pace, taking the lead entering the stretch and holding on for a narrow win.  This horse has baffled us and other handicappers as you never know what Little Mike you will see on race day.  He can lead all the way in brilliant fashion or throw out the anchor or win like he did in this year's Joe Hirsch.  

Ron The Greek is another who can pop up with a big race now and then and he did just that in the Jockey Club Gold Cup winning by over six lengths at 21/1.  This was a quality field and he has won at 10 furlongs at Santa Anita in the past.  Can he string two alike?

Over at Santa Anita, Secret Compass was able to catch She's A Tiger in the final strides of the Chandelier.  'Tiger was on a fast pace and may have moved a touch too early when she opened up entering the far turn.  She may be able to turn the tables next time out.  

In the Rodeo Drive, Vionnet tried to pull off a "Laughing" as she set the pace, but she was unable to hold off Tiz Flirtatious and Marketing Mix.  'Flirtatious proved her visually impressive win at Del Mar last time out was not a fluke as she held off 'Mix by a head.  This was a good rebound by 'Mix who did not fire her best shot last time out at Arlington.

In a race that was full of Maidens, Bond Holder grabbed his first win in the Frontrunner by rallying from near the back of the pack.  He won by over two lengths, but we have to question the competition of this "Grade 1" affair.

When Beholder was allowed to set the pace entering the first turn, I said to myself "This race is over".  She proved me right as she led all the way in the Zenyatta.  This was not a strong field either, but this filly is always tough to run down when able to establish a Lone "F" trip.

The fans were correct in the Awesome Again as Mucho Macho Man ran away from the field as the 8/5 favorite.  He ran big in last year's BC Classic and it seems this 5-year-old loves this main track.  

Most alarming from this day is the on-track attendance at both tracks.  Both are in the area of two of the biggest cities in this country, but Belmont drew only 10,549 while Santa Anita drew 12,216.  

Outside of Belmont Stakes Day, a crowd of 10,000 is rarely reached at Belmont Park so this was really no surprise.  Still, you have to wonder what racing officials think and maybe new NYRA President Christopher Kay can find a way to bring people back on track.

Santa Anita drew 5,349 less than last year on this day and that is with $15 million of new renovations over the summer.  It seems they should have spent some of that money on marketing.  

Until race tracks figure out a way to bring more people on track, attendance will continue to suffer.  Admission and parking charges, high takeout rates, low-quality customer service and food have been complaints for as far as I can remember.  This Super Saturday should be renamed Alarming Saturday after this year's low attendance and it should serve as a warning of things to come if no major changes are made in the future.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Changing the Thoroughbred Birthday from January 1 to July 1

There has been plenty of debate on whether the Triple Crown races (Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes) should be changed from 3-year-old’s only to 4-year-old’s only.  Many argue that it will ruin the tradition of the series and those that win a Triple Crown as a 4-year-old would not be comparable to those that have won as a 3-year-old.  The opponents suggest that today’s thoroughbred is not durable enough to win all three races and that many that go thru the series often do not race again or can continue to compete at a top level.

Both ideas seem to be in neutral so why don’t we meet it in the middle.  Let’s change the universal birthday for a thoroughbred from Jan 1 to July 1.  This will allow a 3-year-old to be a mature sophomore instead of a less mature one.  Right now, if a runner in the Kentucky Derby was born in mid-May or later, they are actually not a full three years old.  With this new birth date, they all will be a full three years of age (of course many will be in real life a 4-year-old).  Either way, the rules are broken so let’s make it for a more mature horse for the sake of this argument.

Horse racing peaks in interest around the Triple Crown so why not move the Breeders’ Cup Championships to one of the last two weekends in June to help keep the sport in the spotlight.  Currently, the Breeders’ Cup tries to compete with the NFL, NCAA College Football, NHL and NBA in late October/early November while a move to late June would only have one other major sport to compete with (MLB).  Summer hours would also keep it daylight longer and that can allow the Breeders’ Cup to be run near prime time.

As for the Breeders’ Cup, we can see a change to help keep our star runners in training by making all races for 4-year-old’s and older while switching the Juvenile races (2-year-old’s) to the Breeders’ Cup Derby and Oaks (dirt and turf) which would be for 3-year-old’s only.   Once these sophomores turn four years old on July 1, they can compete in some big events such as the Haskell Invitational and the Travers Stakes.  Note that neither one of these are called Derby’s so maybe they can restrict those races for 4-year-old’s only.

What opens in July?  Two of the most popular meets: Saratoga and Del Mar.  This can be the start of the 2-year-old season instead of April and in some cases March.  By changing the birthday, this will give the young thoroughbreds time to mature and more time to gain experience as they run towards the Triple Crown.  Also, this will allow a bigger window should an injury occur.  Nowadays when there is an injury, it is basically the end of a horse’s chance to race in the Triple Crown as there is little time to recover.   Some notable names we have lost this year due to injury are Violence, Ive Struck A Nerve, Hear The Ghost and Shanghai Bobby.

For this industry to flourish, changes need to be made.  We’ve seen public interest decline over the past 25 years and there is not a quick fix to turn it around.  There would be more than a few challenges to make this birthday move happen as races would have to be rewritten, horse/breeding information for all data would have to be changed, there could possibly be a two-time Kentucky Derby winner, etc.   For an industry that seems to only be stepping on its own feet, this could be a step in the right direction.

What do you think?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Keep your heads up horse racing fans

There is a lot of negativity in the horse racing industry these days and there is plenty of reason for it. From high takeout rates to short fields to closing of race tracks, there is plenty of blame to go around. While it is human nature to complain more than to compliment, we’ll take a look at five positive things that the industry can be happy about.

1. Hall Of Famer’s still got it:  Every sport has its young stars, but it also has its crafty veterans that can still teach the youngsters a lesson or two.  Trainer Shug McGaughey won his first Kentucky Derby this year with Orb while trainer D. Wayne Lukas saddled Oxbow to win the Preakness with jockey Gary Stevens aboard.  All three human connections are in the Hall Of Fame and it surely makes fans of the “old school” proud.  It also makes for a great story which the industry seems to thrive on.

2. International racing:  The internet and social media has helped make the world smaller as we can see and find out what is going on all over the world in a few seconds.  Over the last few years, we got to see a pair of superstar horses from overseas: Frankel from Europe and Black Caviar from Australia.  Frankel went undefeated in 15 starts and won 10 Group 1 events.  Black Caviar went undefeated in 25 starts and won 15 Group 1 events.  Horses like these help create new horse racing fans as Zenyatta did here in the U.S. and we were able to follow along with each victory whether it was on HRTV or TVG, via TV simulcast at race tracks or OTB’s, or on the internet.

3. Account wagering: How awesome it is that we can now make a wager from home or from anywhere with a phone?  While there is no comparison to watching a race live in person, we all can’t be at the track every day.  For a long time, we California residents could not wager on all tracks as there was a limit of simulcast races allowed for each day.  Nowadays, we can wager on tracks across the country with account wagering either online or by phone.  This convenience is much appreciated and we have seen an increase in account wagering year by year.

4. Star horses still in training: For a while there, it seemed like when a horse won a Graded Stakes race or two they were retired shortly for breeding purposes.  It is difficult to build a following when a horse is only around for a year or even less.  In recent years we have seen that trend slowly reversing.  This year, we’ve seen the return of Horse of the Year Wise Dan win a pair of Grade 1 Stakes already (of course he is a gelding).  2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom won this year’s Dubai World Cup.  Champion mare Royal Delta was unplaced in the Dubai World Cup, but is scheduled to return to racing in this country later this month.  We appreciate the connections of these and other runners who are still around and let’s hope this trend will continue in the future.

5. The Mid-Atlantic Uniform Medication Program: There is not much nationwide solidarity in the industry and this new program gives us some hope.  Eight states have agreed to enforce the same medication regulation and testing regarding thresholds and withdrawal guidelines beginning in 2014.  Many race tracks in that region are in close proximity of each other and this will make it easier for horsemen to understand the regulations instead of trying to figure them out by each state.  Recently, it was announced that California will join the program next year as well.  Maybe this is a step towards national regulation and hopefully that will lead to other nationwide programs in the future.

All of us became a fan of horse racing for one reason or another.  We did not become fans because of the negative reasons.  Whether it was the beauty of the sport and/or the gambling/handicapping aspect, we want others to understand why we like horse racing.  These are just five and we would like to hear from you why we should all keep our heads up by commenting below!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Three Handicapping Lessons to be Learned

(This is a blog I wrote on the Today's Racing Digest blog from June 11, 2013)

All of us have had our share of bad beats. It could be a bad ride, a bad bet or just plain bad luck. The one that comes to mind for me is with Arcangues in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Yeah, the one that was 133/1 with Jerry Bailey that won!  As a budding young handicapper, I would always try to beat the favorite and I could not figure out why they brought Arcangues all the way over from Europe to run in this race.  His form was not good, but I figured they know more than I do.

I can remember I played an Exacta box using Arcangues, Best Pal and Devil His Due with the latter two a pair of favorite horses of mine at the time.  By my own stubbornness I did not use the favored three-horse entry of Bertrando, Marquetry and Missionary Ridge.  Looking back, how stupid was I not only to not use a three-horse entry, but those three horses were pretty damn good.

As it turns out, Arcangues won the race with Bertrando running 2nd.  The Exacta paid just over $1,000 and I did not have it.  I searched frantically thru my tickets hoping I had it by accident and I did have a ticket to collect:  $2 show on Arcangues.  How could I not have this horse to win and have the Exacta!  Instead of a big win, I collected my $18.20 and walked to the car with my head down questioning my own sanity.

Handicapping lesson #1: Always play the horse you like to win.
Even if the win is small, it is a win and if anything it helps mentally to collect a winning ticket.  For me personally, I do not play odds-on horses to win. 

There are different ways to play Exactas.  You can bet them straight, you can box, you can key or you can wheel.  Many people often advise to always box your Exactas, but I’m not a fan of that if it is more than two horses in a box.  Even then, if Quinella wagering is available, I advise to play the Exacta the way you think it will come in straight and then play the Quinella using those two horses.  That way, if it comes in the way you think it will, you collect on both tickets.  If Quinella wagering is not available, play a two-horse box, but three or more I would use another method.

Lately, the way I play a lot of races is to play the horse I like to win and then using a few contenders on top in the Exacta with my horse in the second slot.  Handicapper Steve Fierro taught me this as he said you will probably catch more higher-paying Exactas this way instead of playing the horse to win and backing it up to place.  It has been sound advice as I have caught some nice Exacta payoffs since using this method.

Of course, I was dumb enough in my early days of handicapping not to back my horse up either in the Exacta or to win.  The 1996 Pacific Classic was the race where I learned my lesson the hard way.  I played a straight $20 Exacta with Cigar on top and Dare And Go in 2nd.  I did not play it once the other way nor did I play Dare And Go to win.  Dare And Go paid $81 to win and the Exacta with Cigar running 2nd paid $123.  Not only did I learn my lesson, I also learned there is no “sure thing” in horse racing as Cigar’s 15 race win streak was now over.

Handicapping lesson #2: When playing the Exacta, always back up your bet.

Playing a straight Exacta is playing with fire.  There are so many ways to lose a race and now you are trying to predict the first two finishers in exact order.  Back up your straight Exacta with a win wager or box the Exacta on the other horse if it is a two-horse Exacta.

Whether you place your bets with a human teller, a self-service machine or your own computer, you should always check your ticket to make sure it is the one you asked for.  We humans are not perfect and will make errors from time to time whether it is yourself or someone else.

Before wagering online, the local OTB’s would be packed especially on big days like the Breeders’ Cup.  I was at an OTB for the 1994 Breeders’ Cup and the wagering lines were so long that I decided to use the self-service machine using a betting card.  I filled it out and it only took a few minutes to wait in line and for the wager to go thru.  I played $20 to win on Timber Country and cheered him home as he won.  However, I did not mark the right box on the betting card and had $20 on some other horse.  I just cost myself $48 in winnings and the mentality that I just lost on a winner.

Handicapping lesson #3: Always check your tickets.

We all make mistakes and assuming your tickets are always right will lead to a losing ticket.  I’m sure there has been a time or two that the mistake ticket has won, but the wrong ticket will almost always lead to more losers.  It only takes a few seconds and that precious time will help to eliminate those mistakes.

Bad beats make for great stories to tell later on in the future, but by following these three lessons you are more likely to have less bad beats and more winners which we all love to have!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Deep Closers: Are they worth the risk?

(Another blog from the Today's Racing Digest website that I wrote)
As a horse racing fan, there may not be anything more exciting then a horse passing all others in the stretch to win the race at the wire. In recent times, Zenyatta thrilled us all with her stretch rallies and even her lone loss in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic was exciting and memorable. Of course, back in the day there was the legendary Silky Sullivan.  (click his name below for a video)

Silky Sullivan

As a horseplayer, deep closers are often bad bets especially in main track races (dirt or synthetics).  The pace of the race, jockey error and clear sailing through traffic are all obstacles these runners have to overcome.  As we observed in this year’s first two legs of the Triple Crown, Orb looked great winning the Kentucky Derby, but looked rather ordinary in the Preakness Stakes.

After watching a replay of the Kentucky Derby, Orb reminded me of 2001 Kentucky Derby winner Monarchos.  Both winners circled the field around the far turn and both had very fast paces to set up their rallies.  The six furlong split in 2001 was 1:09.25 while this year’s six furlong split was 1:09.80.

The pace was much different for both in the Preakness as the six furlong split in 2001 was 1:11.86 and Monarchos finished 6th at 2/1.  This year’s six furlong split was 1:13.26 and Orb finished 4th at 3/5.  This is just one example as it was under the spotlight, but these type of situations happen day in and day out at tracks across the country.

Perhaps the best example of deep closers to bet against are for Maiden second-time starters.  Horses that are slow into stride and rally strongly to finish 2nd or 3rd are usually well-played at the windows second time out.  You hear the handicappers on TV or the track feed say “that is a horse you should watch for next time”.  That flashy turn of foot is easy to remember and the betting public tends to jump all over these types.

However, these second-timers often show better early speed and come up short.  Below are a few examples of these type of second-timers.
Second-timer 1
Coconut Cream Pie was off a bit slow, was 6th early and rallied to finish 2nd in her debut Feb 10.  In her next start March 21, she was 4th early and finished 5th at 9/5.

Izy Power was 6th early and finished 2nd in her debut at 36/1 April 21.  In start #2 May 10, she was 2nd early and finished 5th at 7/2.

Top Marc In Class was 9th early and finished 2nd in his debut at 46/1 Aug 11.  For his second start Sept 9, he rallied for 2nd again at 5/2.

Now, we are not saying that these type never win because they do.  Our point is that they are usually well-bet or overbet at the windows and long term they are not good plays.  While we wait for the next Zenyatta or Silky Sullivan to arrive, playing against deep closers can be a way to help you find more winners and fatten your wallet.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Instant Racing is slowly starting to spread

(This is from a blog I wrote on the Today's Racing Digest website)

Most slot machines are considered a game of chance, but AmTote and RaceTech developed a machine that is based on skill called Instant Racing. These Instant Racing machines look like slot machines, but they are pari-mutuel just like horse racing and the player has to use their “skill” to select winners from past videotaped races. The names of the horses have been changed and there are data charts the player can use to “handicap” each race (spin).


As you can see above, the reels spin like a slot machine while the race is shown in the upper right corner in the yellow box.  The player selects three numbers/horses for each spin/race and they can win by selecting the first three finishers in order (Trifecta), the first three finishers in any order (Trifecta box), the first two finishers (Exacta) or any two of the first three finishers (Show Quinella).  Each spin is pooled just like in pari-mutuel wagering and the player who hits first receives the highest payout.

These Instant Racing machines were first installed at Oaklawn Park in 2000 and they have helped more than double their purses which were about $400,000 a day in 2013.  In 2012, both Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park (both located in Kentucky) were able to install Instant Racing at their tracks.  On May 23, 2013 a bill was approved by the Senate in Oregon for Portland Meadows to install Instant Racing, but it still has to be signed by the Governor for final approval.

On average, a typical slot machine makes about $300 a day while Instant Racing machines have ranged from 14-57% lower per day.  Still, it is income for the tracks whether they are racing or not and at all hours of the day and night.  While racinos such as Belmont Park or Woodbine still have an advantage, Instant Racing has helped smaller tracks to help boost purses which attracts better horses.

With the recent closing of Bay Meadows and now Hollywood Park at the end of this year, will California racing push to have Instant Racing machines installed at their race tracks?  There was a push for them in 2006, but it appears that it is no longer a priority.  A bill for online poker in the state last year hasn’t made any ground.  This year, a bill was sent to allow sports betting at race tracks, but it has been stalled on the Assembly floor.

Competition for the gambling dollar keeps expanding as there are now over 50 Native American Casinos in California.  There is also the state lottery, church bingo and card casinos.  Online wagering at race tracks in the state has increased, but the tracks also receive a lower cut of the wagering dollar as a piece now goes to the online wagering companies.

Race tracks continue to try their best to attract people to attend live racing by using hat giveaways, mystery mutuel vouchers, food truck festivals, concerts, family fun days. etc.  Maybe there needs to be another push for Instant Racing machines which would at least get more people to the track.  Of course, it is difficult to transfer slot players to become horseplayers, but it certainly couldn’t hurt could it?

Monday, August 19, 2013

You would be intimidated too!

(This was a blog I wrote on the Today's Racing Digest website.)

Imagine yourself going to a race track for the first time in this day and age. You enter the gates, you buy a program and you are basically pushed into a tilt-a-wheel ride as your head spins from all the race track and betting lingo.

You go to try to make a bet at the windows, but others are yelling at you to hurry up and you still really don’t understand what you just bet.  There are all these TV’s with different races going on.  Is that the track I want to play?  What are all these grids with numbers in the infield?  What about the horse?  What are those bandages around its legs?  Why is its tongue tied?

Basically, that’s what a newcomer has to deal with when they go to the races unless they are with others that know what they are doing. At most all race tracks, there is little help for a newcomer and it has been that way for years. Another way to look at this is playing craps for the first time.


You see all these places on the table to place a bet, there are chips all around, dice are thrown and there is a guy with a stick who controls the game. It is intimidating if you don’t know what to do and it is similar to being a first timer at the track.

Most every track nowadays offers nine types of wagers: Win, Place, Show, Exacta, Trifecta, Superfecta, Double, Pick 3 and Pick 4.  Other than the WPS wagers, exotics wagering can be played different ways: straight, box, key or wheel.  As a newcomer, you would be expected to know what each bet is, how to bet it and how it is paid off.

True, many tracks offer seminars which explain a bit about wagering, horses, jockeys and trainers and there are websites which can help as well.  However, most of these seminars last around one hour before the races begin and you are left on your own afterwards.  What about those who have questions during the races?

This past spring at Keeneland, they introduced “Betologists” which were people they employed to roam around the facility throughout the day answering questions about horse racing and wagering.  This is a good way to be pro-active by going to the customer instead of the customer going out of their way to find help.

I’ve never understood why race tracks are not very pro-active.  It seems they just open the doors and let people handle it on their own.  What if there was a seminar or a type of class that was offered outside of the race track?  Give people an understanding of what goes on before they go.  Let them go to a mock betting window and make mock bets at one of these seminars so they know what to expect when they do it for real.  Then, show a race or two and show the payouts to let them understand what types of bets paid what.

Now that race tracks have the newcomer at the track, how do they get them to come back?  What if they try a promotion that the advanced deposit wagering websites do for newcomers by offering a cash incentive?  Bet $50 get back $50.  A race track can do the same, but maybe for a less amount of say $20.  Bet $20 today and we’ll give you a $20 wager voucher for the next time you attend the races.

We as horseplayers can only help the tracks so much with helping bring new people.  Maybe the tracks can help themselves by going outside of the track with some horse racing classes to help give newcomers a head start.  Then, how about some “Betologists” like the ones at Keeneland to help newcomers from the first race to the last.  And finally, give newcomers a reason to come back with a cash incentive.  Maybe all this can help with the intimidation factor which may lead to more newcomers attending the races and help reverse the current trend of declining live racing attendance.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Handicapping the 2-year-old's

(This blog is from Today's Racing Digest website that was written by myself.  Click here for the original link.)

Summer time is upon us and that means we’ll see more and more races for 2-year-old’s. Handicapping a race filled with first time starters can be a headache, but after looking at some recent winners there may be a way to lessen the pain.

In a study of straight 2-year-old Maiden races throughout the country where the winner was a first-time starter, eight of the nine winners had at least two of three qualifying points listed below:

1. Trainer stats with first-time starters were at least 12% win percentage.

2. Sire stats with first-time starters were at least 13% win percentage.

3. Each horse in their last six published workouts had at least two gate works and/or a fast work.

We’ll highlight each horse using Today’s Racing Digest Data Lines along with the date and payout.

Bahnah 1
Bahnah: Churchill Downs June 6 Race 5 $5.80.  Qualified with 1, 2 and 3.
Side Letter 1
Side Letter: Golden Gate June 7 Race 4 $3.60. Qualified with 1, 2 and 3.
Look Quickly
Look Quickly: Golden Gate June 7 Race 6 $28.80. Did not have any qualifiers.
Sandbar 1
Sandbar: Churchill Downs June 8 Race 8 $9.40. Qualified with 1 and 3.
Ride The World 1
Ride The World: Woodbine June 8 Race 4 $6.80. Qualified with 1, 2 and 3.
Red Outlaw 1
Red Outlaw: Betfair Hollywood Park June 9 Race 9 $5.20. Qualified with 1, 2 and 3.
South Sound 1
South Sound: Betfair Hollywood Park June 14 Race 2 $5.80. Qualified with 1, 2 and 3.
Specialnightaction 1
Specialnightaction: Calder June 15 Race 8 $9.00. Qualified with 1, 2 and 3.
See My Tail Lites 1
See My Tail Lites: Emerald Downs June 16 Race 3 $6.40. Qualified with 1 and 3.

Now there are no groundbreaking prices here as all eight qualifiers paid $9.40 or less.  However, the study shows what to look for when handicapping 2-year-old first-time starters in straight Maiden races.  Maybe we can all find more winners this way and can leave the aspirin at home!