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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Unless you're a jockey, you don't know

Pound for pound, jockeys may be the most physically tough athletes in sports.  Many work everyday which include early mornings, afternoons and sometimes nights.  They are atop 1,000+ pound animals racing at nearly 40 MPH in close quarters with split second decisions determining a win from a loss.  They also take their share of spills, getting kicked or stepped on by a horse and eating just enough to get through the day. All this along with cardio and weight training in between.

There is also the mental side from having to work with many different "teams" consisting of owners and trainers.  The pressure to win has to be very high which has led some to take drugs or alcohol to deal with the pressure.  Combine all this along with what goes on in their personal lives and it can lead to disastrous results.

However, there must be a reason why jockeys go through all this: Winning.  Most jockeys will tell you there is nothing like winning a horse race whether it is a claiming race or a Stakes race.  Winning a Triple Crown race or a Breeders' Cup race, though, likely produces a high no drug can reproduce and that is why some jockeys ride into their 50's or even 60's even though they have enough money to retire.

This year alone, we've seen some highs and lows from jockeys across the nation.  Eclipse Award winning jockey Ramon Dominguez was forced to retire due to a head injury he suffered earlier this year.  Hall Of Famer Gary Stevens made his return following a seven year absence and won the Preakness aboard Oxbow.  Tyler Baze was suspended 120 days for breaking his contract after testing positive for alcohol.  Up-and-comers Rosie Napravnik and Joel Rosario won riding titles and both are currently in the top five for wins and money won this year.

A bad ride can happen now and then and they often hear about it from those who bet on them after the race. As professionals, most are probably used to it and just try to ignore it.  Still, instead of insulting the jockey, how about encouraging them by saying something like "get 'em next time".  Unless you're a jockey, you don't know what it is like to live like one and this kind of encouragement may go a long way in helping them out as their lives are difficult as it is.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Isn't winning better than losing?

There are some out there that think when you bet a horse race that you are playing against the track.  They are wrong as horse racing in most countries has pari-mutuel wagering meaning you are betting amongst yourselves.  It is not like a casino where you are betting against the house.  

Over the weekend, a buddy and I were talking about how there are some within the industry that do not understand the concept of "churn".  One would think the tracks want more players to win in hopes that they bet some money back (or churn) through the windows as the tracks collect a percentage from each wager.  Most tracks do their best to keep the actual race track as fair as possible so that horses run to form and there are more winning tickets.  Maybe this is a large reason why favorites have won (on average) 33% of the time for decades.

Longshots are always going to win some races and favorites are always going to lose some races.  If this didn't happen, there would be very little horse racing.  That is part of the game and what makes horse race betting unique.  Whether you win money with a favorite or a 20/1 shot, it is a win.  

The folks at TVG seem to think that high-risk high-reward bets are the way to go.  They are always pushing their suggested Pick 4 or Pick 6 tickets and they rarely hit which is no surprise.  These are difficult wagers to win and this is not the way to help introduce new players.  This is like trying out for a baseball team and if you don't hit a home run you are off the team.  

The TVG talent mindset seems to be that playing the favorite or a low-odds horse is not the way to go and that you should always look for higher-odds horses in every race.  This may be true if you are selective with your wagers by betting only a race or two per card, but if you are discussing over the airwaves every race at a few tracks, there are going to be low-odds horses that win.  It is really absurd to think that this does not happen.  

Over the weekend as I was watching TVG, one analyst did pick the three favorites in a race and another analyst basically called the other out for doing so.  The three favorites came in 1-2-3.  Why is it so bad to give out a low-priced winner than a high-priced loser?  I thought the object as a horseplayer was to win money, but it seems that TVG has a different mentality.

The way to keep fans and to keep them coming back is to not only entertain them, but hope they collect a ticket or a few so they know that they can win.  Many new fans are not going to throw down $1,000 chasing a large pot in the Pick 6.  They are going to play a few bucks at the basic bets like Win, Place or Show.  Winning a $2 win bet on a 3/2 shot would probably be much more of a thrill than playing a 50/1 shot who trails the field the entire race.  

As an industry, horse racing should encourage winning especially to new fans.  If any of us horseplayers had lost the first three or four times we went to the races, do you think any of us would come back?  Winning is the name of the game whether it is $2.20 or $220,000.  The more people who win the more people will churn that money back or will come back to the races.  That sounds like a win-win situation for us all.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Ten reasons to decide who is better: Del Mar or Saratoga?

The two biggest meets of the summer kick off this week as Del Mar opens on Wednesday, July 17 while Saratoga opens Friday, July 19.  I have lived near Del Mar for most of my life and even worked three seasons there.  I did get to Saratoga for three weekdays and I will be as fair as I can about my judgements. Listed below are my 10 reasons why one track is better than the other.

1. Weather: With the beach just two furlongs away, Del Mar almost always has a cool ocean breeze and rarely any rain.  If you like 75-80 degree weather and lots of sunshine, you will love the weather at Del Mar.  Saratoga can get pretty humid and thunderstorms are no stranger to upstate New York.  There can be days where the weather is pleasant, but you can't beat a southern California ocean breeze.
Advantage - Del Mar

2. Entrance: The entrance at Saratoga has a fountain surrounded by jockey figures with silks painted for winners of last year's Grade 1 races.  This year, they will introduce the Saratoga Walk Of Fame with hoofprints of famous horses on the walkway outside of the admission gates.  The ticket booths at Del Mar are well, just ticket booths with no real horse racing flair.
Advantage - Saratoga

3. Promotions: There is no race track in this country who promotes like Del Mar.  There is 4 O'Clock Friday's with concerts, Donuts at Del Mar, Family Weekends, Beer Fests and Food Truck Festivals as well as contests like the opening day Hat Contest and Miss Cougar contest.  There are daily handicapping seminars and a few giveaway days as well.  Saratoga has Family Fridays, New York Marketplace days and a few giveaways and I'm sure they have handicapping seminars.  This really is no contest, though.
Advantage - Del Mar

4. Racing: Slot machines were finally put into place last year and New York racing (NYRA) has really boosted their purses as a result.  The daily large fields (outside of the Aqueduct winter meet) are easy to like for horseplayers, there is a Stakes scheduled for each racing day at Saratoga and the lowest claiming price is usually $20,000.  Racing in California has struggled the last few years and Del Mar had to switch from six days to five days along with only carding eight races on most weekdays.  Yes, there are top races at Del Mar, but Saratoga seems to have more in their favor.
Advantage - Saratoga

5. Atmosphere: There is nothing like opening day at Del Mar as it is just one big party.  The rest of the meet may not be as intense, but it does feel like a laid-back party-like atmosphere whether you are in the grandstand or in the infield.  I did not get that vibe at Saratoga at least on a weekday as it seemed a more serious approach.  Some people may enjoy that and they have every right to especially if you are a serious horseplayer who does not like to be distracted.  Still, I think Del Mar holds the edge whether you are serious or not.
Advantage - Del Mar

6. Around town: This is a close call as both have surrounding natural landscapes that are easy to like.  Del Mar has the ocean and lagoons while Saratoga is surrounded by trees and lakes.  Both have their share of really good restaurants as well.  In Del Mar, I had duck tacos for the first time and in Saratoga I had alligator for the first time.  However, the deciding factor is the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame which is right across the street from Saratoga.
Advantage - Saratoga

7. Wagering: Based on takeout, Saratoga has a lower rate in the Doubles, Exactas and non-carryover Pick 6's.  Del Mar has a lower rate in all other wagers including the 14% takeout of the Pick 5.  Del Mar also offers a Super High 5 in the last race, a Place Pick All and the Pick 6 pools are often much higher.  
Advantage - Del Mar

8. Paddock: The Del Mar paddock is where you can often see celebrities, you get a close up view of the horses being saddled and a quick view of the horse as they are led out by the jockey.   The Saratoga paddock is enormous and you need binoculars if you want to see your horse being saddled.  However, you get a much longer view of a horse with a jockey in the saddle.  This to me is more important as you can see how a horse is walking and observe its body language.  
Advantage - Saratoga

9. Cocktails: I do not remember or cannot find any kind of specialty cocktail that is offered at Saratoga.  However at Del Mar, they have the Del Margarita, the Del Martini, the Bloody Del Mary and the Red Bull Fecta.  There seems to be no argument who wins this battle.
Advantage - Del Mar

10. Parking lot: This may seem a strange one, but I've never been to a nicer parking lot in my life than the one at Saratoga.  It is surrounded by these tall trees and the walk to the track is really nice.  Del Mar is either asphalt or dirt depending on where you park.  Getting into and out of the track by car is not easy either as the traffic backs up very fast and you can be sitting in your car for at least on hour on busy days.  
Advantage - Saratoga

The final score of 5-5 is really no surprise.  Both tracks are special in their own way and many race fans share the passion of looking forward to each one every summer.  There may be some out there who thinks one is better than the other and that is great, too.  In this battle, though, the race fans are the winners between these two historic tracks.  

Good luck and we look forward to six weeks of the best racing around!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Remembering Luke Kruytbosch

Five years ago today (July 14, 2008), we lost a fantastic human being in Luke Kruytbosch.  He is most well known for his job as a race track announcer and he became only the fifth announcer in track history to call the Kentucky Derby live at Churchill Downs from 1999-2008.  He was also the track announcer at Turf Paradise, Hollywood Park, Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs and Northlands Park along with a few others.

But for those who were lucky enough to meet him or fortunate to hang out or work with him, he will always be remembered for his love for life and having a great time no matter where he was.  He was also very gracious by bringing fans up to his booth to show how he called the races.  He always showed his box of crayons which he used to color the silks of each jockey in the track program to help him recognize each horse as he called the race.

I was one of the lucky ones who got to meet, hang out and work with Luke in the summer of 2000 as an intern at Ellis Park where I was in between my two years at the Race Track Industry Program (RTIP) at the University of Arizona.  My internship for me and a fellow RTIP student was supposed to be in marketing, but after meeting with Luke he suggested I work with him in publicity. 

Before the meet started at Ellis Park, I spent a few weekends at Churchill Downs in the press box.  I watched and learned how Luke prepped for a day of race-calling along with how chart callers work in the booth next door.  It was surely a learning experience and I was trying to absorb as much as I could.  Luke was pretty serious at Churchill Downs, but he loosened up when racing switched to Ellis Park.  It was during this time where I got to see what a character Luke really was.  The following are some memorable moments I had that summer with him.

One of the jobs I was assigned as an intern at Ellis Park was to call a local radio station and give the results over the phone at the end of the race day.  One day, I had allergies really bad and I was sneezing what seemed like once every 30 seconds.  I told Luke there was no way I could give out the results as I would be sneezing left and right.  He offered to do them for me.  He called up the radio station and said "This is Jon Shonk live from the Ellis Park press box with today's race results!"  

As a side job, Luke would record his live race calls at Ellis Park and send them over the phone to an offsite race results line.  Sometimes, he would forget to press record on the tape recorder while calling the live race.  After he announced the results for that race to the live crowd, he would call the race from memory into the recorder and it was amazing as it sounded exactly the same.  I don't know how he did it, but it truly showed how great he was at his job.

In between races, he would call or receive calls here and there from his friends.  I can remember one time he called me over and handed me the phone "Here, Ross Porter wants to talk to you."  (Ross Porter was a sportscaster for the LA Dodgers).  Of course, it was not Ross Porter but his friend and fellow announcer Frank Mirahmadi doing his impression of Ross Porter.  It honestly was one of the few times in my life where I really was LMAO. 

Our off days at Ellis Park were Mondays and Tuesdays.  Luke invited me to join him for a road trip to River Downs near Cincinnati, Ohio which had live racing on Tuesdays.  We first visited nearby Turfway Park where Luke introduced me to many of the people he knew there.  Afterwards, we went to River Downs where he hung out most of the day with track publicist John "Regular Guy" Englehart who is also quite a character.  We ended the day with dinner at one of Luke's favorite restaurants right along the Ohio river in Louisville, Kentucky.

Another trip I went along with Luke was to Saratoga Springs, New York.  I didn't really hang out with Luke during that trip, but it was the only time I have ever been to Saratoga and I still cherish that trip to one of America's premier horse racing tracks.  This was the kind of person that Luke was.  He didn't have to invite me to go with him, but he did and it really was like hanging out with a movie star especially to this green intern.  One thing I do regret is I could've taken a picture of all three Triple Crown announcers as David Rodman from Pimlico was also there and of course Tom Durkin who announced at Saratoga.

Luke's voice will live on in all the recorded races he announced and I'm sure he will influence quite a few future track announcers.  I also hope his influence on how to live life to the fullest will remind us how short life really can be as Luke passed away from natural causes at the young age of 47. 

The following video is one of Luke's last interviews which was produced by the RTIP.  Thanks Luke for everything you taught me in horse racing and especially in life.

If you would like, please share your memories of Luke in the comments below.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Horse racing needs to be silly sometimes

Last Friday at Betfair Hollywood Park Kristine Leahy, a sports reporter for KCBS in Los Angeles, replaced regular race caller Vic Stauffer for two races.  Of course, it was not the greatest call of all time, but it really wasn't so bad that I would never want to be involved with horse racing again.  Some have called this a fun type of race while others have called it silly.

This was also the last Friday night card ever at Betfair Hollywood Park.  When Friday night racing was introduced at the track back in 1991, it was probably looked at as downright silly.  Who would go to Inglewood at night?  Who on the east coast would play a card starting at 10:00 pm local time? 

Weekday attendance was usually pretty dull, but Friday nights often attracted 10,000+ with many in the 21-35 age group which racing has been trying to attract for decades. Other tracks followed with 4 O'Clock Fridays at Del Mar, Downs After Dark at Churchill Downs and Starlight Racing at Fair Grounds.  Tracks such as Santa Anita and Belmont Park have offered twilight racing as well.

Another so called silly event is when race tracks bring camels, ostriches and zebras in for exhibition races.  These event days attract large crowds and expose people to horse racing by bringing them to the track.  The publicity the tracks receive from local and even national media is probably more effective than a cap or t-shirt giveaway.

Of course, there have been some misses.  Who can remember the Show Quinella where your two horses can finish 1-2, 1-3 or 2-3 to cash a ticket?  How about the "Fastest Daily Double" when a race was started on both dirt and turf and finished at the same time?  What about the Lori Petty ads with the slogan "Go Baby Go!"?  

Horse racing is the core product at any track, but with all the other entertainment options out there it is difficult to attract new fans.  Whether something is viewed as silly or not, it can be worth a try as it might attract new fans which are sorely needed.  Who knows, maybe that silly hat contest they have on opening day at Del Mar will turn into something big.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Is wagering from home an advantage?

The National Football League (NFL) has tried in recent years to try to attract fans to attend live games.  They realize that watching the game on TV and especially in high-definition TV along with instant replay and stats are stiff competition to attending a live game.  Throw in parking, tickets, food and beverage and you can be out quite a bit of money going to the game.  Staying at home or watching at a restaurant is usually much more inexpensive.  

What about horse racing?  While admission prices are a fraction of an NFL game, there is still parking, food and beverage, program and your choice of past performances to pay for when going to the track.  Before you are ready to wager, you have already spent at least $10 and you would still need money to eat or drink or to buy a reserved seat.

If you stay at home, you can wager online without paying admission, parking or a program.  Most all past performances are now available to download at a lower price (which can cost more if you print them out yourself) and you already have a seat.  The price of gas is also another money saver by staying at home.

Let's look at the major advantages of going to the track or wagering from home.

Advantages of the track: 
     - Live action:  The thrill of watching horses race down the stretch in person cannot be matched.  When you are rooting your horse home along with those around you makes for an exciting moment especially when you win.
     - Seeing the horses up close:  From watching the horses being saddled in the paddock, the walk to the track and the warmup, you can analyze each runner which can give you a great edge over those that are watching over a satellite signal.
     - Social aspect:  There are quite a few characters that can be seen at a track and it is great hanging out with others who share your passion for horse racing.  Discussing big wins and bad beats make for some interesting stories if you are willing to listen which you can also learn from (for example, always box your Exactas).
Advantages of home:
     - Access to payoffs: Instant access to will-pays, odds and pools can help you decide where your wagers will be made.  You can find this information at the track, but usually you have to wait for the will-pays/odds to cycle on a screen to see them. 
     - Tickets will not be lost:  Who hasn't lost a ticket at the track?  With online wagering, the ticket is electronic.  Also, you do not have to wait in line which can be frustrating when you are behind a $.10 Superfecta player.
     - Convenience: What if you just want to bet one horse?  What if you like to play multiple tracks?  What if you want to wager before or after work?  All this can take a few minutes online instead of driving to the track. 

Race tracks make more money on a wager on track rather than off track since there is no middle man.  Race tracks are making an effort to try to take the advantages of wagering from home to the track with computer technology.  With smart phones and tablets, race tracks can offer an app which gives you access to payoffs.  Some tracks are offering wagering with these devices as well which is obviously more convenient.  

This may not be enough to bring a large portion of fans back to live racing, but it is a start.  Lowering or eliminating parking and admission prices along with lowering takeout for those wagering on track are other ways to bring back the fans.  

What are your ideas that would bring you back to live racing?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Two wins then a loss can prove profitable next time out

Judging how a horse will run off its last race can be good or bad.  A horse that is sharp often runs well right back, but there are times when a horse just doesn't fire for any number of reasons.  These are the type of horses that can pay off especially when they are given another chance at the same level.

There were two horses at Belmont on Saturday, July 6 that won two straight races prior to a loss in their last race.  We'll use Today's Racing Digest Data Lines to show you how each of these horses performed prior to their race today. 

The first one is Tattenham who won his first two races prior to his 5th in his last start which was at this level May 30.  
Tattenham didn't appear to have many excuses May 30 per the comment lines (NOTES) and Alvarado was willing to ride back.  It is a good sign that trainer William Mott returned him at the same level and he shows two works since raced.

Tattenham went off at 7/1 and came up a head short when 2nd to the 4/5 favorite Star Channel.  This was a nice bounce back and it almost became a nice payoff.  The $2 Exacta with the strong favorite returned $23.80.

(If you would like more help in learning how to read Today's Racing Digest, click here for more information.)

The second one is Capetown Devil who won two straight prior to his 9th at today's level June 19.  
Capetown Devil showed his usual early speed, but he really spit the bit and finished last of nine June 19.  He led throughout in two straight prior to that including a win on dirt March 8.  The turf to dirt move is a strong one for the Englehart stable and the gelding returned at the same level.

Capetown Devil was let go at the windows at 13/1, took the lead entering the stretch and kept going for a $28.20 mutuel.  He did not set the pace early, but he was still good enough to win today.  It seems that whatever happened last time out was fixed and he paid his backers nicely.  

Of course, these type of runners don't always run well next time out, but it can be profitable if they do as the betting public often accepts that last race as a horse's current form. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

New place for my horse racing blogs


Welcome to my blog "Five Wide Horse Racing."  As with my last blog, you will find my views about the horse racing industry along with some handicapping tips.  I started blogging for the first time this year at  From now on, my blogs will appear here. 

A little insight into my experience in horse racing: I currently write for Today's Racing Digest and I am a graduate of the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program.  I have also worked at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, Ellis Park and

Like many people, I was introduced to horse racing from a gambling perspective.  Who doesn't like to win money?!?  As I became more involved in the sport, the horse racing industry became fascinating to me.  All the different rules and regulations, promotions that race tracks do to try to bring in new fans and what we can look forward to in the future had me wanting to learn more and more.  

Thank you for stopping by and here's hoping your jockey does not take your horse "Five Wide!"