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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!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Too many Grade 1 races

Recently, we've heard from a few high-profile owners saying there needs to be less horse racing as it is over-saturation of the product.  In a perfect world, they are right and it would be ideal.  However, less racing means less work for those of us in the industry and that is not ideal.

One way we can stop the over-saturation is to have less Grade 1 races.  In recent weeks, we've seen some soft Grade 1 events such as the Man O'War, the Eddie Read, the Prioress and the Clement L. Hirsch.  Let's take a look at these fields individually:

Man O'War at Belmont Park July 13: There were three Grade 2 winners in the field and one Grade 3 winner.  

Eddie Read at Del Mar July 20: There were three Grade 1 winners in the field, but two of them were overseas winners and neither one has won in this country while the other was the winner of the race (Jeranimo) who was 30/1 and finished 6th in last year's BC Turf Mile.

Prioress at Saratoga July 27: There was one Grade 1 winner (as a 2-year-old), one Grade 2 winner and one Grade 3 winner.  

Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar Aug 3: There were two Grade 1 winners including last year's winner of this race, but she finished far back while the other finished 3rd.  The field also included four Grade 2 winners.

This is just a small sample and these type of races should be more competitive with more higher class horses.

I feel there should be three changes that can lead to a big reduction in Grade 1 races:

1. Breeders' Cup Championship races and all three Triple Crown races do not need a Grade 1 designation -  All these races are recognized by all involved in the horse racing industry as top races.  There is no need to designate these events as even casual fans know these are the top races in the country.  This will eliminate 17 Grade 1 races.

2. No Grade 1 races for 2-year-old's - Winning as a 2-year-old doesn't mean greatness in the next few years and this is like comparing a teenager who was a great high school player, but never made it to the big leagues.  Let's make these juveniles prove they can run just as well in their later years before allowing them to win a Grade 1 as a 2-year-old.  This will eliminate 12 Grade 1 races along with the four juvenile Breeders' Cup races.

3. All Grade 1 races should carry a purse of at least $500,000 - Grade 1 races should be big events and if the tracks cannot put up the purse money then the race is not worthy of Grade 1 status.  This year alone, that would eliminate 35 races.

There are 111 scheduled Grade 1 races to be run in 2013.  With these changes, there would only be 43 Grade 1 races along with the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup races.  A total of only 43 races would really give these races the spotlight and it should also lead to more top horses in each field.  Nowadays, owners/trainers can pick and choose races where they avoid facing top horses in a lot of cases and that is not good for the sport.

We have seen a "less is more" trend in racing as many top tracks only race four or even three times a week.  Only the NYRA circuit has consistently raced five times a week, but they did go to four earlier this year at Aqueduct for several weeks.  This is not ideal for those who are employed in the industry as this leads to less pay.  However, a reduction in Grade 1 races can lead to more excitement and hopefully more prestige than what many Grade 1 races currently hold.