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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.