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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Of My Favorite YouTube Horse Racing Videos

If you have ever been on the YouTube website, you have probably spent hours going from one video to another and all of a sudden you realize it is 3 in the morning.  There is a vast collection of historic races on YouTube featuring legends such as Man O'War, Silky Sullivan and Secretariat along with races from horses you may not have heard of.

Over the past few years, horse racing has had its share of videos that have "gone viral" on YouTube including Tom Durkin's call of the horse Arrrr or Larry Collmus' call of a stretch drive between horses Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow.  Whether it is a great race, an unusual call or a legendary horse it is fun to search around and watch them all.

In no particular order, here are five of my favorites:

1. The Debut of Donnaguska

Donnaguska is not exactly a famous name in horse racing, but you will probably remember her after watching this.  I would be surprised if anyone watched this race only once as it is unbelievable that Donnaguska wins this race.  Even the announcer can't believe it!

2. 1938 match race War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit

Many of us were not alive when this happened and we've seen the recent movie Seabiscuit.  It is awesome to see the actual race showing how dominant the underdog Seabiscuit was over Triple Crown winner War Admiral on this day.

3. 1988 San Bernardino Handicap

A fantastic race and finish featuring Kentucky Derby winners Alysheba and Ferdinand at Santa Anita.  Announcer Trevor Denman was in his prime, longshot Good Taste set the pace and would make his presence late as well.  It sounds like every single person in attendance was cheering them on in the stretch and watching this will give you goosebumps!

4. Video collage with Aerosmith's "Dream On"

YouTube user Pepper9873 did a super job editing this using clips of superstars like Zenyatta, Barbaro and Rachel Alexandra.  You definitely have to listen to the song along with the video to enjoy it even more.

5. Japan "horse racing" video game

Ok well, this is usually one of those you find at around 2:45 am.  It is a horse race simulation, but none of the runners resemble real-life horses.  It is bizarre and hilarious all at the same time and afterwards you'll be thinking to yourself "what did I just watch?". 

What are some of your favorite YouTube horse racing videos?  Share with us in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A few questions about Lasix

Once again, the thoroughbred horse racing industry here in the U.S. is in a debate about the legal raceday use of the medication Lasix.  This medication is allowed for race horses to help prevent exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage which in a few words is a natural occurrence of bleeding in a horse's lungs when they run.  I believe other than Canada, the use of raceday Lasix is not allowed anywhere else in the horse racing world and here are a few questions that some have asked:

-Prior to the late 1970's, Lasix was not allowed and horse racing was fine without it.  What happened?

-Why can't the fans and the horse racing industry just realize that Lasix is good for the horses, which in turn is good for the jockeys and the sport, and that horses need it to race?

-How do horses around the world race without Lasix?

These are all good questions and I wish I had the answers for all of them.  What I can give is my opinion and why I think Lasix along with all raceday medications should not be allowed.

After reading recent letters from various horseman associations that Lasix is needed for this sport to continue, I find it sad that we as an industry are dependent on this medication as if horse racing would end if it was banned.  Change is almost always scary, but giving us worst case scenarios such as every horse bleeding down the stretch with their jockeys returning with blood on their silks or horses collapsing more frequently because they did not receive Lasix doesn't fly with me.  If this did happen before Lasix, why didn't we hear about it?  I'm sure horse racing would not be as popular as it was in the first half of the 20th century if this was true.

One reason why it is difficult to attract new fans to horse racing is because there is a perception that horses are "drugged" or "doped" when they race.  While that is not exactly true, they do race with one medication/drug and that is a turnoff for some.  Also, there are studies that suggest that Lasix can mask other drugs and that is a reason why it is banned in human professional sports.  Shouldn't we know for sure if this is true or not?  A ban of raceday medications would also show the true talent of a horse that is not dependent on medication to perform to its full potential.

No one knows the exact reason why thoroughbreds are racing less frequently than they did in the past.  Whether it is inbreeding that is weakening the breed or the overuse of medications or a number of other reasons, I feel that the industry needs to find out if it is the use of Lasix during raceday.  A horse does not get to choose whether or not it receives Lasix for raceday.  However, we have a choice to ban raceday medication and I feel that would be a win-win situation for both human and horse.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's new at Del Mar and Saratoga for 2014

The premier horse racing meets of the summer in the U.S. begin this week with Del Mar opening on Thursday, July 17 and Saratoga on Friday, July 18.  Both tracks offer some of the highest daily purses in the country and they are meets that many horse racing fans look forward to all year.  (Click here for my Del Mar vs. Saratoga blog from last year)

Even though both are already successful, both tracks look for ways to improve and/or attract more fans and this year is no exception: 

Del Mar
- Probably the biggest and most notable change at the seaside track is the widening of the turf course.  This will allow 12 horse fields for routes and 10 for sprints.  This also allows them to start 14 if need be and that helped them qualify to host a Breeders' Cup which will be held in 2017. 

- Instead of the usual local Beer Fest, this year they will have an International Beer Fest including brews from Germany, Ireland and Belgium.  Look for this event to add even more excitement on Pacific Classic Day Sunday, August 24.

- The takeout for Double wagers will be reduced from last year's 22.68% to 20.00%.  While this is still higher than Santa Anita, at least it is a reduction and it is lower than 41 other tracks in North America.

- There will be an additional meet this year running from Friday, November 7 through Sunday, November 30.  With Hollywood Park closing last year, Del Mar received the extra days.  It will be interesting to see how the locals respond to Autumn racing.

- Nearly $2 million in capital improvements were set for this year including 500 HDTV's, three high definition video walls, expansion of the Saratoga Porch dining area and the high-tech horse position viewer Trakus.  While Saratoga is one of the oldest tracks in America, it is nice to see them "step up" and modernize the facility.

- Admission prices will be raised to $5 Grandstand and $8 Clubhouse.  While I don't personally agree with the price hike, I understand they are running a business and at least they have made improvements to the facility.  At least they still have general parking for free.  

- Local television channel MSG+ will host its new "Friday's Live from Saratoga" show every Friday of the meet and a special Sunday edition Aug 24.  Horse racing television exposure has been lacking for years and this could help attract new fans.

- The Pick 5 wager will kick off in the first thoroughbred race of each racing day with a 15% takeout.  This wager has proven popular around the country and they attracted large pools at the recently concluded Belmont Park meet.

I'm looking forward to some exciting racing from both tracks with their large fields and top-class Stakes.  While I live too far from Saratoga, I look forward to going back there some year and I will attend Del Mar as much as possible (which is fortunately only about a half-hour drive for me).  

If you are looking for handicapping analysis for both Del Mar and Saratoga, check out Today's Racing Digest.  The Del Mar edition includes workout analysis and handicapping analysis for each runner.  The Saratoga edition (which is what I write) includes exclusive speed and pace figures along with selections and analysis.  Sign up for a FREE account today!

Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 Triple Crown Recap: High hopes and sour grapes

This year's Triple Crown run drew a lot of positive and negative attention towards the sport of horse racing.  For the 13th time in the last 36 years, a horse had a chance to complete the Triple Crown.  The high hope was on the shoulders of the obscurely-bred California Chrome as racing fans, sports fans and novice fans from across the country cheered (and bet) him on in the final leg of the Triple Crown: The Belmont Stakes. 

The journey began after California Chrome punched his ticket into the Kentucky Derby with a dominant win in the Santa Anita Derby in early April.  He was the most consistent runner entering the 'Derby and he proved he could bring his race outside of California with another emphatic win as the favorite at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

The Preakness Stakes didn't attract many strong challengers, but runner-up Ride On Curlin kept California Chrome honest with an all-out 1.5 length victory.  Under jockey Victor Espinoza, 'Chrome enjoyed perfect/flawless trips which you almost need to win a race in the Triple Crown series.  Unfortunately, that high hope of sweeping the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes turned to disappointment after the wire and sour grapes during the post-race coverage.

Out of the gate in the Belmont Stakes, 'Chrome was stepped on from behind cutting a piece off of his back hoof which Espinoza felt right away that his horse was not perfect.  Still, 'Chrome was placed in a ground-saving trip just behind the two leaders up the backstretch, but one could see he was not comfortable receiving all that kickback dirt in his face.  When the field entered the stretch, there was a brief moment when Espinoza swung him to the outside that 'Chrome would show that turn of foot we have become used to seeing.  However, 'Chrome was spinning his wheels and he raced evenly but bravely to finish in a dead-heat for 4th.

Anyone who was there or watching on TV felt the disappointment of yet another year without a Triple Crown winner when the field passed the wire.  Jockey Joel Rosario aboard the winner Tonalist was interviewed after the gallop out and he had mixed feelings.  He stated that he wanted to see California Chrome win if his horse didn't and his non-jubilant body language showed his class as a person.  He knew how 'Chrome's fans felt and Rosario did not rub the victory in anyone's face publicly.

On the other hand, one of 'Chrome's owners went on a tirade that most all of us have done when in the heat of the moment by saying things we don't really mean.  Of course, not all of us have a microphone and a national TV audience in front of us when we do it.  All the attention was taken away from the winning horse Tonalist and the gallant Triple Crown run from 'Chrome.  That owner did apologize two days later, but the sour grapes image will never leave the minds of those that viewed the angry rant. 

There are those that suggest the Triple Crown should be changed to make it easier to win.  A popular argument is that thoroughbreds just do not race as often as they used to and they need more time between starts.  That is a valid reason, but it would also take away from the 11 who have accomplished this gigantic feat thus making it Triple Crown "Light".

In my opinion, it should never change as we have seen what kind of attention and excitement it brings.  Even if a horse never wins the Triple Crown again, we horse racing fans would not miss the chance to see history after a horse wins the first two legs.  Our high hopes will always be there even if we know the disappointment it will likely bring after the finish line.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rainbow 6 exposed?

The announcement by Gulfstream Park of its Rainbow 6 wager to have a mandatory payout on Monday, May 26, created a lot of excitement among horseplayers.  With its $6.6 million carryover, estimates made by track executives suggested the pool could reach as much as $20 million.  Entries were drawn earlier than usual to give horseplayers an extra day to handicap and with it's minimum $.20 wager, it seemed that anyone who wanted to play could afford to.

Unfortunately, the excitement bubble was burst when the Rainbow 6 was hit one day before on Sunday, May 25 for a payoff of $6,678,939.12.  The winning ticket cost $7,603.20 using the "all" button in five races and two horses in the other race.  All the hours spent handicapping by those looking forward to that day has been lost as the wager will likely have only a fraction of the pool for its mandatory payout and track executives will never know how much the pool could have swelled to.

As for the rules of the Rainbow 6, it is paid out every day for those who have selected the most winners on any ticket for that race day.  If there is not a single winning ticket, 70% of the pool pays out to winning tickets with the other 30% going into the carryover pool.  If there is a single winning ticket, the entire pool including the carryover is paid out.

Basically, if you have a winning ticket that is not a single winning ticket (with all six winners) you are hit with a double takeout: The 20% takeout for placing the wager and then 30% from the winnings that goes into the carryover pool.  Sounds like a lose-lose wager for those who play it unless you are one of the very few who has a single winning ticket which has proven to be extremely rare.

It will be interesting to see how the betting public accepts the wager now that the wager has been exposed in that it can be "bought" by a large ticket and for its "hidden" double takeout.  The dreams of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow has faded and the Rainbow 6 wager might fade away as well.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kentucky Derby 2014 recap

Under a flawless ride by jockey Victor Espinoza, favored California Chrome proved he was best with a 1 3/4 length victory.  The way 'Chrome can put his foes away entering the stretch is impressive though the final time was not at 2:03.66.  They ran the final quarter in a slow 26.21 which may be a sign this is not a good crop and/or thoroughbreds just are not bred to excel at 10 furlongs anymore.

There were a few horses who did not have clean trips led by my selection Candy Boy.  He was wiped out entering the first turn by Wicked Strong and he never had a chance to run to his best.  At least it appears he came back OK.  

Jockey Joe Bravo nearly caused a mid-stretch accident when he swerved Danza in front of Wicked Strong and Medal Count.  Danza did prove his big Arkansas Derby win was no fluke as it took him a while to get going, but once in the clear he really leveled out.  As for Medal Count, it appeared that he was just finding his best stride when Danza cut him off.  Thank goodness he did not go down.

Want to watch a strange ride?  Watch Calvin Borel aboard Ride On Curlin.  Breaking from the far outside, Borel took 'Curlin immediately to the rail as they passed the stands for the first time.  Entering the stretch, Borel decided to stay along the rail even though there were two horses right in front of him.  Borel had to check, he finally decided to swing him widest of all and he rallied while way too late. 

California Chrome was not as dominating as he was at Santa Anita earlier this year and the first 12 runners were only separated by about seven lengths.  That seems to leave little margin for error for 'Chrome if he goes to the Preakness Stakes in two weeks.  However, his name is in the record books and his name will be in full view between the famous twin spires for the next year.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Kentucky Derby 2014 selections

On paper, there is no denying that this year's Kentucky Derby goes through California Chrome.  The California-bred has won four straight races by open lengths earning solid Pace and Final Time Ratings (click here to learn about Today's Racing Digest speed ratings).  You might compare him to past winners Barbaro or Big Brown who also entered the Kentucky Derby with a string of victories.  

I think the way to play California Chrome is to key him on top of the exotics or don't use him at all.  In my opinion, he looks like an all or nothing type of horse as the biggest factor may fall on how he handles the expected pace pressure.  

Candy Boy was a distant 3rd against California Chrome in the Santa Anita Derby, but I think he rates a big chance to turn the tables.  It did appear that Candy Boy was too close to the pace in that event and that may have been per trainer instructions since the track was favoring early speed that day.  The colt finished 2nd to the 2-year-old champion Shared Belief last year and his Grade 2 RB Lewis win showed his grit in the stretch.  I think he will sit 5-6 lengths off the leaders up the backstretch and if Stevens can find clear sailing he could grind out the win.  

Samraat appeared to be going the wrong way per his Final Time Ratings leading up to the Wood Memorial.  However, his Final Time Rating did jump back up when he was game for 2nd in a photo.  While he was no match for Wicked Strong that day, he could be sitting on a top effort if he can settle off the expected hot pace.  As for Wicked Strong, he was a top choice winner for the Digest, but his best races have been in New York.

A horse I just can't figure out and I keep coming back to is Tapiture.  He was in sharp form prior to his 4th in the Arkansas Derby as the favorite and he has that Thunder Gulch type of look.  His Grade 2 win over this track last year is easy to like and maybe he will rebound. 

If you're looking for a wild longshot, I would give Commanding Curve a look.  This guy won a Maiden race over this track last year and he made his first start as a winner (and this year) in the Grade 2 Risen Star.  He finished 6th of 14 that day and returned to finish 3rd in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.  His connections seem to think he is this good and his deep closing style suggests he will be rallying strongly in the stretch if good enough. 

1. Candy Boy
2. Samraat
3. California Chrome
4. Tapiture
Longshot: Commanding Curve

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014 Kentucky Derby early preview

Now that all the points have been given out for the 2014 Kentucky Derby, we now know the top 24 horses likely to be entered.  There will be 20 horses drawn for the race along with four also-eligibles.  Below is a brief analysis of each horse in order from highest to lowest points earned. 

California Chrome: The likely favorite off his 5 1/4 length victory in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.  He has raced 10 times dating back to April 26, 2013 and has won his last four starts.  He has yet to race outside of Calfornia and there is plenty of pace in the field.  However, he has proven he can duel and finish and he has won four straight by open lengths.  

Vicar's In Trouble: Bounced back with a win in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby after his 3rd as the favorite in the Grade 2 Risen Star.  He seems to be at his best when forwardly-placed and all three of his wins have been by open lengths.  Now, can he carry his form outside of Fair Grounds?

Dance With Fate: Rallied for the win in the Grade 1 Blue Grass over Polytrack.  He was 2nd in a Grade 1 on dirt as a 2-year-old and has finished in the Exacta in six of his eight starts.  A likely hot pace only figures to help his chances.

Wicked Strong: Was the upsetter in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial for his second lifetime win.  He showed little at Gulfstream this winter and all of his good races have been in New York.  However, he could take advantage in the late going should there be a pace meltdown.

Samraat: Suffered his first defeat when 2nd in the Wood Memorial.  He won all five previous starts all in New York and he was game to finish 2nd in that last start.  His pressing style could lead to a great trip and he may be able to get a jump on the closers entering the stretch.

Danza: Lit up the tote with a win in his first lifetime route in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby.  He finished 3rd in his two starts as a winner, but he has tactical speed and could receive another ideal trip if that was not a fluke.

Hoppertunity: Likely punched his ticket with a win in the Grade 2 Rebel.  He was a no-threat 2nd in the Santa Anita Derby, but he may not have been fully cranked and his running style figures to have him within striking range throughout.  

Intense Holiday: Is battle-tested with six straight Graded Stakes starts and he was 2nd in his last start in the Louisiana Derby.  He rallied from midpack to win the Risen Star and that may be the running style that will give him the best chance to win with all the early speed lined up.

Wildcat Red: Has fired in every start with five wins and two runner-ups with those two losses by a head and a neck.  He was game in defeat in the Grade 1 Florida Derby and he has proven he can duel and finish.  His biggest neg may be he has yet to race outside of Gulfstream Park.  

We Miss Artie: Proved his love for Polytrack with a win in the Grade 3 Spiral.  He did make a middle move in the Grade 2 Fountain Of Youth on dirt, but faded badly in the stretch.  His good race bad race pattern suggests a bad race next time out, but if he handles the track he could be a late threat.

Ride On Curlin: Has yet to win a Stakes, but he has finished in the Trifecta in each of his last four Graded Stakes.  He was 2nd in the Arkansas Derby and he seems to be at his best when able to settle early and rally in the stretch.  

Chitu: Was the winner of the Grade 3 Sunland Derby and he has won three of his four starts.  He has pressing speed and was 2nd in the Grade 2 RB Lewis at Santa Anita in his only other route.  Class may be his biggest obstacle.

Tapiture: Raced evenly when 4th in the Arkansas Derby.  He was 2nd in the Rebel prior to that and he won a Grade 2 at Churchill Downs last year.  He has pressing speed and he could be a bounce back candidate.

Ring Weekend: Led all the way in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.  He disappointed in the Calder Derby last time out when a distant 2nd, but he may not have been fully cranked.  However, he also needs to prove that Tampa Bay Derby win was not a fluke and there figures to be plenty of pace up front.

General A Rod: Has finished in the Trifecta in all five starts and was 3rd in the Florida Derby.  He was game in the stretch in his previous two starts and he was 2nd at Churchill Downs last year.  He figures to be part of the early pace at the very least.

Medal Count: Rallied for 2nd in the Blue Grass, but finished far back in his last two dirt routes.  He did win his debut on dirt and his closing style may be a plus, but he has some surface questions to answer.

Candy Boy: Proved best in the RB Lewis and was 3rd last time out in the Santa Anita Derby.  He may have been too close to the pace in that last one and we would not be surprised to see him drop back and make one run next time out.  This would be his first start outside of California.

Uncle Sigh: Has yet to defeat winners and all five starts have been at Aqueduct.  He finished 2nd in a pair of Grade 3's earlier this year and was 5th in the Wood Memorial last time out.  He did not show his early speed in that last one and maybe he will show it this time around.

Vinceremos: Was the narrow winner of the Grade 3 SF Davis prior to his 2nd in the Tampa Bay Derby.  He finished last of 14 in the Blue Grass in his last start and he may need dirt for his best.  He could rebound, but he likely needs to improve quite a bit if he wants to make an impact.

Harry's Holiday: Finished 13th in the Blue Grass.  He lost by a nose in the Spiral prior to that and he would be trying a dirt route for the first time.  He is usually forwardly-placed and would need to bounce back big time if he wants to contend.

Commanding Curve: Filled out the Trifecta when 3rd in the Louisiana Derby.  He has yet to defeat winners and he figures to sit back early and try to make a rally late.

Pablo Del Monte: Set the pace and held 3rd in the Blue Grass.  Two turns on dirt is a cloud and he may have a tough time keeping up with the pace against classier runners.

Bayern: Went off favored in the Arkansas Derby and tired to 3rd after setting the pace.  That was only his third lifetime start and he seems to have some talent, but his lack of seasoning might work against him.

Social Inclusion: Looks similar to Bayern as he set the pace and tired to 3rd in the Wood Memorial in his third lifetime start.  He figures to be a pace factor if he starts, but his inexperience may be his biggest neg.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Handicapping: When a trainer speaks without saying a word

This past weekend, we witnessed quite a few upsets in various Stakes races.  Fortunately, I was able to cash on a few of them by trying to get into the trainer's head.  Why would this trainer enter this horse in this race?  One of these races was at Keeneland while two were at Oaklawn.

Hard Not To Like failed to fire in the 2013 edition of the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland, but this year she pulled off the upset at 13.5/1.  The question of why would this trainer enter this horse in this race was asked in my head while handicapping this race.  We'll use Today's Racing Digest Data Lines below.
The big thing that popped out for me was her comeback win vs. NW3 Optional Claimers at Gulfstream Feb 28.  That suggested that the time off did her very well and that she was doing so well that trainer Michael Matz decided to give her another chance at this race.  The fact that Javier Castellano was in the irons strengthened my reasoning that this mare had Matz thinking she had a big chance of winning today.  Below were my actual bets from Twin Spires: 

Me being the huge bettor I am only had $2 to win on Hard Not To Like which paid $29.00.  I also played two Exacta's with what I thought were the other contenders in the race, Stephanie's Kitten and Centre Court, with Hard Not To Like in second.  I also played Double's using the other two contenders with two longshots in the next race and three Double's keying Hard Not To Like with three in the next race.  My three horses finished 1-2-4 in the next race with Dance With Fate winning completing my Double that paid $193.70. 

At Oaklawn, I had been waiting for Ride On Curlin to run back after his 3rd in his last start after a brutal ride March 15.  I was hoping he would receive a rider switch for the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn and he did to Jon Court.  Ride On Curlin was listed at 12/1 on the morning line, but I knew he would only be about half that.  Since Oaklawn does not have rolling Double's, I tried a Pick 3 with multiple horses in the first two legs and singling Ride On Curlin.

In the first leg, there was a Bob Baffert trainee who was working fast and seemed well meant and went off favored.  Another caught my eye and that was Street Story.

Street Story won a similar event Jan 10 and didn't fire in a similar route Feb 1.  She went off favored in a NW2 Allowance sprint March 16 and was a pace factor only.  Why would Steve Asmussen now jump this filly back up in class off a poor race?  I was hoping she would be ridden the way she was in her Jan 10 win with a stalking trip and that was what happened.  I played her to win and backed her up in the Exacta with four other runners on top.  She rallied for the win at an amazing 14/1 and paid $30.60.

As for my wagers, I did like the Baffert filly and Street Story so I used them two in both of my Pick 3 tickets.  I keyed these two in one and went five deep in another which included my two keyed runners (#2 and #4).  

The middle leg included heavy favorite Will Take Charge.  I thought he was a "must use" along with Prayer For Relief.  There was another horse that I found interesting and he looked similar to Hard Not To Like.

Carve came back a winner vs. NW2 Optional Claimers March 9 and his record at Oaklawn was impressive.  He was way up in class, but I thought he had a shot at the upset.  Carve made a nice move along the rail entering the stretch and may have had a brief lead, but he just could not hold off two other runners in a roughly-run stretch drive.  Will Take Charge won at 2/5 with Revolutionary rallying for 2nd.  I was hoping Carve would hold 2nd as I did place the Exacta with Will Take Charge on top.  Anyways, I was alive with both of my Pick 3 tickets to Ride On Curlin which was my goal all along.  

Ride On Curlin would rally for 2nd in the Arkansas Derby at 7/1 which killed my Pick 3.  However, I have learned over the years that upsets do happen.  I have also learned from handicapper Steve Fierro that betting a horse to Place is not the right thing to do.  He told me that you will hit more Exactas by betting your horse in the bottom of the Exacta with other contenders on top instead of a Place bet.  Since I was not going to let a huge bomb beat me, I placed an All with Ride On Curlin Exacta.  

The winning Exacta paid $280.70 for just a $1 bet.  Now, who was this longshot that won?

Talk about overlooked.  Danza would go off at 41/1 and win by nearly five lengths.  This horse did finish a good 3rd in a Grade 2 last year and now he was asked to route in a $1 million race off just one race this year.  Trainer Todd Pletcher may have just been taking a shot with this colt or it could be he knew the horse would love the distance.  Either way, Pletcher has won quite a few Derby preps over the years and this one should have received more respect at the windows even if he did not win the race as Pletcher was quietly speaking "this horse has a huge chance today". 

Keeping in mind that these type of horses do not win every time, but there is a reason why they pay well as what a trainer is quietly speaking is not exactly translated on paper.  There are many factors as to why a trainer would enter a particular race.  It could be they think their horse is doing very well, it might like today's distance, it might like today's surface and on and on.  Ask yourself a few of these questions when you see a horse that doesn't seem to belong in this particular race.  It could help you find more of those high-priced winners we are all looking for. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Does Churchill Downs really need to increase takeout?

It was announced on April 10, 2014 that Churchill Downs race track will be increasing their takeout on both straight and exotic horse racing wagers.  They have said that it is to maintain the track's purses and their Stakes schedule.

Takeout from straight wagers (win, place and show) will increase from 16% to 17.5% while takeout from exotic wagers (Exacta, Pick 3, etc.) will increase from 19% to 22%.  The percentile increase is small, but the percentage rate is quite noticeable:

Straight wager takeout will have an increase of 9.38%

Exotic wager takeout will have an increase of 15.79%

For those that are unfamiliar with takeout, it is the amount of money that is held by the track to pay for purse money, taxes and running the actual race track property.  The rest is distributed back to those that placed winning wagers.  Basically, this higher takeout rate will lessen the winnings made by horseplayers. 

Churchill Downs race track is owned by Churchill Downs Inc. (CDI) which owns five horse race tracks of which three have slot machines, three casinos, a tote company and an online horse racing wagering company.  Earlier this year, they reported record net earnings for 2013 of $779.3 million and Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs race track, said "Since 2005 we have invested over $160 million in improving our fans' experience."  Some of that investment went into a $12 million video board at Churchill Downs that will be opening this year. 

The cost for that video board is interesting as the video board at one of CDI's race tracks, Fair Grounds, has been broken for the past few years.  In an excellent article by reporter Katherine Terrell that discusses a meeting between CDI and the Louisiana Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association, a representative for CDI says it would cost around $200,000 to repair.  That representative also said: "Ninety-five percent of the money that is wagered on Fair Grounds races happens somewhere else,  Only five percent of the handle (amount wagered) that's generated at Fair Grounds happens on-track. Of that small amount, maybe 10 percent of those people are standing on the apron looking at that board. Everyone one else is inside ... looking at one of our 700 TVs."

From that quote, the CDI representative is suggesting that on-track fans are not important and not many attend anyway.  Well, a broken video board may be one of the reasons!  Also, Fair Grounds handle was down 12% for their 2013-2014 meet which also included two purse cuts.  Telling your fanbase that a new video board is not needed because no one goes to that track anyway while you build a $12 million one at another facility is certainly not going to go over well.  While facility upgrades are nice and are indeed necessary it is not fair for the customer especially when record earnings are reported.  

Back to the takeout increase, many if not all studies involving lowering the takeout show that handle goes up.  Even the California Lottery lowered their takeout on lottery scratchers and more tickets were sold.  With record earnings reported and a conglomerate of 10 businesses owned, it seems CDI should not have to raise their takeout at Churchill Downs.  They have basically soured horseplayers before the meet even starts.

Until race tracks understand the importance of churn by not increasing takeout and by promoting outstanding customer relations, their business will continue to decline.  Social media has made this awareness of takeout rates a sensitive subject and one that can help decide whether a horseplayer wants to wager at one race track or another.  By leaving the takeout rate at its current rate or even a 1/2% decrease would have put a neutral/positive spin on the upcoming Churchill Downs meet.  Now, it has some horseplayers calling for a boycott of wagering at Churchill Downs and a likely downward spiral to continue.

Monday, March 17, 2014

NYRA to raise admission prices at Saratoga

This week's announcement by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to raise admission prices for both general and clubhouse admission has caused many complaints from horseplayers/fans on social media and website posts.  I've seen an ad that boasts Belmont Park will have average daily purses of $850,000 and there is the new $8 million in purses on Belmont Stakes Day so the NYRA is not hurting for money yet they are still raising prices.  

Yes, it's great that they are able to offer these high purses for the horseowners as it is expensive to race a horse and higher purses often lead to bigger fields which many horseplayers love.  However, to send the cost to the horseplayers/fans by charging more just to enter the facilities is not the right thing to do.  


Earlier this year, the NYRA did announce improvements for Saratoga which include: 750 new HDTV's, an enhanced sound system, 125 more picnic tables, Trakus, expanded children's playground, upgraded restrooms and expanded outdoor dining.  This has been way overdue and an improvement this big likely would not have happened without the help from the expanded gaming revenue from NYRA's other tracks Aqueduct and Belmont Park.

Horseplayers/fans have almost become accustomed to out-of-date technology, high takeout, poor food quality, run-down facilities and poor customer service at many race tracks.  We still attend and wager because we love the betting action.  We love the sport.  We love the atmosphere even with these conditions and any improvements are more than welcome.  

Instead of trying to welcome back and attract fans to the track, raising prices is only going to do the opposite. With all these improvements, don't you think horseplayers/fans would be excited to see them all only to find out it costs more to get in the gates?  Wouldn't you think that word of mouth and basic marketing without raising prices would help bring in more people?  Apparently, this is not the way that the NYRA conducts business which is going to rub us fans, which have kept them in business for a long time, the wrong way.

Monday, January 20, 2014

A Huge Week for Horseplayers

Of the many awesome experiences I had during my two years at the RTIP (1999-2001), the NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC) ranks up at the top.  The NTRA had asked four of us students to help out with registration and other various tasks for the two-day contest and all of us were very excited to make the trip to Las Vegas.  

This year's DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship will be held at Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas Jan 24-26.  The three-day tournament will offer $1.5 million in prizes with $750,000 to the first prize winner.  This is quite a jump from the $200,000 total prize money in 1999 and the NHC has become a life-changing event for those that have won the title of top handicapper.  

I love contests and I was able to absorb as much as I could at what has turned out to be the largest handicapping contest in this country.  From meeting top handicappers to helping out with tallying up the rankings, it really didn't feel like work as it was so much fun!  Fortunately, we were asked to come back a few more times and we had as much fun as we did in the first year.

One of the ideas being discussed during this time was a television series that would feature horseplayers.  It would show how a horseplayer arrives to their play for a race and follow along as the race runs. That idea has finally become reality as the show "Horseplayers" will make its debut on the Esquire Network on Tuesday, Jan 21 at 10 PM.  Each episode will follow a group of handicappers around the country while they compete for the title of America's top handicapper.  One of the handicappers on the series is Peter Rotundo who was one of the organizers we had worked with at the NHC. 

Like the fantastic movie "Let It Ride", I hope this series will show the horseplayer's point of view and what we all go through during a day of racing:  The ups and downs, the great wins and the bad beats along with the characters you meet at the track or simulcast facility.  I also hope that racing executives watch as well to give them an idea of what a horseplayer goes through and why we feel our ideas will help out the sport.

The biggest mistake I made while working the NHC in 2003 was not following the "buzz" about a horse a lot of handicappers were talking about.  Keep in mind many of the top handicappers in the country were in the building and many talked about making a Kentucky Derby future book wager on this particular horse.  He had run that weekend and I went back and looked at him in the past performances.  I can remember saying to myself: "Yeah right, a NY-bred gelding is going the win the Kentucky Derby!"  Well, he was 75/1 at the time and Funny Cide would go on to win the 2003 Kentucky Derby.  Here's hoping that racing executives do not make my mistake and listen when horseplayers speak.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Can higher minimums in exotics wagering be attractive?

A few days ago, one of the birthday gifts I bought for my Mom was a lottery scratcher ticket.  On this particular ticket, it said there were over 13 prizes of $5 million and that you have 28 chances to win any prize on a single ticket.  This particular ticket cost $20 which is the highest one you can purchase in California.  While Mom did not become an instant millionaire, it got me thinking maybe there is a way to make some horse racing wagers more interesting using this higher cost/higher payout idea. 

In recent years, many exotic wagers in horse racing have had their minimums dropped to $1 and even a few dropped all the way down to $.10.  This gives the horseplayer a higher chance to collect a ticket with multiple combinations at a lower cost.  The only one that I can think of that hasn't changed is the straight Pick 6 (not the Pick 6 where a large percentage of the pool is only paid out if there is only one ticket selecting all six winners).  In Southern California, the Pick 6 has become a mainstay and has attracted carryover pools into the millions which can lead to a six-figure payoff.  This is a minimum $2 wager which helps keep the chances for a carryover much higher as the chances of winning are low and tickets can get expensive fairly quickly.

What if there was an exotics wager that required a minimum $5 or even $10 bet?  I think for this to work it would have to be something like a Double or maybe even a Pick 3, but it would have to be a separate pool than the consecutive/rolling Double or Pick 3 that is offered (i.e. races 1-2, races 4-6 etc.).  The current tote machines can handle such a wager as there is the Kentucky Oaks/Kentucky Derby Double wager available which is two races on two different days.  

This type of wager would likely have to be offered in the middle of a card as money starts to flow better whether people are churning money from their winnings or people still trying to cash a ticket.  I can see a $5 Pick 3 offered for races 3, 5 and 7 while a $10 Double might be for races 4 and 7.  While I would not expect to see a huge increase in pool size, I could see it becoming more popular with time as people become excited and attracted to the bigger payouts.  Also, with a higher minimum it would increase the chances for a carryover especially in a Pick 3 pool. 

While I do enjoy the lower minimums in exotics wagering, I feel there should be a wager or two that offers a chance for a higher payoff.  I'm not a Pick 6 player as I feel the chances of me winning are slim especially with a slim bankroll.  However, I may dive into a high-minimum Double or Pick 3 as there would not be as many combinations covered which would lead to a higher payout.  I think a horseplayer with any size bankroll would find this attractive as we are all looking for that big score.  

Maybe next year Mom!