Sunday, 31 March 2013

Some weekend notes

World Cups, Derby preps, smart racetracks. Let's look at what happened this weekend in this wonderful world of racing.

Animal Kingdom proves U.S. ability
Despite technically representing Australia, Animal Kingdom scored a huge victory for the U.S. in Saturday's Dubai World Cup, proving the American horses can beat international talent on synthetic surfaces, specifically the Meydan Tapeta. Not only did he win, but he was damn impressive. I didn't pick him to win (I put him in for 2nd behind Hunter's Light) but I was incredibly happy when he drew out.
     Animal Kingdom was the 5-2 favorite on the North American tote, but he was 11-2 in Britain. Funny to see how nationalism can affect odds on these international days. Royal Delta was a very close 3rd choice on the U.S. tote, which was completely ridiculous and it showed. Dullahan was the 4th choice at 5-1, and he also ran poorly.
     Now American (and Aussie) fans will have to wait until Royal Ascot to see our hero race again. It's also been reported that he may race in Australia before retiring to stud. Hopefully he'll compete well over there.

Pj Chick in Black is still terrific
After an impressive trial, Pj Chick in Black showed her class again on Saturday, romping in the Grade III West Texas Derby at Sunland. She's now 7-for-8 lifetime, with earnings of $623,919. Her trainer, John Stinebaugh, said in a post race interview that she will get some time off before returning in the Ruidoso Derby trials. Not surprising. Great filly. She covered the 400 yards in a very fast 18.808. If she stays on form, maybe we'll have a Derby Triple Crown winner this year.

Stuff happened at Gulfstream and the Fair Grounds, too
Anybody watch the Florida Derby? I did too. Orb ran very well, and Shanghai Bobby isn't as good as he was. Some people are saying Itsmyluckyday bounced/regressed a bit, but I believe that Orb is simply a better horse. Not by a huge margin, but a more talented horse.
     Dreaming of Julia was incredibly impressive, but her fast time was a case of taking no pressure and being able to accelerate. Had she taken some pressure, she probably would have still gone faster than the boys, but not by as much as she did. She can't go to the Derby, but it will be fun to watch her and Midnight Lucky in the Kentucky Oaks.
     I was impressed by Revolutionary in the Louisiana Derby, but I think Departing is a horse to watch in the future. He got stuck in traffic down the stretch, swung out once he got an opening and ran pretty well to be third. The New Orleans Handicap was a good race as well, Graydar's really showing that he's a very talented horse. I'm a Flat Out fan, and I was a bit disappointed with him, but I'll survive.

All About Larry shows his 870 dominance
Sunland's feature today was the Grade III Red Cell New Mexico Distance Challenge going 870 yards. Despite finishing 4th in his trial, last year's AQHA Distance Champion All About Larry won today's final easily, looking to defend his title. He won by 4 lengths under a hand ride, and went in a 44.122. Had he been asked, he probably could have gone in the 43.95 range. He's a fun horse to follow, an incredible talent, and I hope he remains dominant in the 870 division this year.

Northlands Park: Doing It Right
I was checking out the DRF website, and I stumbled across an article about the upcoming Northlands Park meet. Once again, the Grade III Canadian Derby will highlight the meet, with the $100,000 Speed to Spare being the feature race for older horses. Both are 1 mile and 3/8ths races.
     But on to the doing it right part. In the article, it was said that the Edmonton track will be moving their Sunday afternoon cards, which haven't been performing well, to Monday afternoons. Very smart move, less competition creates more interest. I've stressed this point several times, and it's nice to see that there is a track that's smart enough to apply this. I wish Northlands a great 2013 season. Hopefully the new Balzac racetrack will get built and the Alberta racing industry will be able to grow and thrive as it had in the Stampede days.

Have a good week, and good luck.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Fort Erie fights back, other notes

It was announced the other day that Fort Erie, along with Flamboro and Georgian, had reached a transitional funding agreement with the Province. Terrific news.
     Fort Erie will race 50 days this year, starting on May 26th, with the backstretch opening a month prior. Besides that, we don't have any details. We don't know what the purse structure will look like, we don't know about the Prince of Wales, we don't know any details about Quarter Horse racing. We just know that there's 50 days.
     Now, in this post-slots era, there are some positives for the Fort. Total handle was up at the end of last year's meet, although I can't find the total. They introduced a $.20 Pick 5 and a $1 Super High 5, which were both fairly popular wagers, especially considering that they aren't available at Woodbine. There is real potential for Fort Erie to grow. Like other tracks in Ontario, the takeout is high. Last year, the Pick 4 was lowered from 26% to a pretty nice 17%, compared to Woodbine's 25%. If the Fort takes the initiative and can come to an agreement with the horsemen, takeout can be lowered on other wagers, and they can create a dominant Monday-Tuesday product. They need to get big bettors to play their races. If so, Fort Erie can be the first of the Ontario tracks to prove that racing in the province can be sustainable without slots funding. Hopefully, this can become the reality.

Pj Chick In Black tough in West Texas Derby
Pj Chick In Black, winner of last year's RGII New Mexican Spring Futurity and GI Ruidoso Futurity, will be heavily favored in Saturday's GIII West Texas Derby at Sunland Park. After a disappointing 6th place finish in the All American Futurity, Pj Chick In Black was given some time off. She returned on March 8th in her West Texas Derby trial where she drew off to win by an impressive length as the fastest qualifier, covering the 400 yards in 18.841. She will break from gate 3 on Saturday. Among her competition is G1 Southwest Juvenile Championship winner and trial winner Secret Courage, and Icu Deity, who was the fastest qualifier to the GII Sunland Winter Futurity. The West Texas Futurity will go as Race 5 on Saturday, with post time expected to go as 2:15 Mountain, 4:15 Eastern.

Sam Houston starts with trial action
Sam Houston kicks off their Quarter Horse meet tonight (Thursday) with a weekend full of trials. Thursday's card features 7 trials for the Sam Houston Maiden Classic. Then, Friday will hold 7 trials for the Sam Houston Derby, along with the $20,000 Harris County Stakes. Saturday will end the week at Sam Houston with a 15 race card full of trials for the Sam Houston Futurity. Saturday's card will have a special 3:00 Central post time. Thursday's and Friday's cards start at the regular 7:00 Central post time. The meet will also feature occasional Arabian races. Don't forget the Sam Houston has ultra low 12% takeout on Daily Doubles, Pick 3s, Pick 4s, Pick 5s, and Super High 5s, making it one of the best tracks to bet value-wise.

Dubai, Florida, Fair Grounds
Yeah, there's major Thoroughbred stuff going on this weekend, too, specifically on Saturday. First, the U.S. is looking to end their losing streak in the Dubai World Cup with Dullahan, Royal Delta and Animal Kingdom. To be honest, Animal Kingdom looks like the only real hope, now I just gotta look at the internationals. Sorry, Royal Delta fans. Then we have the Florida Derby and the Louisiana Derby. I'm cheering for the ever-improving Orb in the Florida Derby. I haven't looked at the LA Derby yet, but it's a big field with some nice horses.

Good luck to everyone this Easter Weekend.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Weekend Recap

A day of records at Sunland

Govenor Charlie wins the Sunland Derby
On Sunday, Sunland hosted their signature race, the Grade III Sunland Derby, along with 6 other Stakes races including the Sunland Park Oaks. It was a day of records, as 3 track records were broken and bettors sent a record handle through the windows. The 12 race card handled a total of $3,820,986. The track was lightning fast, and it led t 3 new track records. In The Bill Thomas Memorial Stakes, Isn't He Clever romped his way to a 5 3/4 length victory, and covered the 6 1/2 furlong distance in 1.13.45. Two races later, Bob Baffert trainee Midnight Lucky was sent off as the 1-5 favorite in the Sunland Park Oaks, drew off to win by 8 lengths, and finished the 1 mile 1/16th distance in 1.41.06. Midnight Lucky earned 50 points for the Kentucky Oaks and is virtually guaranteed a spot in that race. Right after the Oaks, Baffert doubled up to win the Sunland Park Derby with Govenor Charlie. Winning by 5 lengths, Govenor Charlie set the 3rd track record of the day, going the 1 mile 1/8th in 1.47.54. He has now earned 50 point towards the Kentucky Derby, also virtually assuring a spot in the gate on the first Saturday in May. Let's see how legit these impressive winners were.

Futurity season underway
The 2013 Open Futurity season and the road to the All American Futurity is officially underway. On Saturday afternoon, the Grade III Harrah's Futurity highlighted the Louisiana Downs card. 3-1 favorite Separatist Firstdown did not disappoint from the far outside post, covering the 300 yard distance in 15.527 under rider Saul Ramirez Jr. for trainer Isidro Flores, earning $86,202 of the $191,560 purse. Later on in the evening, Remington Park hosted a card featuring 4 Stakes races, highlighted by the Grade II Oklahoma Futurity. Fetching Beauty grabbed the win in the last jumps at a 10-1 upset with Victor Olivo in the saddle for trainer Sacramento Chavez. Earning $130,000, Fetching Beauty covered the 300 yards in 15.279. On Friday afternoon, Sunland held 10 trials to the Grade I West Texas Futurity, the first Grade I Futurity of the year. The final will be held on Sunday, April 14th. Thoroughbred Futurity season also started last week. On Tuesday, Sunland held 4 trials (2 for colts, 2 for fillies) for the NM Bred Copper Top Futurity. The finals will be held on Saturday, April 13th.

Black Onyx upsets Spiral Stakes
Black Onyx wins the Spiral Stakes
The Sunland Derby wasn't the only Derby prep this weekend, as Turfway held their signature Spiral Stakes on Saturday. Launching a wide bid, Black Onyx took the lead at the top of the stretch and won by a length and a half over Ontario-bred Uncaptured. I didn't handicap the Spiral, but I'm surprised that Black Onyx was almost 16-1, coming off an Allowance win at Gulfstream on the turf. Based on what I can observe, this wasn't the toughest field, and I saw quite a few people on Twitter use him. It will be fun to watch Black Onyx in the Derby to see how Polytrack horses continue to perform in the big race. We all remember Animal Kingdom winning the Derby a couple years back after prepping in the Spiral.
     Also, can Turfway PLEASE get a new race caller? I'm a big fan of Mike Battaglia as a handicapper, but he is definitely the worst race caller in North America.

Assiniboia Downs: Starting to do it right
Last week I blogged about Assiniboia Downs and their racing schedule, and how I believe it needs to change. While they aren't adapting the schedule I believe they should, they have changed one thing. It was announced on Thursday's Insider that post time will be pushed a half an hour back from 7:00 to 7:30 Central in order to reduce competition. They are also introducing the popular Super High 5 wager. Smart moves, Assiniboia. Now please, stop taking 29% from Tris and Supers and maybe more people will care.

Idaho approves Instant Racing
It has been reported that Idaho has approved of "historical racing." Wyoming recently passed a similar bill. This is a positive step in reviving the struggling racing industry in the region. Let's see if these racetracks become another bunch that slide by on gaming money.

Have a good week, and good luck.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Assiniboia Downs and their Schedule

Assiniboia Downs has posted their official 2013 racing schedule on their website.  As expected, they're using their standard schedule of Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night racing, with occasional Holiday afternoon cards replacing Wednesdays. Nothing surprising.
     After the end of last year's meet, DRF reported that handle was down 8% from 2011. In the comment section of that article, someone named Rob Nokes commented that Assiniboia should "takeover Turf Paradise's time slot on Monday and Tuesday." This made me consider how the day affects handle. We see it at smaller tracks like Turf Paradise or Sunland all the time, weekend cards draw modest handles while weekday cards, specifically Mondays and Tuesdays, draw very good sized handles. Why does this happen? Simple, there's little to no competition from major tracks, but serious bettors still want to bet, so they'll play one of the smaller tracks. Will Rogers Downs has figured this out, racing on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday schedule. So, how does the day affect handle at Assiniboia Downs?
     I decided to take some time and do the math. I went on Equibase and looked at the full card charts for all 60 days of racing last year and organized them into a chart, dividing them into columns of Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Holidays. The results weren't surprising.
     In 2012, there were 12 Wednesday cards, which handled a total of $1,874,316, which is an average of $156,193/card. There were 20 Friday cards, but one was cancelled after 4 races so I took it out of the Friday column. The 19 full Friday cards handled a total of $2,134,054, an average of $112,318. There were 20 Saturday cards, handling a total of $2,526,429, averaging $126,321. Finally, there were 8 Holiday cards, which gathered $1,624,454 in handle, an average of $203,056. With the addition of the $44,717 handled on the 1 cancelled card, this equals a total of $8,203,970. Please note that the official total is $8,198,785, which means I had a typo somewhere in my numbers equating to me being $5,185 too high, but it's not that large a difference so I'll live with it.
     The total average handle/card in 2012, subtracting the cancelled card, was $138,292. This shows that Wednesdays, the weekday cards, and Holidays both consistently perform above average while Fridays and Saturdays, the weekend cards, both consistently perform below average. So why does ASD insist on keeping weekend racing? Track attendance. While Assiniboia doesn't report official track attendance totals, it's common sense that Friday and Saturday nights will draw a bigger crowd than a Wednesday night.
     But we're in the era of simulcasting. Assiniboia needs to start playing to the simulcast market, where the real money lies. Much as it's nice to have a large crowd out and enjoying your races, you have to go where the money is, and the money is in simulcast betting. You need to get your signal out as much as you can and race when you'll get the most possible attention. Let's say Assiniboia moves their Friday cards, which are their worst performing, to Tuesdays, keeping Saturdays just to be fair to weekend fans who like to come out to the track. On a Friday night, specifically September 14th, Assiniboia has to compete with Emerald Downs, Charles Town, Los Alamitos, Mountaineer, Northlands, Prairie Meadows, Presque Isle, Remington, and Turfway. Had Assiniboia had that card on Tuesday, September 11th, their competition that night would have been Mountaineer and Presque Isle. On Tuesday night, Mountaineer dominates the night market, while Presque Isle is more of a late afternoon/early evening card. So on that Tuesday, Assiniboia would have had 22% of the competition they had on that Friday night. When you deduct 88% of your competition, handle goes up. Maybe I'm crazy, but that seems correct to me.
     Assiniboia has other problems. Field size in 2012 was only 6.9. Not quite as bad as Beulah, but it's small. Takeouts at the Downs are ridiculously high, 26% on Exactors and Doubles,  and 29% on Tris, Supers, Pick 3s and Pick 5s. They took a positive step in 2012, lowering their Pick 4 takeout from 29% to a low 15%. However, a low takeout on one bet isn't enough to lure serious bettors when they're still being soaked ludicrous amounts on all their other wagers. There are also issues with the Manitoba Government and the Red River Exhibition, but I don't know a lot about that and I'm not going to talk about it. All I know is that there's a possibility of Standardbred racing coming to the Downs.
     Does Assiniboia have a smart racing schedule? No. Can it be fixed? Yes. Would it create a positive change? Absolutely. We can only hope that the Downs figures this out and acts accordingly. If so, it would be a positive for bettors, horsemen, and Manitoba racing as a whole.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Winter Racing

Today I was bored. To cure my boredom, I decided "I guess I'll watch Parx." Watching Parx got me thinking. It got me thinking two things: a) holy crap, my life is sad, this is terrible, and b) is winter racing in the north-east really necessary?
      Let's take a look at the two major winter tracks in the north-east. We have Aqueduct and Parx. Both tracks are currently offering huge purses, bigger than all the winter tracks in the south, but there are a lot more horses in the south. After scratches, the average field size at Parx today was 6.7. Aqueduct's average field size on Sunday after scratches was 6.5. Meanwhile, Gulfstream's average field size after scratches on Sunday was 9. Parx and Aqueduct both hosted 9 races on their respective days. Gulfstream held 11.
     I'm not a fan of winter racing in the north, and there's several reasons for this.  
     Winter racing in the cold north is hard on horses, and it seems to really take it's toll on the Aqueduct inner track. If I had to choose between taking some time off or sending my horse to Parx in the winter, I'd opt to take the time off. If I had to choose between racing my $15,000 maiden claimer for a $22,000 purse at Parx or running for a $12,500 tag at Gulfstream for a $17,500 purse, I'd choose Gulfstream all the way. I'd definitely catch an easier field at Parx, but I believe that racing in a warm climate is easier on a horse and safer. It's safety first. In regards to the idea that's been frequently discussed about having a synthetic surface for the inner track at Aqueduct; yes, it would be safer than the inner dirt, but problems can arise with synthetic surfaces in cold temperatures, so is it really a great solution? I don't really think so.
     Handle-wise, let's do a quick comparison. This isn't scientific, this is just an observation. On Sunday, Aqueduct's 9 race card handled a total $5,745,539, which is an average of $638,393 per race. Gulfstream handled $9,351,204 over their 11 races that day. That's an average of $850,109 per race. Significantly higher than Aqueduct. Just for comparisons sake, on Sunday October 14th, a non-special day, Belmont handled $7,609,361 on a 10 race card, with an average of  $760,936 per race. This all shows that bettors are more likely to play a southern meet over Aqueduct, and that NYRA is more popular in the fall than in the winter. I could look at Parx' handle too, but why bother?
     Let's picture how things would be if there were no winter racing in the north-east. More horsemen would be forced to go south, while others would opt to take a break. With more horses in the south, field size would go up and the southern tracks handle would increase. Meanwhile, the winter break would allow tracks to fuel more money from their casinos for purses, and would be able to spread that money throughout the spring, summer and fall purses, which would be a benefit for horsemen. Horses that raced in the south would be fit and ready, while the horses that took a break wouldn't have had to deal with the stress of winter racing. To me, it seems like this would be a total positive change.
     So is northern winter racing really necessary? I don't think so. Not at all.

Some Other Notes

  • Remington kicked off their Quarter Horse meet on Friday, with a weekend full of Futurity and Derby trials for both Paints/Appaloosas and Quarter Horses. While Friday night's card handled $395,125 and Saturday night's card handled $519,674, Sunday afternoon's card handled $276,507. Bettors are more likely to play Quarter Horses either on weekend nights or weekday afternoons when there isn't as much competition, so Remington should be smart and move their Sunday cards to the evening. In case your interested, lists of qualifiers from all of the weekends trials are available here.
  • Kawartha Downs announced this evening that live racing would come to an end on March 31st, saying they couldn't come to an agreement with the province for transitional funding. I've never been to Kawartha, but based on what I've been told it's a dump. Handle-wise, it's terrible, and it would be near impossible to ever make it a sustainable track. So now it's bye-bye Windsor, Hiawatha and Kawartha for the harness people.
  • Will Rogers began their meet last Monday. Their schedule is 3 days a week, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. You know, the days a cheaper track like them will attract bettors. They aren't racing on Saturdays and trying to compete with major stakes races from Gulfstream and Santa Anita, they're racing where the money is. That, my friends, is a track that's doing it right.
Have a good week, and good luck.