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Friday, 31 May 2013

Champions face off at Remington, Grand River takeouts & Penn Mile

Saturday is a big day of racing at Remington Park, it's Heritage Place Futurity day. The Heritage Place Futurity is a Grade 1 race with a purse of $1,075,260. Ten of the best two year olds will line up to compete for the winner's slice of the pie.
     But the Heritage Place Futurity isn't the best race on the card. Not even close.
     The real highlight of the night is the Grade 1, $250,000 Remington Park Invitational Championship. It's essentially a summer version of the Champion on Champions, and the field is fantastic. Two of Quarter Horse racing's greatest are competing.
    Making his first start since November is 2011 All American Futurity and 2012 All American Derby winner Ochoa, the richest Quarter Horse to ever race. He's making his Remington debut after a disappointing 5th place finish in the Texas Classic Derby at Lone Star where he was a bit slow at the break and couldn't rally. Ochoa's main competition is stable-mate Cold Cash 123, 2011 World Champion looking to defend his title in this race. He exits a victory in the Grade 2 Bank of America Oklahoma Challenge Championship. Among their competition is Leo Stakes winner First in Class Dbs and Kool Country Man, who won the Bank of America Texas Challenge Championship at Sam Houston last time. It's a field packed full of talent and worth watching for any racing fan.


     Up here in Ontario, one of our many B-tracks for harness racing, Grand River Raceway, is about to start their meet with some nice takeout reductions. Win/Place/Show is now 16.95%, Exactor is 20.5%, Daily Double and Pick 4 are now 15%. They're also introducing a 15% Super High 5. They're doing what Western Fair has already done, but taking it a step further. This is a great step for Grand River, and hopefully it will be successful. Really, every track in Ontario should be doing this but they aren't. Kudos to Grand River Raceway, good luck to them. I'm not much of a harness player, but I'll play some Win and Doubles at the low rake. The meet starts on Monday, June 3rd. Post time is 7:05 PM.


     Who likes Penn National? I don't. Slots cash fuels huge purses for cheap claimers, but they still soak you 31% for Triactors and 30% for Superfectas. I refuse to play there. But, on Saturday night, Penn will host the inaugural Penn Mile, a $500,000 purse for 3 year olds going on the turf. It's a race that'll show us some future turf starts. It's a very good field, 3 of the 8 are Graded Stakes winners, 2 more are Graded Stakes placed. The favorite is Chad Brown trainee Noble Tune, who sports a 4 for 5 record and exits a win in the  Grade 2 American Turf at Churchill. Be sure to tune in. I'm not going to encourage you to wager, though.

Have a good one, and good luck.
   

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Triple Crowns: Thoroughbred vs. Quarter Horse

Last Saturday we watched our dreams of a 2013 Triple Crown break into little pieces when Kentucky Derby winner Orb finished a very flat fourth in the Preakness at Pimlico. It was a very disappointing race, and while there a million reasons and excuses we can make for Orb's disappointing race, Pull the Pocket stated it best here.
     But although Thoroughbred Triple Crown dreams have died, Quarter Horse Triple Crown season is just beginning.
     In case you didn't know, Quarter Horse racing has it's own Triple Crown. It compromises of the $750,000 Ruidoso Futurity, the $1,000,000 Rainbow Futurity and the $2,600,000 All American Futurity, all at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. There is also a Derby Triple Crown composed of three Derbies that go by the same names, but it is less important. 
     Although the task of winning the Triple Crown is the same for both breeds, win all 3 races, getting there is very different.
     As we all know, in order to win the Thoroughbred Triple Crown you must first earn enough points by running in prep races to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The top 20 points earners make it into the Kentucky Derby starting gate. Then, after winning the Derby, you simply need to win the Preakness and the Belmont.
     Getting into the Quarter Horse Triple Crown is a little different. You first need to compete in a trial race for the Ruidoso Futurity. This year there are 25 trials for the Ruidoso Futurity with 245 horses entered. Each horse is timed individually, and the fastest ten times will make it into the final. After that, you need to compete in the Rainbow Futurity trials, be one of the top ten fastest times and then win the final. Then you need to go through the exact same process for the All American Futurity. So in order to complete the Quarter Horse Triple Crown there are six races you need to compete in. 
     The Thoroughbred Triple Crown is contested at three different tracks and three different distances. The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is 1 1/4 miles, the Preakness at Pimlico is 1 3/16th miles, and the Belmont is 1 1/2 miles. While the difference between the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness is minimal and not very important, the 12 furlongs in the Belmont is difficult and not very many horses are meant to go that far. The Quarter Horse Triple Crown is a bit easier in this respect. All three races are held at the same track so the stress of shipping from track to track isn't a factor. Each race is a different distance, the Ruidoso Futurity is 350 yards, the Rainbow Futurity is 400 yards and the All American Futurity is 440 yards. Most good Quarter Horses will be able to do all of these distances, while a good Thoroughbred is more likely to have trouble making the distances of the Triple Crown races. 
     Trip is a major factor in the Thoroughbred Triple Crown, especially with the big fields. You can get hung too wide around the turns and lose ground, get stuck in traffic with nowhere to go, or any number of little problems that can make or break a race. Trip isn't as big a deal in Quarter Horse racing. The big factor in the Quarter Horse races is the break. Races are made at the break. If your horse stumbles and the break or gets a hard bump, the race is probably over for you. It's an ever bigger factor with a group of inexperienced two year olds who are more likely to be fractious and cause havoc. 
     So which series is more difficult to complete? It's arguable but interesting. If you're interested in following the Quarter Horse Triple Crown, the Ruidoso Futurity trials are on Friday. Post time is 12:00 Eastern, 10:00 Mountain, and you can watch at qracingvideo.com.
     Have a good one, and good luck.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Simple mistakes that keep getting made

Any of you who follow my twitter have probably seen me complain about stupid little things that tracks do. The kind of things that make no sense, hurt the product and are incredibly easy to solve, but they just keep happening. These are things that tracks are in complete control of. It's not like takeout, where they have to negotiate with horsemen to change things. No, these are the kind of things that they are 100% in control of, and it's frustrating to me.
     I noticed two of these little things within five minutes of each other, and that's probably why I'm so focused on it right now.
     I was checking my email and I had gotten notifications from Equibase with overnights for Friday cards at Assiniboia and Woodbine. I pulled up the Assiniboia overnight and after a quick look shook my head.
     Assiniboia's signature wager is their 15% takeout Pick 4. In fact, they frequently call themselves "Home of the 15% takeout Pick 4." The Pick 4 starts in the 4th race. Field sizes in Friday's Pick 4 sequence are 8, 8, 6, & 9. Also take note that the 7th race, the 9 horse field, is the Super High 5 race. This looks like a great sequence, especially for Assiniboia. For a gambler, this is great, good field sizes and low takeout. There's definitely some value in playing. But then I looked at the rest of the overnight and saw that Race 2, a race that's only notable as the end of the early double and the start of a Pick 3, has a 10 horse field. The biggest field of the night. And it's not in the Pick 4. Why is there a six horse field in the Pick 4 sequence, but NOT the field of 10? Who was the genius who made that decision? Not only should that race be part of the Pick 4 sequence, it should be the Super High 5 race. Am I crazy for thinking this? To me this is common sense. When your going out of your way to promote your Pick 4 wager and attract some new bettors, don't you want to create the very best Pick 4 sequence possible?
     But the genius-train didn't stop in Winnipeg, it had to make a stop in Toronto for our friends at WEG.
     Woodbine is also a track that takes pride in its Pick 4 wagers. There are 2 Pick 4s per card and they work hard to promote them. The early Pick 4 ALWAYS starts in Race 4. The late Pick 4 is ALWAYS the last 4 races of the card. That's the way it is. And boy, did it work out well on Friday. Friday's card has 9 races. The early Pick 4 is races 4-7, the late is 6-9. Now, I'm not a genius but I know there are some things bettors don't like. Overlapping Pick 4s is one of those things. This will hurt the late Pick 4 pool, guaranteed. It happened a few times last year, and each time the late Pick 4 had a much lower than average pool. People are more likely to play the early because it has a $50,000 guaranteed pool, while the late has nothing. Instead of changing the way things are usually done and maximizing the potential of the Pick 4 wagers, WEG is opting to be lazy and creating a 'good enough' wagering menu. Why can they not start the early Pick 4 in Race 2 and the late in Race 6? That way there's no overlap, and pools will be maximized. Bettors aren't going to refuse to play the early Pick 4 because it starts in Race 2, it doesn't work that way. But WEG, a supposed 'industry leader,' is either too stupid or too lazy to take the initiative to change the way they do things.
    The sad thing is that we see these sort of things happening almost everywhere all the time. These are the simplest little things to solve, but they just keep popping up. Will racing ever learn from it's mistakes? We can only hope.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Ontario Racing Needs Handle: Ideas For Growth

Horse racing in Ontario has made it through the first quarter of 2013, and we're now at a point where we are getting no slots money. We're in what a time that silly people who have forgotten that bettors exist think is the apocalypse. Don't listen to those people. This is a challenging time for racing in Ontario, but with proper steps towards creating great wagering products at all of our tracks we can return to our prior glory. Here are 3 of my ideas for creating handle in Ontario.

  • Western Fair has recently added a Super High 5 wager in the last race of the day. To make the Super High 5 a better wager, they've added a 2nd horse to the trailing tier on the gate, giving the race a 9 horse field. Now, why don't they do a 9 horse field in every race? Bigger fields mean more handle, and with less tracks racing at the same time there should be no shortage of horses. This doesn't just apply to the Western Fair. Georgian Downs for example could run 10 horse fields with a horse coming from the trailing tier. This only makes sense to me.
  • Here's something I've said quite a few times: lower the takeout. Lower the god damn takeout. Some tracks have done this and seen some success. Western Fair has 15% takeout Pick 4 & Super High 5, and they've both proven to be successful wagers for the track. Woodbine has lowered Win takeout for Thoroughbred racing to 14.95%, the lowest in North America. Low takeout is something that should be embraced with arms wide open. Look at Hastings, the Meadowlands & Sam Houston. All have lowered takeout rates and seen success. In Kentucky, the highest takeout rate for any wager is 19%. Why can't we do this here?
  • Race where there's less competition. Ajax Downs is doing this. Last year Ajax raced on Sunday & Tuesday. Ajax never got big handles, but their Tuesday handles were significantly higher than Sundays. This year, Ajax is running on Tuesdays and Holiday Mondays. This will be great for handle. Fort Erie is moving their signature race, the Prince of Wales, to a Tuesday this year as opposed to the traditional Sunday. I'd be willing to take short odds on 2013 Prince of Wales Day handle being higher than 2012. Racing when there is less competition is an important part of growing handle. You need to make yourself more apparent to the players. 
These are 3 simple ideas. Very simple. Hopefully racetracks in Ontario take action and get our industry into a state of stability.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

ASD - They're trying. They're really trying.

Sunday was opening day at one of my favorite tracks, Assiniboia Downs (ASD) in Winnipeg. It's a bullring where bottom level horses run for small purses, handle is microscopic and the rake is high. Really high. But I like it. Don't judge me.
     Now, ASD's a tough track to take seriously. It is ranked last on HANA's track ratings. No one seems to have heard of it. It just seems to be there for the sake of being there. But they're trying. They really are making an effort to improve their product.
     Let's take a look at a few of the things ASD has done. Last meet they embraced a low takeout Pick 4, lowering the rake from 29% to 15%. This meet, they've pushed their post times back a half an hour trying to face less competition. Rolling Doubles and Pick 3s have been added, and there is now a Super High 5 wager. All of these seem like positive steps.
     But is it working?
     Like I said earlier, Sunday was opening day. There was an 8 race card, and they handled $143,660. Last year on opening day, also a Sunday afternoon, the handle was $168,679. That's about a 15% drop. Not good. Not good at all. Now, we still have 59 days of the meet to go, but this isn't the way things should have started off.
     I've written about this before, and I'm writing about it begin. I want to see Manitoba racing thrive. I want to see racing in all of Canada thrive. In order for that to happen, though, things must change. ASD needs to take their positive steps, and go further. Why just lower the Pick 4 takeout? Bettors aren't interested in 26% Exactors and Doubles, or 29% Tris, Supers, Pick 3s, and Super High 5s. Schedule changes must be more drastic than a half an hour later. Remove pointless Friday cards that attracted the lowest average handles in 2012 and run them on a Monday or Tuesday, days where there is little competition. These things need to happen. For the sake of the racing industry, it needs to happen.
     This blog post is a call out to Assiniboia Downs to continue making positive changes. Keep focusing on the bettor. Build a product, the players will come. And if positive encouragement isn't enough, just remember that tracks like Arapahoe, SunRay, and Fair Meadows are considered superior products. It's time to make some changes, Assiniboia. It's time to make some serious changes.