Monday, 30 March 2015

Photos from Buffalo Raceway

A few days ago I took a drive down to Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg, NY for an evening of harness racing. I had been meaning to make the visit for a while and I had the time. Here are a few of the photos I took.
"Raceway Entrance." You can see this used to have "Fair Grounds Gaming" on it. Now the Buffalo Raceway logo. Added interest in racing? That's a good sign.

The clubhouse, fittingly, wraps around the clubhouse turn. Most of the crowd spend the night there.

Horses leaving off the gate in the 2nd race. The track was sloppy.

Sadie's Place and Shawn Gray win the 2nd

Helena's Hope and Ron Beback Jr. wired the 8th race field

Shawn McDonough and piloted Judge and Jury to the win in Race 9. The drivers were not staying clean over the wet track.

Best photo for last. Ugly Betty (6) and Shawn Gray got up in the last stride to win the opener.

      Buffalo is a very cool little track. The clubhouse and grandstand are much bigger than I had pictures, and the crowd for a Wednesday night with less than perfect weather was a decent size. Track announcer Michael Carter brought me up to his booth, and he told me they've been seeing increases in handle, both on and off track, which is good to hear. It's a good track with good racing and potential to move forward.

     If you don't already, follow Buffalo Raceway on Twitter (@BuffaloRaceway) and give Michael Carter a follow, too (@mcarte1.) If you haven't been, take a trip out if you can. Thumbs up to Buffalo Raceway.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Diagnosis for the Racing Industry

Pocono Downs (I'm not calling it The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono) kicked off their 2015 season the other day, with nice little tweak to their wagering menu.

      The Pennsylvania harness oval has increased the takeout on their Pick 3 wager from 15% to 25%. Harness Racing America has a nice little article showing how that affects the payouts.

      Pocono is a track known for loving their horseplayers, what with their 30% takeout on triactors and superfectas, and this is just another addition to their genius.

     Now, I'm not 100% sure why Pocono did this; there was no press release announcing the change and their casino is successful enough that they don't have issues with purse money, but let's assume they think it's going to increase their revenue.

     The horse racing industry loves this idea. Raising prices will raise revenue. It seems like a simple enough idea. California did it a few years back (and tried it again on a smaller scale with Daily Doubles last year), Churchill tried it last year, now we've got Pocono. This is a racing industry power play.


       Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." This definition fits the racing industry to a tee. Tracks repeatedly raise takeout expecting revenues to increase. Revenues decline, the industry can't figure out why, and they raise takeout again.

      I'm no doctor, but it is my opinion that the horse racing industry may very well be insane.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Woodbine's Surface Switch Shows Ontario's Maturation

It was announced today that Woodbine will be switching their Polytrack surface for a Tapeta synthetic after the 2015 Thoroughbred meet. Unlike other recent major surface changes, WEG has made their decision thinking about a certain group of people who are often ignored in this industry: bettors.

       WEG's Chairman of the Board Jim Lawson was quoted as saying “We also considered racing fans and horseplayers through this process. Field size, the number of quality races and wagering on Woodbine’s Thoroughbred racing product has grown appreciably in the synthetic track era. We see those metrics continuing to improve with the installation of Tapeta.” This is new.

       When synthetic's first started coming around in North America in the mid-2000s, the primary reason for the switch was equine safety. We wanted to reduce the number of equine breakdowns, and we did. I still have my doubts about how much safer synthetics truly are, but I cannot dispute that breakdown rates have gone down. As the synthetic era went on, we had an interesting situation going on. Small handle players complained about betting on synthetic races, horsemen complained about the chaotic nature of the surfaces' biases, but everywhere you looked, synthetic tracks were seeing handle gains. With the large fields that synthetic tracks offered, bettors responded positively and supported the product.

     Somewhere along the lines, people realized that the Breeders' Cup wasn't going to synthetic tracks anymore, and somebody at Keeneland, the prime example of successful synthetic tracks, decided the Breeders' Cup should be at Keeneland. Then, someone at Del Mar came to the same decision. So two highly successful synthetic tracks made a decision that they should ditch the surface that has been with them through some of their most successful seasons in history to get the Breeders' Cup. I don't think it can be argued that those decisions were made for the benefit of customers. They were made for the sake of having the Breeders' Cup.

     Keeneland has already had one meet on their new dirt surface, and the results weren't shocking at all. All-sources handle dropped 12% and field size dropped 14.6%. The second Keeneland dirt meet is coming up in April and Del Mar's first dirt meet starts in July. We'll see if we see similar declines.

     And now we get back to Woodbine. Woodbine had two options for a surface switch: traditional dirt, or a new synthetic. After seeing the consistent handle gains that came with the Polytrack era, Woodbine chose to stick with synthetic. Woodbine made themselves the first track to make a customer-based surface decision.

     Customer-based decisions have been a breath of fresh air in Ontario in the past few years. Tracks no longer race head-to-head, low-takeout wagers have been introduced, and we've seen handle go up. On the harness side of the province, six of the eight alliance tracks saw an increase in handle/race in 2014,  and we saw Mohawk and Western Fair set all-time, single day handle records. Ontario used to be just another slots jurisdiction, and has matured in a province that makes an effort to be horseplayer-friendly. Woodbine's Tapeta decision is another piece of evidence towards that conclusion.