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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Closing Summation

An anonymous reader writes:

I just have to argue with the connection of "rash of breakdowns" and Santa Anita. Yes, Santa Anita had a bad opening week. But where is the press now? Santa Anita had zero racing fatalities for the entire month of January. Zero. How may at Aqueduct?
That crisis did seem to pass with a whimper, didn't it? The reader certainly makes a fair point about the press, and I was guilty too.....although, I forgot, I'm a blogger, not the press.....and in fact, that was what he/she was responding to.

And I guess it was stupid of me in the same post to wonder out loud if the new steroids rule may have something to do with some rashes of breakdowns we saw around the new year. We all make mistakes. I don't really have any idea how much or how little steroids have effected the sport. The signals from horsemen have been mixed, in large part no doubt because users and non-users have good incentives to strike opposite positions, as reader Amateurhandicapper alluded to here.

The way I see it, rashes of breakdowns are probably due mostly to statistical circumstance, the odds evening out over the long run. Drugs or no drugs, dirt or artificial, horses get hurt and occasionally die from their injuries. I know I said I wasn't going to write about this stuff anymore, so this can be like a closing summation. Opening argument was here. We breed these horses strictly for our own pleasure - to watch, to bet on, to scream for, to jump up and down over, to make a livelihood on (or a fortune if you're good or lucky). To break and train to run really fast on their spindly legs, and to sell and train and race and train some more, and to race some more even if it seems plain that they really don't want to, to breed, to get pregnant and bear a foal on an annual basis. All for our own pleasure, addictions and greed. To me, the moral judgment begins and ends there. Of course they're going to break down on occasion, what the heck do you expect is going to happen?

If you're a fan, you're willing to accept this, and you're signed up and on board, so don't start crying that you're going to hug your daughter because of some stakes horse that enjoyed a far better life than most of the poor slobs who get put down on a track like, say, Remington Park, the #3 track in the HANA ratings. (The Head Chef and I were talking about making Saratoga plans for this summer, but you know what, it was unranked, so we're going to save our money and go to fucking Remington Park instead. Please, gimme a break.)

Anyway, I know you hate to hear this, but breakdowns are just part of the game. And the self-flagellation over Eight Belles has gotten this industry derailed from all the things it wasn't doing anyway. OK, I'm done.

- How long you think before we read the article about the Sheikh reigning in the spending, or culling down the herd?


El Angelo said...

The HANA ratings are hilarious. They need to clarify what they are: the best tracks for wagering value only. But who the hell wants to bet on Oklahoma breds instead of California, New York or Kentucky horses? They're just assuming that you're a rank, uneducated gambler instead of someone who actually follows the sport.

Erin said...

I've posted this exact quotation from Larry Bramlage on here before, but I think it's a great reminder of why


"We could race draft horses over most any surface, and their bones are strong enough it wouldn't matter. But, the thoroughbred maintains only the minimum skeleton that is sufficient to carry them around the track. Excess skeleton is added weight and penalized the horse's speed. So, the light skeleton is a speed advantage, unless it gets too light to carry its owner, and then it fails. This is why we will never eliminate injuries totally. Success is predicated on the fact that our athletes carry the minimum skeleton necessary. They run right on the edge of their physiology."

Safer surfaces will simply allow skeletons and muscles getting more extreme, leading to breakdowns. Breeding to win will always produce horses who run right on the edge of their physiology.

HANA said...

"we're going to save our money and go to fucking Remington Park instead. Please, gimme a break"


Just to clarify, the ranking had nothing to do with going to a racetrack, it had to do with a algorithm based on takeouts, wager variety (i.e. lower cost sweeps where normal people can compete with whales) and field size. The ranking system is on the website here if anyone is interested. It explains how A through F grades were given to each for each criteria and the coresponding number grade for each quintile.

Remington as well as smaller tracks like Retama had seom decent scores and a small player can make a bankroll last a little longer there, and we think have more fun.

I am not sure we would recommend either place for a trip however, say over Del Mar, which is of course beautiful and interesting.

Thanks for reading the list. Next year we are planning to offer a live track component to the rankings through a member survey, where such things will likely be addressed.


Erin said...

To HANA: speaking for myself, I think the reason some might be scratching their heads about your top rated tracks has to do with the fact there is a lot more to a race track than takeout, the wagering menu, and field size. A lot more. Thank goodness.

Perhaps the ranking should be renamed "Top Rated Tracks for Horseplaying" or something similar. (I know that's covered in the HANA acronym, but a cursory glance of a headline announcing a "top rated racetrack" does not convey this important detail, and combining that phrase with proper nouns like "Remington Park" and "Hoosier Park" [my own beloved hometown track, but cmon, it's hard to see a reason it should ever share space on a top five list with Keeneland] is the reason for the lol-ing.)

Erin said...

On second thought, there's a lot more to horseplaying than takeout, the wagering menu, and the field size. Aesthetics do count, even if just a little, even to the most degenerate horseplayer, I'd argue.

My new suggestion for the naming the rankings is "Top Rated Tracks for Horseplaying from an OTB or through an ADW service." Do we really want to reinforce that?

Maybe we just gotta take whatever dollars we can get, I guess.

El Angelo said...

The conclusion I draw from the HANA ratings is if you're simply looking for the best house edge, full fields, etc., you should, by and large, look beyond the big tracks, Keeneland aside. This is similar to the argument that while in Vegas you should play casinos downtown or off the Strip where regulars play; yes, your odds may be slightly better, but the experience is fairly dreadful, so why bother?

Anonymous said...

Hanna's coming "live track component" likely will show Remington right up there as well.

Anonymous said...

I'll charge 26% or 30% or whatever I want and you Suckers will bet on It,



HANA said...

Hi Erin,

Our first few paragraphs of the document I linked above explain much about the rankings, and the perspective.

HANA is a horseplayers organization, so the thrust of the rankings encompasses playing the horses. We are big believers that if we make horseplaying more fun, and perhaps more profitable we'll be able to up handles, and encourage many of the bettors who have left us in the past to give us a look again. A pure fan/travel/tourism group, conversely, would probably have a qualitative ranking, something like 1)Saratoga 2)Del Mar 3) KEE 4) Arlington and so on.

The ranking criteria used have long been considered paramount to horseplayers - field size, rakes and wager variety. As one poster said today on our blog:

"I would submit to anyone who thinks this untrue [that takeout, wager variety and field size are not important metrics to bettors] to start a racetrack, offer 35% takeouts, 5 horse fields, with win betting only. Then check your profit/loss statement at the end of the year. Let us know how you did."

Some of the tracks we spoke with are doing amazing things for the live bet - when all we seem to do hear is griping about them. So that is why we added the track interviews to the Bloodhorse articles. We tried to give them a forum for things they were doing for the player. We dont expect horseplayers to agree on much though, as everyone has an opinion. For a quick example, Turfway. I don't know if you know Wolf there, but he is a good guy. He is passionate about the place. He offers tons of promotions, and tries new things all the time. They have a Facebook page and offer coupons to locals, try to get the universities out and so on. We let him relay much of that in the article. One response to Turfway being ranked 10th from a blog reader was: I hate the food there. Turfway should not be here.

It's tough sledding for sure, but in the end we hope players will give some of these other places which scored well a look. If they are wondering what track to play, and they are looking for a full field to handicap, at a decent price where if they win they will get back a few extra dollars, and they might enjoy themselves a little more, they might want to do some due diligence on some of the higher rated tracks.

Everyone knows how great an afternoon is at Saratoga, or Del Mar - if this list ranked things like that they would win hands down (along with KEE). But when there you can play about twenty different tracks. If you are looking for one, here are some suggestions - and that is the list.

Thanks for the comment (and sorry for the long reply).


Anonymous said...

The HANA people SELECTIVELY publish comments on their blog! I posted twice, and not one made its way through. Joke!