RSS Feed for this Blog

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bigger is Bettor, But Is It Better?

I want to talk just a bit about the super duper Belmont Stakes day, as indicated in the title.  But first, I wanted to expand and embellish a bit on the post I wrote about the Donn and the FOX telecast on the TimeformUS blog.  If you want to check it out, I'll wait before I go on.

I'm not really qualified for a full review of the FOX telecast, since a series of restless nights caught up to me and I was passed out on the couch for the first 23 minutes.  But a few comments.  Just want to be clear(er) that when I say that the broadcast team looked nervous and needs time to develop chemistry together, it is certainly not meant as a criticism.  This was a pretty significant step up in class for all of the team, even given all of their prior experience.  So of course there were nerves.  And, after all, this team was selected just a couple of weeks ago.  Though Simon Bray and Greg Wolf work together at TVG; and Andy Serling and Richard Migliore have worked together on the MSG telecasts, here they were split up and working in roles and settings that they were not all accustomed to.

I was a little surprised to see The Mig in the on-track analyst seat; seemed a closer fit for Simon Bray, or maybe even Serling.  But he actually seemed the most at ease of anyone.  In fact, someone suggested that he seemed maybe a little too loose, and expressed fears that he's liable say something he'll later regret!  At one point, he teased Serling over his remark that he was fine with trusting the jockeys to do their job.  That might have been funny for those of us familiar with the NYRA feed, but it surely went over everyone else's head, including probably their colleagues on the telecast.  But that's just part of the adjustment to this new stage.  These guys are gonna be fine.

I thought Simon seemed a bit stiff and uncomfortable in his paddock analyst role. Serling seemed fine, curtly dismissing Will Take Charge in his way that you don't normally see on these telecasts.  Usually, the commentators are almost apologetic about picking against the main horse of interest.  I'm not sure where Andy was, somewhere up there in Stronach's folly somewhere it seemed.  I liked when those two disagreed about whether the track was speed favoring or not; but it seemed like a tentative debate, as one might expect with two guys who may never have even met until the night before.  As this series goes on, this year and hopefully beyond, they'll become more comfortable with each other, and it'll be great.  The next telecast is the Dubai World Cup, and whether they actually go there, or broadcast it remotely, it will give them some time to spend and work together in closer quarters.

Other than that, don't really have much to say, which, in this context is good.  It was just a good, solid intelligent racing telecast for the racing fan - with a little beginner stuff mixed in (though I personally wouldn't recommend $50 show bets on the two favorites); more like the yeoman's work we see from TVG and HRTV when they are on site.  No extraneous camera angles (which was probably as much of a budgetary decision than anything else, but you can't beat the good ol' pan shot); and no sappy features (unless I missed one in the first 23 minutes).

One note on the race - I saw some chatter on Twitter about the fact that the track was sealed during the four consecutive grass races that were run prior to the Donn.  There was speculation that perhaps that caused the track to get souped up and contribute to the jackhammer performance by Lea.  Previously, closers had done pretty well.  Makes sense, but it's just speculation, and I don't want to take anything away from Lea, who had every right to improve as he did without any extra assistance from the track maintenance crew.  Nobody had a chance once he reeled off three consecutive quarters of 23 4/5 to the eighth pole, and it was quite the remarkable performance by Will Take Charge to get as close as he did, with the rest of the field spinning their wheels, strung out behind him.

 - The announcement by NYRA that Belmont Stakes day will be part of a 'Belmont Stakes Festival,' including ten stakes races for purses of $8 million - the second biggest purse day of the racing year - left me cold.  Well, maybe that's because everything is cold around here these days.  I look outside and at the upcoming forecast and I wonder if this stuff is gonna melt by Wood Memorial day!

Strictly as a betting card, I'll probably prefer the fare on Wood day over Belmont day, because I'm just not a big stakes race least when it comes to wagering.  A perfect card to me is what we see these days on a typical weekend day at Gulfstream.  Full-field claimers, a lot of interesting maiden races, competitive allowance contests on both surfaces, capped off by a nice graded stakes race or two.  To me, that's a "full day of quality racing."

So I'm not really that impressed, or thrilled.  That's just me, but I'll be going anyway.  On the other hand, our buddy Figless is excited about it.  But he'd also be going anyway even if the format was unchanged.  The point being, as Pullthepocket succinctly pointed out the other day, big days are big - and Belmont day is already about as big as they get - and they won't necessarily get any bigger if they're made bigger.  Or something like that.  Of course, the handle will likely be bigger, because people bet more on graded stakes races, as shown by the study we did over at TimeformUS.

Yup, we sure like to bet on these races; or at least many of us do.  (Do note please that the stakes pool sizes are inflated in part by bridgejumping show wagers, which are more likely to be more bigger in a stakes race with an outstanding favorite.)  So, one can surely expect a record handle day.  But how about the days from which stakes such as the Met Mile will be taken away?  Won't they suffer, if not proportionally, surely in a material fashion?  And wouldn't the Belmont day handle still be extra big on an allowance race if it was thrown into the sequence?  By around 4:30 PM on Belmont day, I'm thinking that people will bet on just about anything!

We all understand what they're trying to do here.  But personally I'm skeptical that the big purses will bring many extra people out to the track; hopefully it will entice some from out-of-town to make plans and not wait until after the Preakness to decide (and this is partially a bet against the same horse winning the first two legs).  But people like us are going to go anyway.  And are new or casual fans really going to be attracted by outsized purse monies anymore than they are already lured by the event?   Seems to me that attractive entertainment and/or hospitality features alone - yet to be announced - could very well accomplish that without the extra stakes and prizes.  One thing I think I can say for sure - the idea that there will be more press coverage of the event is just wishful thinking.  As we've seen from the Breeders' Cup, newspapers devote a certain amount of space for a horse racing event - and the more "big" races there are, the smaller the coverage of each will be packed into the same amount of space.


El Angelo said...

Well the inflated purses aren't just going to attract more patrons. They're going to attract more horses and fuller fields. You are almost certainly going to get increased participation in the Manhattan and Ogden Phipps with a $1 million purses, and the Acorn at $750k. That in turn increases betting handle, especially on a day with a lot of eyeballs and people at the track. I doubt that those purse increases would be as meaningful to NYRA if those races were on random Saturdays in the spring.

I also have a hunch that they're going to do something completely goofy for Memorial Day now, either making it a state-bred extravaganza or move the Woodward to that card and increase it to a mile and a quarter. It's actually not a bad spot on the annual calendar for a route race for older males (sorry, Pimlico Special fans).

Steve Jones said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jk said...

I am one who will attend Belmont Day regardless of the card. I like that they are upgrading one of the few days I attend. They will need to upgrade the facilities, not the purses to get me to attend more often.

Dan said...

JK- You can only make 3 upgrades at Belmont. What would they be?

Anonymous said...

Possibly the reason the stakes races get bet so heavily is because most bettors only bet a few races. Overloading a card with all stakes does not equate to equal handle across the board.
Stupid move by stupid people!

Figless said...

Allow me to chime in on Dan's question and offer my Trifecta of improvements.

By far the most important upgrade at Belmont would be a state of the art sound system. Racing is so much more exciting when you actually know where your horse is in the race, Durkin is a gem and its a shame most patrons never get to hear him. Trakus helps for those watching on TV but if you want to get folks out of the simulcast and into the seats you need to improve THAT experience.

Next, state of the art bathroom facilities.

In the show position is upgraded seating, both in the owners boxes which are abysmal, and regular seating areas(a simple coat of paint would go a long way).

jk said...

Fix the plumbing and a/c.

Get rid of all of the dot matrix video boards which still exist in the facility. It is an insult to the fanbase to have this ancient equipment used in prominent locations in the facility.

Better audio as mentioned above.

Its not a big secret these issues have needed attention for a while now.

Management's response has been purse increases are a cure all and now they have added admission price increases to the mix.

El Angelo said...

I'll give three also:

1. Enhance and update food and concessions. The dining options at Belmont, especially on Belmont Day itself, are horrifically bad considering this is New York.

2. Fix the bathrooms. They're horrible.

3. Modernize the toteboard. Can someone explain why the toteboard contains patently useless information like the W/P/S wagers? Why not include the horse's name, silks, trainer's name, etc.?

It's no wonder why people don't come back besides Belmont Day. The track doesn't make itself appealing to those who aren't gamblers.

Dan said...

I agree with the changes that Belmont needs. I've been to Woodbine in Toronto a few years ago. The bathrooms are good & the audio system is very good plus the seats are in good shape. I was at AQU in December. Those seats outside are gross. Belmont's plastic seats are a step up. I can't see how NYRA will still raise the admission prices in May. I hope they are fixing up the place now.

ljk said...

The track was definitely sealed during the Turf Handicap and was opened before the Donn. Alyssa Ali even commented (in the first 23 minutes) that a light rain was falling, and there was. They ran fast all weekend though. That Falling Sky race was remarkable.

Bray and Serling were on that little stand near the winner's circle where the bugler stands. The Mig and Wolf were in a tent on the apron at about the eight pole.

I know you agree with me that the new Gulfstream is awful. Bought a seat near the finish line and the view from the quarter pole to the eighth was obscured by the Fox tent. There were two huge tents outside the clubhouse turn that obscured the mile chute. Even Collmus had to wait a few seconds before he could see the horses. Nothing about the new Gulstream is tailored to the on track customer.

I also think it's goofy that they had Alyssa Ali make two show bets. As if the other bets might be just too complicated. I'm surprised we didn't hear from Brooklyn Backstretch on that one.

Alan Mann said...

>>I know you agree with me that the new Gulfstream is awful.

Well, that's for sure! I sat in those seats when I was there, and felt that everything was so close to the track that it was like watching a head on shot. So not surprised to hear that the tents obstructed the view. I'm sure they didn't even begin to consider how they would affect the customers there.

The audio at Belmont has been ridiculous for many many years if not decades at this point. Not a helluva lot better at the other tracks either...Saratoga is hit or miss, depending on where you are. And the porto-potties that they put out for Belmont day are preferable to the real ones.

Figless said...

I sat in the Belmont Grandstand, around the sixteenth pole, for NY Showcase Day, and I would swear the urinal that was leaking all over the floor was the exact one that was doing the same thing on Belmont Day.

I have been told the maintenance on the backstretch is just as bad, trainers have to put in a work order and then wait for months for a fix. Some trainers blame the union, but I truly believe its a lack of focus from management.

Kay seems to be actually trying to earn his salary so perhaps these SIMPLE and OBVIOUS issues will be resolved while I am still alive to see (and hear) them.

Its easy to run a promotion to attract customers to the track, but it takes superior service to bring them back.

Figless said...

Another simple fix is simply to empty the trash receptacle at some point during the race day so they aren't overflowing by the sixth race. This applies to the weekends at Belmont and EVERY day at Saratoga.