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Friday, February 18, 2005

Not at Gulfstream

- This is kind of a sad day for me – in past years I would right now be at Gulfstream Park for the first day of a 4 day weekend at a pretty track with plenty of seating, windows, amenities, and top class racing. Right about now I’d probably be up at the outdoor bar/restaurant on the second floor on the clubhouse turn drinking a glass of wine with nothing but this and the next three full days and early evenings of racing action ahead of me. Does it get any better than that? But if I was transported to that very spot right now, I’d plunge into a construction pit a long ways from the area at the top of the stretch where the crowds, if you want to call them that, are confined to.

One of the things I really loved about the Gulfstream I knew and loved for a long time (I saw Prince Thou Art win the Florida Derby there, you can look up the year) was that, with the exception of course of the people watching the concerts on the weekends, people were there for the purpose of betting and watching horse racing. At Belmont and Saratoga, you can find many people in the backyard area not even paying attention to the races; they’re back there to enjoy the setting and be with friends and family. And that’s fine. But at Gulfstream, the backyard area would pretty much empty out during the races because almost everyone was either in the grandstand or on the apron watching, or clustered around the TVs inside; either way, they were all into the race being run there at the track. When I read about the plans for the “new” Gulfstream, with its shopping and entertainment and condominiums, as well as the probable slots parlors, I get the feeling that the racing will just be a sideshow. I hope I’m totally wrong, and that this time next year I’m writing about how great it is.

- Record Superfecta Payout Tonight at Sam Houston Race Park, reads last night’s headline on Sam Houston’s website.

In tonight's ninth race, a record superfecta payout of $186,686 resulted when longshot Senor Guapo ($99), a 3-year-old Texas-bred trained by John Locke , won the six-furlong maiden event.
Wow! But that’s not all. There was a dead heat for 4th resulting in another “payout” of $93,334.40! The guys on TVG almost fell out of their chairs. We can’t wait to go there, they said, there must have been some $300,000 in the superfecta pool!

Well, no. It was the first night that Houston was accepting dime wagers on superfectas, and in fact, there was a grand total of ten cents bet on one of the winning combos, and twenty cents on the other, resulting in actual payoffs of $9,334 and $4,667 from a pool of around $24,000. The announced prices are what they would have been for two-dollar bets. So while it was a record in terms of odds to the dollar, some 93,343 to 1, the statement that there was a “payout of $186,686” was false.

Now, Sam Houston is to be commended for instituting this bet; it’s an innovative way to allow small bettors to get into the superfecta game, where astronomical odds are always possible. And their announcement, while deceptive, is marketing and PR, something the game certainly needs, and perhaps no worse than most of the questionable claims you hear or read in ads or from your government every day. It certainly attracts attention, and that is good. But what if a fan tells a friend, hey, check out Sam Houston, you can make these bets for ten cents, and you get a first-timer there who bets the last four digits of his/her social security number, gets lucky, and when the $100,000 payoff is posted on the board, faints, recovers, proposes marriage to the mutual clerk, buys a Porsche, calls the boss and tells him to go screw, and then when he/she goes to collect, is told, not understanding at all, that the actual payoff for the ten cent bet is just $5,000? I wouldn’t want to be the track official who is trying to make that explanation.