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Monday, September 01, 2014

This Is a Betting Game

Hope everyone has been having, or had, a fantastic holiday weekend.  And I hope that some of you got to get away, as we have.  Been up in Saratoga, and the weather has been, with the exception of Sunday, rather exceptional. Hasn't been a total track trip; spent some glorious days up at Lake George, Lake Moreau, and the Berkshires  So, sorry for the lack of posting; we'll get back in the swing of things before too long.

But I did want to mention the goings-on at Mohawk Raceway on Saturday night, where many of the top stars in harness racing gathered for an evening of big races with big purses.  Pullthepocket wrote of what was an active night at the tote machines.

Over $5.1 million was wagered on the card. It was the largest handle at the Milton oval in its existence.

However, what if I told you that for all that purse money and all those stakes, the handle after the first eleven races was $2.7 million, but the handle for the last race - one race, a nondescript $30,000 conditioned affair - was $2.3 million alone.

You'd think I was cray cray as the kids say.

But that's what happened. The last race of the evening had a carryover of the Super High Five, and bettors, going after a takeout reduced pool went to work.

Stakes races, pomp, pageantry, a hundred or so horses and a couple of millon dollars brought in $2.7 million through 11 races. A takeout reduction in one race brought in $2.3 million.

This is a betting game.  One of these days the industry will treat it as such and be better off for it.
A commenter pointed out that if you excluded the show pools, where there was some active bridgejumping action, the last race outhandled the other 11 combined, and easily.   And then he pointed out that the 14% Pick Five out-handled the carryover Pick Six at Del Mar on Saturday.

As the esteemed Mr. PTP pointed out....this is a betting game.  You can tout "big days" with big purses all you want....but, in my opinion....and as I explained towards the bottom of this post....that alone is not going to attract new betting fans; and not necessarily, as we saw at Mohawk, the biggest handle numbers, as opposed to some "ordinary" races with attractive wagering options for horseplayers.   (Though it should be pointed out that there were some poor betting races on the programs - showcases for big favorites such as the sensational 2yo Artspeak [whose race attracted a cool quarter million in show money], the Hambo winner Trixton, the streaking Sweet Lou.])

That afternoon, Wise Dan made his return to the races at Saratoga.  And as the two-time defending Horse of the Year strolled down the lane towards the paddock (#4), very few people in the vicinity were paying attention.

There's a point there, though I'm not sure exactly what it is.  We do know that the folks in the backyard at Saratoga, as a group, are not the most attentive horseplayers to start with.  But if they were wheeling barrels of money down the lane with a fanfare of how you can share in a larger portion of the jackpot, then I think some folks would put down their Bud Lights and listen up a bit.  (And by the way, if NYRA wasn't so busy blasting ads and clanging bells over the PA, perhaps they could let people know when a little piece of equine immortality is walking through the backyard just a few yards away from where they are sitting.)

It used to be said that racetracks want to see everybody win.  After all, the pari-mutuel house doesn't care who wins or loses; they get their cut no matter what.  But these days, that's no longer the case.  With the jackpot bets, they want you to lose.  Bigger carryovers generate more handle. Someone's gonna win, but a lot more people are gonna lose.  But as long as people keep coming to play as the jackpots get bigger, the tracks have more incentive to make the bets harder to hit.  Gulfstream's Rainbow Pick Six is a prime example of that.

Nowhere has that been more apparent in recent days than at Saratoga. Inscrutable 2yo maiden races loaded with first time starters used to be tilted towards the beginning of race cards.  No longer.  Two of them in Friday's and Sunday's Pick Six sequences; the 9th on Friday consisted of all first-time starters.  I found the latter particularly vexing, having noted a banner ad on the NYRA website pointing out the low 15% takeout on non-carryover pools.  But what good is that when you have to contend with an all first-time starter race?  I dunno, I don't play pick sixes, but I'm thinking that I'd rather see a higher takeout and races that I can actually handicap instead of guess at and ultimately end up spending more money spreading the race, no?  NYRA is so intent on making the wager un-hittable, and generate the most revenue possible (I guess that's the idea, though wouldn't a free square or two attract more handle too?), that they ran the Wise Dan race as Saturday's 5th, moved Sunday's Glens Falls out of the sequence (even though there was a decent sized field and no big favorites).....and have even moved the Grade 1 Hopeful, the traditional closing day feature, to the 4th race!  And on a mandatory payout day too!

Well, looking at the handle numbers, it doesn't seem that too many people are dissuaded from betting Pick Sixes with races of that sort.  But you sure as hell wouldn't see me in those pools if I was a player.  Seems to me that it would take just one well-organized boycott of a carryover day to make them stop doing stuff like that.

Have a great Labor Day.


Anonymous said...

"It used to be said that racetracks want to see everybody win."

Is that why Chris Kay was booed yesterday just before he introduced Tom Durkin ?

I would like to see the Spinaway moved back to the last "Getaway" day. Hence the day.

-Tongue in Cheek

El Angelo said...

Nice column Alan. Two comments:

(1) Your point that they want to create carryovers in the Pick Six is probably right, but how big an effect does that have on most players? I play the Pick Six at most once a year when it's a triple carryover. I can't imagine that most people care at all about the Pick Six.

(2) I agree that it is a betting game. Which is why I've always thought the biggest oversight the powers-that-be have is making the betting aspect presentable to the novices. The Form and its ilk are completely incomprehensible to newbies. There's no alternative. If you make the game seem approachable to novice bettors, they actually might try to understand it better.

Figless said...

I was disgusted by the placement of the Hopeful. I no longer play the P6 suckers bet, finally wised up, but back when I did I would automatically pass if the sequence ended with a race chock full of debut runners.

Haven't read Steve Crist since DRF included his column in pay content but sure he is railing about this.

Dan said...

Figless- take a look at Steve Crist's blog on DRF- you can see it by date. This is still free & not DRF plus.

El Angelo said...

His blog is but his column isn't.

Dan said...

Does anyone reading this blog pay for DRF plus? I don't. I wonder how many subscriptions they have. It's almost $200 per year.

Figless said...

LATG is the only content I would pay for, but thankfully Alan is a socialist.