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TORONTO--The headline doesn't mean I'm being an ugly American mocking the unfamiliar. Canadian currency is much prettier than our own, not to mention being worth 95 cents on the U.S. dollar these days. But the mutuel clerk at Woodbine looked at me like I was a space alien today when I played the first race, not because I called my best "exactas" rather than "exactors" but because I tried to pay with a crisp American Franklin.
"Oh no, no, no," she said sadly. "You needed to go over to that bank of windows over there and change the currency. I punched your tickets in Canadian and if I take that you'll lose the 3 percent premium."
Fortunately for the international currency markets, my two $50 (Can) exactas ran 1-4 and 1-5 so I guess she made out with an extra $3. I guess I should have remembered that the last time I made a cash bet at Woodbine was during the 1996 Breeders' Cup, when exceptions were made to accomodate the influx of Americans but you still had to specify which currency you were betting with before the clerk started punching your tickets. (I had been back to Woodbine a few times since but bet through my NYRA account via cell phone. This year, my cell phone also seems to have been relegated to space-alien status after crossing international borders, though that may have something to do with its own vintage: It's a 1997. At the time, a brand new Motorola Star-Tac seemed pretty cool.)
If the last time you were at Woodbine was 1996, you'd barely recognize the place. The facility was entirely rebuilt for the advent of slots, and this is the place that American track executives should visit to see a truly fair and complementary integration of slots and racing. Unlike the tawdry racinos that have shoved any evidence of racing (and its customers) out the back door, Woodbine has used slots money to transform itself into a sparkling racing facility with superior sightlines, seating and simulcasting areas. You can spend a day at the races amid pretty lush racing amentities without hearing a single buzzer or bell from the slot rooms tucked into other floors. But the concealed bandits are funding the racing program nicely: A N3x turf-sprint allowance today carried a $71,300 (Can) purse, which translated to a healthy $68,372 in U.S. funds.
One weird thing on the purse front: When I began handicapping that first race last night, I thought there had been some drastic purse reduction I hadn't heard about: Some of the maiden fillies in the race had been running in MdSpWt67k races here lately but today's race was only a MdSpWt30k. Were half the slot machines broken? No, it turns out Woodbine has been running what are informally called "A" ($60k+)and "B" ($30k) MdSpWt races, the latter being for owners who don't think they're competitive against the top maidens but still don't want to risk losing their horses for a tag by putting them in what is usually the only alternative, maiden claimers. It's sort of an intersting idea, with a number of handicapping wrinkles: Is a first-time starter in a "B" MdSpWt by definition probably not much horse, or are the owners trading a bigger purse for victory and maybe a winning bet? Does a horse "dropping" from an A to a B MdSpWt being deliberately lowered in class or maybe did the A race not fill?
---When I finally got back to a laptop to make some (U.S.) bets through my NYRA Rewards online account, I noticed a couple of nice upgrades to the software. Still no dime supers or online-funding mechanisms, but at least you can now review your tickets for the day instead of hoping you didn't leave out a key combo or wondering why your balance is $16 higher or lower than you thought it should be. That option is now on the "My Account" tab, as is one to set your default bet amount at $1 rather than $2. Previously it always defaulted to $2, incredibly annoying to change each time you made yet another $1 partwheel.
Woolfson: please help settle a dispute. my son and i, usually in accord on racetrack matters, have a major difference of opinion. recently, i was appalled to hear track announcer vic stouffer proudly boast that his wagering on races he was calling heightened his performance. i find such practice to be distateful, perhaps even unehical. do others resort to such activity? does management condone the practice? Canada's greatest announcer, Daryl Wells, was "caught" and suspended for betting. He had a share ina Pick 4, or5 Pick 6, or whatever. I believe the whole industry thought that the situation was ludicrous. I was born in Fort Erie. Just about everybody I know worked for the track, if only as a summer job. And everybody bets, even though it's against the rules. And although I am by nature a "rule enforcer", I don't care. They don't have any "inside information" that could skew the betting pool. Arbitrage will take care of any such problems nicely. Vic Stouffer was rude to mix his personal interests and business duties. Merits a medium-degree slap on the hand. Daryl Wells' son now does the call at Fort Erie. And, of course! he doesn't bet. It's against the rules! Toral
That's the issue with the VLT terminals at Saratoga Raceway. They have basically pushed the harness racing aside while they continue to profit from the slots. Now, yes, they have raised the purses of their races, but, they still don't give that appearance that they really care about the races. There's no attempt to put more stake or non-sire stake series races on the schedule. There's no attempt to make a "featured" race. Nor has the track even tried to follow through with a previous promise of theirs, now 3 years overdue, to expand the track to a 5/8ths mile oval. You can only wager on the first level from the clubhouse these days. In addition, they make no mention of the harness races in the Racino part. A nice "For your information, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway is pleased to host harness racing tonight at 7pm" would be nice every so often on race nights. Last, but not least, any advertisement you see for Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, is either for Vapor night club or for the racino end. With NO mention of harness racing or horse racing simulcasting.
EJS There is no trifector - they actually call it a TRIACTOR.
Thanks for your quick adjudication of my recent disagreement with my father. Judging from your periodic restaurant reviews (ah, The Elms in the '80s!), I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that your judgement has landed me a delicious strawberry and kiwi tart to be shared at an upcoming family dinner. While I agree that betting likely makes an announcer more attentive to detail and more informed in race-calliing, here's one potential troubling scenario for the wagering announcer (did I watch one Psych episode too many?): Alive with the only ticket for a monstrous pick six score, the sharp-handicapping announcer realizes that his fainthearted frontrunner is going to need some help. Usually his well-amplified call of "setting a torrid pace on the front end" is all the jockeys stalking need to hear to know that the early leader is toast. Did the normally sharp-eyed announcer REALLY misread the clock and mislead the pack as his runner slowed it down on the backstretch and held on to help earn the race-caller a life-changing score? With so many others, I commend you for your fine blogging. You continue to add much in many ways to this great game. Thanks.
Comedian Robert Klein put out a record over 25 years ago which included a bit about Fred Capasella betting on a race he was calling "run you SOB run!" He then imitates Cappy race calling his dinner at home, "fruit cocktail first, split pea soup second.... Classic stuff.
Dear Wolfsons: I hate to get in the midle of a dispute between two ace handicappers (for those of you who don't know, the Wolfsons are both very successful tournament players)but....I've gotta side with Jr. on the announcer question. I didn't hear the comments but in principle I see no harm in an announcer playing the races. (I also see no harm in turf writers and public handicappers playing the races.) People who bet on races pay a lot more attention than those who don't, and it's a free country. It's only an issue if an announcer's betting is screwing up his race calls -- if he's focussing on the wrong horses because of his bets or if he's calling phantom fouls -- and you didn't say if you think that's happening in this case.
Wonderland Park is still running? I live in Mass.,& that place is pretty much incognito around here! Why not spend Sunday @ Foxwoods RaceBook? Great service, but for Dime Supers you HAVE TO GO TO A TELLER!? SAM Machines STILL haven't been adjusted to include Dime bets. Seems kinda sdrawkcabssa, eh?-Bob Grant, Fitchburg,Ma.(Wait 'til you see Suffolk..They're working Hard to improve things!)
I've heard the term Exactor before--that's how they referred to Ronald Reagan--but Trifector? We're not even going to allow that word in my weekly horse themed Scrabble game. Like there's no crying in baseball, there should be no Trifector in racing.
Steve, you are so right about integrating slots with racing. I was at Presque Isle Downs for the opening and your description fits that abomination to a "T"! There are only a handful of mutuels clerks and even worse, there is NO grandstand! Unless you are in the dining room/clubhouse there is no place to actually watch the races other than the apron. I would echo the positive comments on Delaware Park. Each time I visit it seems that the racing facilities are improved a bit more. You can tell that at Delaware the slots are at the service of racing, whereas, at PID racing was coopted to open a slots parlor. I am glad you are continuing to do the blog (btw, maybe time to change the title referencing Saratoga!). It was great seeing you at Siro's too! Peace and Good, Stephen
Well...OK...chop my head off as I am going to give some FEM responses to some posts from above - but at least in my opinion the BEST part about these blogs are that we all get to post our thoughts....good - bad or ugly..even when they DO sound nerdy as I am sure this one probably will to a hell of a lot of old horseplayers. I have been around the track since I was 8 years old -but I too sometimes wonder where we need to draw the lines in our industry. We also need to remember we are no more (in fact dare I say often times LESS) messed up than many other mentionables. Gosh...take a look at Wall St. or the White House...anyone see any issues there ? Sometimes I think we just need to try to see and enjoy all the good stuff - work on what we can and forget the freakin rest. And if you think I can get the rest of everything figured out in my life this well or it just always runs this smoothly...lets meet up for coffee - lol...Christine. Have the BEST of race weeks ahead - bring home the $$$$$ Happy Blogging $$$$