07/24/2011 5:11PM

Head Down

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Of the $15,715,478 gambled on the races at Del Mar on Saturday through transparently reportable sources, $31,413 of it was bet on the debut of the Head-to-Head proposition offered in the featured Eddie Read. This figure represented 0.19 % of the total pool (okay, let's round up and call it 0.2 % -- looks better), which is just about where it belongs until, hopefully, it is put out of its misery.

There will be voices protesting that Del Mar marketers at least should get points for trying something new. Agreed, if that something new is fresh talent at the Friday night concerts, or a different color giveaway ball cap, or another way to profitably package tequila. A couple years ago Del Mar started hooking the Cougar II Handicap to a contest celebrating the efforts of middle-aged women to nail the pool boy. Fine. They got a few extra media hits. It did not get in the way of the game.

Tough times encourage desperate measures, though, and among the most desperate is the trend toward the encroachment of marketing upon the operational aspects of a given business. If the widgets you're selling don't matter, and have no flesh and blood component, by all means turn the whole thing over to the marketers. Selling one thing is the same as selling anything to them, like fast food. But horse racing is not widgets. This is not betting on which raindrop slides fastest down a window pane.

Obviously, memories are short. In 2007, having signed on with Yum! Brands as an enabling sponsor, Churchill Downs unfurled something called the Yumfecta. This offered a million dollars to the connections of the Derby winner if he/she could do better than Barbaro's 6 1/2-length victory from the year before. It is safe to say that among those not consulted before the Yumfecta was launched were racing officials, jockeys, trainers, owners and veterinarians, who might have warned of the temptations inherent in putting a cool million on the table for running up the score.

“It only enhances what the Derby is all about," said Yum! Brands chairman and CEO David Novak.

Maybe where he lives. Anyway, there was no second Yumfecta.

Del Mar's Head-to-Head bet is only a little bit better. In the past, riders have come to understand that once they are clearly beaten for purse money or placement in betting pools their only priority is to bring the horse back safely to fight another day. Stewards encouraged this and owners and trainers appreciated the consideration. Now, with Head-to-Head, if a selected stakes race draws more than six starters, jockeys could find themselves being asked to ride hard for what used to be a meaningless sixth place, or worse. And won't that be a pretty sight -- two jocks belly down and strapping hard at their horses at the back of the pack, distant lengths behind winner.

The bet could be modified to require one of the horses in the head-to-head matchup to at least finish fifth, or something like that. Still, there remains a fundamental problem of approach. The modern trend calls for the mixing and matching of the results of a horse races into an infinite variety of betting combinations. The steady drop in handle nationwide has spawned a generation of racetrack executives who make it a point to wring as much handle as possible out of each event. In doing so, the new betting combinations remove the horseplayer/fan farther and farther from the visceral reality of the race itself. Worse than being viewed as mere numbers, horses become nothing more than credit default swaps, repackaged as proposition bets that have nothing to do with winning the race.

gary emde More than 1 year ago
One bet i would like to see instituted is intertrack doubles. Living in Toronto i play 95 percent woodbine and New York and gulfstream in the winter. I'd really like play doubles between those tracks. First race woodbine with the first race New York. Second race woodbine with the second race New York and so on. You could have gulfsteam and fairgrounds in the winter. You could even have do it interbreed, thoroughbred and harness. You could have woodbine and New York and woodbine and monmouth on the same day. I believe this would create a new pool for horseplayers to wager into similar to how the pick 3 has boosted handle. Magna already has their intertrack pick 5 but that's once a week. Intertrack doubles would create 40 to 50 new pools every week. Horseplayers love action. You bet your intertrack double, watch the race live at your home track and run inside to see if your bet comes in instead of having to waiting a half hour. Horseplayers have always loved the daily double. I believe intertrack doubles would be extremely popular. Magna has their intertrack pick 5. Why not intertrack doubles.
markinsac More than 1 year ago
Totally disagree, Jay. Head-to-head matchups are popular on offshore internet betting sites. The bettors don't expect the jocks to whip the hell out of a horse if they are battling for 7th place. Give the fans more credit than that. If both horses aren't being ridden out, so be it, that's the nature of the game. You assume the jocks have some vested interested in beating the other in the H-H matchup. Actually, this first head-to-head featured a well-known frontrunner and a well-known closer. A great matchup that would test the skills of the bettors. I used to be a Carocortado fan until he started losing so much. Now i view him as overrated. For those of you celebrating the 10% takeout, 10% is still a brutal take in a 2-horse race. Think of it as flipping a coin for $10 with a buddy. Only if you win, you risk $10 to win $8. Put a 5% takeout rate on this bet and then watch it soar. Remember, sports bettors face a 4.5% takeout rate on their pointspread straight wagers. And we all know how popular sportsbetting is. In fact it is one of the reasons for racing's decline. Smarter bettors are attracted to better value. Something that horse racing just doesn't address. But give Del Mar points for trying. Maybe we're heading in the right direction.
Alonzo More than 1 year ago
Hi Jay, I must point out that $31,000 on a bet like that is a giant achievement based on other venues' results with the same bet. And don't forget that on this particular Saturday, the wager featured two live horses, and not the seeming 'scrubs' which the wager was designed to put in the semi-spotlight. I would suspect that when the same bet features insignificant runners in the future, it won't handle anywhere near as well. With regard to the Yumfecta - they need only have waited a couple of more years to find somebody actually scoring the Yumfecta, so it was in that way unwise to have put it out of its misery so soon (after the unwisdom of conceiving the dumb idea in the first place, that is). It was like Del Mar's not watering the track in 2007. Once you made the move of switching to the synthetic surface, it was entirely sensible to read and follow the directions on the proverbial box that first season, which they did, in the way of committing to it. Why bother making any new changes if you're not going to stick with them for at least some significant period of time?
Spike More than 1 year ago
I am leaning with your view on doing away with this bet, however, for different reasons. This bet was intended to appeal to the novice and the sports bettor (who is looking for a better gamble than the absurd take-outs that thoroughbred wagering is saddled with). Unfortunately, the "breakage" in our wagering system in California does not allow this bet to compete with a normal sports bet, (CHRB are you listening?) I only partially agree with your comment on how riders are instructed to ride hard for any type of purse placement money, the reality is once most riders are beaten for the exacta, they are not going to ask their horse for any more than it is willing to give. Also the information on what the odds on each of these two horses was extremely poor at the simulcast centers. This certainly did not add to the build-up or excitement of this wager.
arthur More than 1 year ago
Super high five goes back to 5 spots now, it is not just the top 3 that must be ridden to the wire. This is actually riding a race and the jockey should give his effort each and everytime baring injury. Jockeys get suspended for not riding out overseas but you would have them only try some of the time in the US. This wager has barely had a chance to get wet behind the ears and your already killing it. Why don't we mix it up and try some middle priced horses against each other, tinker with the system and publicize a bit. This lesson can teach us a good deal about where wagers are heading in this sport and creating new demand for new wagers is certainly worth a concerted effort. Mutliple H2H wagers in one race, create parlay pools linking these wagers and expand the pari-mutuel product to embrace the technology age. So before you get all high and mighty about jockeys having to finish races why don't we take this time to remember. Rome wasn't built in a day.
ejs More than 1 year ago
Hey, 10 percent of $31,413 is $3,141.30. It's not like the managment of Del Mar is willing to risk the integrity of the sport, or the well being of the horses, for nothing. When thinking about the present state of Racing, I keep coming back to Yeats: "Turning and turning in widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Mere anarachy is loosed upon the world." This observation of yours is brilliant, full of urgent echo which demands to be heard: "The steady drop in handle nationwide has spawned a generation of racetrack executives who make it a point to wring as much handle as possible out of each event. In doing so, the new betting combinations remove the horseplayer/fan farther and farther from the visceral reality of the race itself. Worse than being viewed as mere numbers, horses become nothing more than credit default swaps, repackaged as proposition bets that have nothing to do with winning the race." Really, at the point that the visceral connection between the fan and the horse is severed whatever is noble about the game is lost. A certain inanity takes its place. The game devolves from a thinking man's game of dash and daring and firm well backed opinion to a form of parimutuel bingo. The game devolves from one rewarding excellence to one encouraging mediocrity. At sixty, I think this is the sad state of Racing today in America: The serious students of the game, the $200 win/place bettors have been replaced by the spread and hope crowd eager to celebrate their own mediocrity. "Look mommy, I did magic poopy in my pants. I hit a four horse exacta box." The irony, of course, is that the more mediocrity is encouraged the more the handles fall.
south florida tom More than 1 year ago
I agree. The Head-to-Head bet should go. It's embellishment and gimmickry. To acquire more fans and increase handle, horse racing should improve its product, i.e breed better horses. Maiden races across the country have too many horses entered who have no business on the recetrack. When the U.S. auto industry saw their sales go down in the '70's and '80's because of all the clunkers being sold here, Detroit started putting out better cars to increase business. When a TV manufacturer sees sales go down, they improve their product. Horse racing treats a sympton--the disease goes rolling along.
Blake More than 1 year ago
The only thing needing put of its misery, is your shallowness. Delmar did a great job offering these new bets, its not like they had a meeting and said, "lets try this".. They did something every track should start doing.. They asked US, THE PLAYERS!!! WE TOLD THEM THIS IS WHAT WE WANTED & they delivered. I for one, love it.. if ur a $2 bettor, then perhaps this is why u dont like it.. We the players wanted this, its just another way of getting +EV, and the fact the track secretary makes the matchups, makes it even better. Well done Delmar!!!
BOB More than 1 year ago
RIGHT ON!
hlniv More than 1 year ago
This bet makes no sense in this game. So, you could get 6-5 on Acclamation vs. Caracortado. You could get 3-1 on Acclamation to win, which is not much different than betting against the heavy favorite. It might make sense as an insurance bet, to lower your risk on the real bet going the other way, but that's about it. The only impact that this bet will have will be negative. It will never catch on, that is a guarantee.