12/06/2007 3:22PM

Q&A 12/6/07


The NYRA franchise? Graded Stakes? The price of online pp's? Morning lines? Your comments have been unusually inquisitive this week, so let the supersized inquisition begin:

dale_tillotson says: I guess the question of the day is: Are you dabbling in California because of a possible shutdown at the Big A?

Maybe I'm in denial, but I'm not taking the prospect of a Jan. 1 shutdown of NY racing too seriously. The entire process is being held up by Joe Bruno, the state senate majority leader whose district includes Saratoga, and he does not want his legacy to be The Man Who Shut Down Racing. My best guess is that if he can't secure whatever it is he wants in the next two weeks, he will agree to a temporary extension of the status quo while the wrangling continues.

jrzingg says: Read your column on the Arkansas Derby, I agree with you. But why is there a graded stakes system anyway? Anyone that knows horse racing knows which races are good and which are so-so. Breeders know which races are important, so why do we need Grades on them?

Matt Hegarty neatly summarized the origin and purposes of the grading system in a recent DRF news story: "The grading system was devised as a way to help buyers at auctions determine the class of races listed on catalog pages, but it has since evolved into a marketing tool for racetracks and an incentive for trainers and owners of horses destined for the breeding shed."

Another function it serves, which is particularly useful to handicappers, is to provide a frame of reference for comparing the quality of various international races. Without grades, how many handicappers would know the difference between a St. James and a St. Olaf Stakes? Most of the major racing nations attempt to impose similar qualifications for graded and G1 races. In 2006, for example, there were 438 internationally-recognized G1 races, including 109 in North America, 91 in Australasia and 84 in Europe. Some countries take the system very seriously, such as Canada, which classifies only three of its races as G1's. Other jurisdictions don't, and their so-called G1's are not globally recognized, such as India's 25 G1's or Puerto Rico's 38 G1's.

I have always thought that American racing should do more rather than less with the grading system. The concept of 100 races a year being the most important ones is a pretty easy concept for the public to grasp, and lends itself to standings if the Grade 1 circuit were promoted as a tour or cup series.

steve_cedroni says: Steve, any explanation as to why the pick 6 in New York paid $396.00 [on Sunday 12/2] when the win parlay was $2105.00?

A few reasons: 1)Five of the six winners were first or second choices; 2)Every conceivable potential single for a small bankroll won; 3)There was some weird betting in individual win pools that created some distorted win mutuels. For example, I thought that Dani Tom Boy and Light Tactic would both be 3-5, but they paid $5.90 and $5.70 respectively after some inexplicable action on losers. It was a day where people who play for $16 might well have singled four winners and caught the other two on a 2x4.

jim_in_texas says: What's your take on the Delta Jackpot race this Friday? I think it does nothing but promote racing at Delta Downs, and also helps some owners that have 2yr olds that are ready now, to earn some decent cash..

My only problem with this G3 $1 million race is that it will go farther in qualifying horses for the Kentucky Derby than the G1 Champagne, Breeders' Futurity, Norfolk, Hollywood Futurity, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass or Santa Anita Derby simply because of its inflated purse. Churchill Downs stubbornly refuses to revise its graded-stakes-earnings system, which gives more credit to a slots-fueled G3 for 2-year-olds that does not attract the very top horses than to G1's with better fields.

bearcatbob says: What advantages and disadvantages do you feel there are to actaully being at the track rather than playing from home or a simulcast site? Is there anything you look for when at the track that you can't while not there that can be advantageous? Do you think one is better than the other and how much so?

Assuming that you're talk about handicapping advantages rather than social and aesthetic advantages (fresh air, flora and fauna, the company of the world's finest humans), I really can't think of any. Warmups and post parades are not elements of my handicapping; I can access Formulator and tote data more readily at my desk than in a seat at the track; and I prefer the dress code, smoking policy and shorter betting lines available at home.

aparagon4u says: Why are online PP's so expensive? I can buy a print copy of the Form, get anywhere from 5-10 tracks depending on the day and have access to all the articles for $5.50. Individual PP's online are $2.50, monthly plans reduce the cost per track a little better but not even close to the cost per track of the print copy. Online distribution should be much cheaper then print copies because there are no shipping or printing costs.

I asked DRF Vice President/Internet Marc Attenberg (who will owe me $1 if I can go another 25 days without using the word a-b-s-u-r-d in this blog), for his take on online pricing. His response:

"You're making an apples to oranges comparison. First, online longterm subscriptions come with all of the content of the print editions plus all sorts of additional content, as part of our "DRF Plus" offering. Second, it's rare to find a print edition with 10 tracks in it. It's more typical to find a $5 print edition with something like 6 tracks in it. Those six tracks, for many customers, include circuits they perhaps don't want, because of personal preference. It's far more common to find customers who wish they could just find a 2-3 track edition, and in this way print editions have their own type of idiosyncrasies. But let's go ahead and look at a $5 print edition that carries 6 tracks. That's $0.83 per racecard. And you may or may not be interested in some of those tracks. Meanwhile, DRF.com's annual 720 card plan costs $550. That's 76 cents a racecard. If you want to look at two tracks one day, and 17 tracks the next day, you've got that flexibility. You get the races 2 and even 3 nights in advance so you can 'cap in advance. You get all the print editorial and then some. Yes, some of our smaller increment plans aren't any cheaper than print editions-- but the key is that those print editions are static documents and online we offer the flexibility that makes the difference. Believe it or not, as we continue to invest in growing the online products (check out the amazing interactivity of our Formulator PPs), we're actually no more profitable online than we are in print. So the pricing is what it is."

justin_z says: Hey anybody knows where I can safely bet horses online? So far the online decent site I have found is [redacted].com, so far they have paid off well. Any other suggestions?

I don't know anything about the offshore website you're using, but some of these unregulated operations do not merge wagers into the parimutuel pools, place a cap on payoffs, and are playing fast and loose with the (albeit idiotic and unfair) Internet Gambling Prohibition Act of 2006. While some offshores offer attractive rebates and incentives to high-end players, if you are just starting out and wagering modestly, you might want to explore one of the many legitimate alternatives based in the United States, operated either by racetracks or licensed and regulated third parties which pay negotiated fees to the racing industry.

rfb0318 says: What does everyone think of the "Cinco-fecta" wager that has been approved at Santa Anita for the Winter meet? The bet requires you to pick the first FIVE finishers in a race and has a carry-over provision to it.

I'm all for trying new wagers, but this one sounds like something dreamt up by a marketing department in an attempt to create carryovers it thinks it can promote. To me it feels like turning back the clock on the progress made by instituting dime superfectas. Dime "pentafectas" simply erase the new affordability provided by the lower minimum, effectively raising the base price back up to a dollar by adding an additional slot and again providing a huge advantage to better-bankrolled players. Maybe even superfectas are a slot too far, but the idea that handicappers can make rational decisions about who can or can't finish fifth in a race seems like a stretch.

andyscoggin says: Nice photo, that is an Alexander Calder sculpture of the horse??

Yes. A tip o'the hat to you and hammer for getting my lame Calder/Calder visual pun.

alan says: [I] often wish to see what a horse's morning line was, especially in maiden races. If a first-timer was, say, 6-1 in its debut, it's a huge difference knowing if that horse was 2-1 or 12-1 in the morning line that day. The 6-1 price by itself can be almost meaningless without knowing if he was live, or completely dead on the board on that day. Is that something that has ever been considered for the Form?

In my personal opinion, the morning line is among the most overrated and misunderstood factors in handicapping, and including it in a horse's running line could be extremely misleading. People think it is a set of opening prices from which deviations are significant, or selections by the track operator or some highly-skilled panel of handicappers. It is none of those things.

The morning line is nothing more than one overworked track employee's guess at how the public will bet a race. Why does it matter if Fred the mutuel clerk or Sally in the publicity department thought a day or two before the race that a certain first-timer would be 12-1 or 6-1? In the course of making 100 guesses a day on prices, that employee will invariably make some mistakes. The best linemakers make fewer, but the lines at some tracks are just plain incompetent. I recently visited a major-market track where despite my unfamiliarity with the subtleties of the local racing, I could see that horses listed at 8-1 were going to be more like 20-1 and vice versa. Why simply reprint bad predictions? Additionally, morning lines quickly become irrelevant after late scratches and changes in track conditions.

When a horse listed at 12-1 on the morning line goes off at 6-1, I think it is far more likely to be a function of a bad guess, a reduced field or a change of conditions than a meaningful market move by some cartel of all-knowing sharpies.

Floppydog More than 1 year ago
Big Steve: Is it my canine imagination or is the bugler at NYRA always named Sam, no matter what it says on his birth certificate? I might be freaking but over the years the face occasionally changes but the name... It's like my groomer: He's always Mr. John but he looks different sometimes, ya dig? If I started tooting my own horn, would I be called Sam, too? BEWARE when The Flop starts tooting, btw.
Flip Dawson More than 1 year ago
I wish to join into a betting site like Twin Spires. (no Canadians allowed at TS.) Anybody have any answers for me ? Woodbine is very incomplete with their late changes and late scratches, and getting late changes with 10 minutes to post of Race 1 is simply unacceptable. I want to give my business to a site that cares about my wagers, not ignore me with standard replies. Someone throw me a lifeline, please! No offshore companies, just some place where I can cover a lot of tracks.
Floppydog More than 1 year ago
Colorless boardrooms horseplayer sighs the stars are now the suits and ties sad, sad, sad, and, to most people, who cares Great way to attract fans Fed up Flop
Jim Pino More than 1 year ago
Much is said about the mega trainers nowadays and the amt of wins they attain..what about the amt of losses..Gary Contessa in NY is about to break Pancho Martins number of wins in ny but look again he is about 10-20 losses away from the most losses in one yr too..like 1000 losses in one single year....wow Jim
BC More than 1 year ago
Steve, Two questions for you: First, with the unusally large number of races involving NY-bred horses in front of us over the next few months, where can a handicapper find pars for these races? Second,at the last Expo in Las Vegas, I seem to recall a discussion that took place about the possibility of including in the DRF race pars for all races.Is that a possibility ?
patrick b More than 1 year ago
to Clinton: You are right that certain tournaments carry more cache. My point is that other sports haven't felt the need to rank them to tell us that. Watch the sport long enough and you get an idea which are the important ones. Do we need a committee to tell us the Spinster is more important than the Arlington Matron? That the Suburban is more important than the Clark? I don't think so. I especially don't think we need a committee to tell us that the Prioress, a six-furlong sprint, has a cache equal (from a breeders' perspective) to the Mother Goose or Gazelle, which is sheer lunacy. Horsemen of decades past would have laughed at the notion.
BC More than 1 year ago
Steve, With regard to the question: should NY racing be privatized,i.e., sell the tracks, betting franchises, etc.to the highest bidder ?The key to making privatization work is an increase in the popularity and profitability of the game. This can only come from innovative ideas driven by desire to increase the profitability of the game - good old American capitalism. Sports history is full of examples of people and ideas that have increased the popularity of a sport. I'm thinking of people such as Pete Rozelle, Lamar Hunt,Charlie Finley, Roone Arledge,the three-point shot, the designated hitter and the overtime rules in college football. These were people and innovative ideas that raised the popularity of American sports. Arguably, these sports entrepreneurs were all motivated by the desire to increase profits. Nothing wrong with that. It seems to me that perhaps racing in NY could use a little more of an entrepreneurial touch( resulting from private ownership) and a little less bureaucracy.
PP More than 1 year ago
Trombetta has a good one in today's feature at Big A named Your Flame In Me. This Boundary filly scorched a few in this field already in last on the main, and looks like Caraballo can secure the lead from the outside. Anybody else got a shot in this race, or is this an easy single for the p4...Interestingly, Boundary wins 16% with sprinters, 16% with 3 year olds, and 16% with fillies. What's your take on this most underrated sire? He's got that Nureyev colt Big Brown who was ultra-impressive at Spa and looks to be on the comeback trail...
EJS More than 1 year ago
The importance of morning lines has nothing to do with how accurately they reflect a horse's chance of winning, but in how they influence the wagering. And boardwatching in its purist form the art of understanding the relationship between morning lines, opening odds, and final odds. How a horse reached its final odds often more important than the actual final odds. There are, articulable, winning and losing patterns consistently generated on the odds board. Racing, being racing, winning patterns don't always win (in fact, in any given race there will be more than one winning pattern) and losing patterns certainly don't always lose. But, winning patterns will win much more often than losing patterns. Still, one should never wager (or at least very rarely wager) on a horse soley because of how it is bet. Rather, the information provided by the odds board is best used to confirm a prejudice or alert one to a variable in the Racing Form one might have previously missed, or underweighed. Again, to think that the morning line doesn't influence wagering is, from my persepctive, not actually engaged thinking at all. I mean, does one really think Giacomo goes off at 50-1, if his morning line is 8-1? However, this offering is from the idiot who put in a 1x1x1x1x2 four dollar pick six wager at Hollywood on Wednesday, and ended up with a single consolation of $158.00 when a not included coulda, woulda, shoulda,(if only he had gotten off the phone two minutes earlier and rechecked the board) heavy favorite eliminated him in the first leg. Another six dollars spread into one pick three and the pick four pool yielded said idiot $1500+ for his day's ten dollar investment. Which is not bad, except when weighed against the money left on the table. More Icarus than Pegasus, he, more Hugh Briss than a shrewdly covering Seve Crist.
Joe More than 1 year ago
Not sure about the OTB payoffs in NY, but the OTB's in ILL (at least licensed under ARL) takeout at minimum 2.5% (depending on breakage) on all winning wagers. So a $10.00 horse may return $9.60. Personally it has turned me away from the OTB's and pushed me towards off shore, where I'll get track prices and a large rebate compared to the rebates offered by licensed shops. Which would you rather have on a $1000 of action, a $70 rebate or hamburger with fries & a coke and reduced payouts. If the tracks do not provide somewhat competitive incentives to wager they will continue to lose consumers like myself to the off shore world. Personally, I think the brick & mortar OTB's are a dying entity. Horse racing is exempt from the 2006 law, correct? So it's OK to play with the licensed shops Youbet, TwinSpires, ..etc, but not with the off shore world, that is absurd.