12/06/2007 2:22PM

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.