12/11/2013 8:56PM

Racing symposium notes: Track superintendents freely sharing information


TUCSON, Ariz. – Track superintendents in the United States are more willingly sharing the tricks of their trade and applying new scientific methods to maintenance procedures, a panel of superintendents said Wednesday in the final afternoon session of the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming.

The impetus behind the newfound willingness to cooperate on maintenance procedures was the death of the filly Eight Belles shortly after she finished second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, said Raymond “Butch” Lehr, former superintendent at Churchill who retired from the track in July 2012. Eight Belles was euthanized after breaking sesamoids in both of her front legs.

“That was the turning point,” Lehr said. “We figured out we have to start sharing things.”

The death of Eight Belles sparked a wide range of criticism of the sport, from its drug policies to the industry’s tracking of racing and training injuries. In response, racing organizations created the Equine Injury Database, began overhauling medication policies, and brought in a mechanical engineer, Dr. Mick Peterson, to begin examining racing surfaces in the hopes that the sport’s tracks could develop best practices for maintenance procedures.

Lehr, motioning to Peterson, who was seated in the panel’s audience, said, “That’s the man with the science.”

Despite being something of a newcomer to the industry – and especially to a segment of the industry in which knowledge is passed down from one track superintendent to his groomed replacement without any help from books or training manuals – Peterson has forged a good working relationship with the industry’s existing superintendents, and he has launched several novel projects to improve record-keeping of maintenance procedures.

Also, he can often be found on racing surfaces playing with really cool machines.

Speaking from the audience, Peterson described a project at NYRA’s racetracks in which the track’s maintenance equipment has been equipped with GPS receivers to track their locations at all times they are on the track. The data is combined with current weather and track conditions to give an exquisitely detailed record of what was done to the track and the alterations to the course as a result of changing weather or maintenance procedures, Peterson said.

All that data is then combined with injury data to “try to predict what maintenance protocols to use to keep the track as safe as possible,” Peterson said. The project at NYRA was launched after a spate of breakdowns at Aqueduct in early 2012.

Peterson also said that databases are now replacing the “little green books” that track superintendents had used in the past to record what procedures they used on a track, oftentimes in their own personal shorthands. As a result, the industry is no longer at risk of losing the records of the adjustments made to racetracks and can now use the electronic records for database queries.

“In the past, you were one failed stent from losing all that knowledge,” Peterson said.

123 Racing wager could go national

Supporters of a novel pick six-type wager that quietly debuted this year at Parx Racing in Pennsylvania and at Emerald Downs in Washington are looking to take the wager national in the near future, racing officials said Wednesday at the symposium.

The wager, called 123 Racing, was not a subject of any panel on the Wednesday Symposium schedule, nor does its creator, Rob Earl, a New Zealander, have a booth in the conference’s exhibit area to promote the bet. Still, Sophia McKee, director of marketing at Emerald, made a reference to the wager from the audience of a Wednesday panel on social-media strategies, crediting the bet for creating a new way for the track to market wagering to newcomers with limited bankrolls.

The bet is a pick six without being a pick six. For $2, a player makes one selection in each of six consecutive races. If the selection finishes first, second, or third, the $2 mutuel payout is applied to the bettor’s running total for the six-race sequence. The player with the highest total at the end of the sequence wins the pot (ties split the pot).

The biggest benefit to the bet, from a player’s point of view, is that the player remains live throughout the six-race sequence, even if one or more of the player’s selections fail to finish in the money, unlike a pick three, pick four, or pick six, in which a failure to pick all the winners in the sequence typically makes the player ineligible for the top payout. Theoretically, a bettor could win the bet with one third-place finish in the sequence, as unlikely as that is, because the winner is the ticket with the highest running total.

“Our players loved it,” McKee said in an interview after the social-gaming panel. Emerald offered the wager for free online play and at the track for the $2 minimum each day of the track’s 75-day meet this year, McKee said.

In an informal discussion of the bet early Wednesday morning, Earl said he designed the bet to mimic a handicapping tournament, where the winner of the tournament is generally the player who accrues the most money from either real or mythical win-and-place bets. The bet is currently available through an online portal, and he said he is nearing agreements with an account-wagering operator who might be able to make the wager available to online players in jurisdictions where Internet betting is legal.

Earl also said that the bet could be designed for any length sequence.

“You could make it a multi-track pick 15 if you wanted to,” he said.

Although McKee, the Emerald marketing director, said that live betting on the wager did not threaten any of the track’s other pools, Emerald plans to offer the bet next year because of its appeal to new bettors. She said she plans to market the bet more heavily because of its novelty and its target market.

“The wager is really appropriate for someone who goes to the track three or four times a year,” McKee said. “So we should have promoted it every single day as if it was a brand-new wager, because the player who would like it might be showing up on a day when we’re not talking about it.”