The Horsemen Versus the Betting Public
Ray Cotolo
March 30, 2014
The interests of the gamblers and the horse people seem to be contrary to one another. When the bettors benefit, somehow the horsemen are put at a disadvantage, and vice versa. Over the last few months, I've noticed this trend, as well as an increasing amount of information to support my idea that the horsemen and the bettors lay on the polar opposite sides in progressing the industry.
Something triggered my brain to release what I'll call "motivation juice" to write this. This motivation juice derived from a tweet I saw on a Sunday morning. It was a snapshot from the feedback column of a well-known racing publication. It came from a local trainer regarding qualifiers.
She said that, at the annual meeting of the United States Trotting Association, there was a consensus that American horses are "over qualified". She proceeded to say that, since these qualifying days are "time consuming, expensive, and unnecessary", that the United States should adopt a sixty-day rule, a clean line in sixty days (no breaks or uncharacteristically bad races).
She continued, saying that she would "like to see 2-year-olds only have to qualify once, as they do in Europe." She addressed the bettors at the end, saying to them "the information is right there on the program for them to disseminate. Don't like what you see? Don't bet that horse."
While I, as a handicapper, cannot fathom putting money on a two-year-old with one qualifier, since it is similar to betting a maiden (in thoroughbreds) who does not have a single workout, this is not the first instance of the horsemen taking away from something positive for the bettors. A few weeks back, the Meadowlands, which plays as a key illustration since they have led in experimental procedures in the racing product, announced that they would drop their ABC classification system due to backlash from horsemen, such as in the combining of classes, which occasionally put horses at a hindrance despite the post restrictions usually placed on these races.
Another event the Meadowlands tossed aside were the added distance races, which featured twelve horses (ten on the gate, two in behind) going one-and-one-eighth miles. These races were likely to get the boot for a few reasons. Number one: they were longer than a mile. Number two: horses in the second tier "might" get the short end of the stick. Number three: there was little to no extra purse money to incentivize this product.
Seldom did horsemen ever complain about added-distance racing. Yet, with these races, some horse people believed that it did not benefit the horses from the second-tier any greater than a standard mile race might. But, these longer distances were not standard, and the bettors will respond to that.
In the fifth race at the Meadowlands on December 12 of last year, the pools were average to the rest of the card, in the win-place-show (WPS) category, as well as exotics. December 12 is the control, since the fifth race on that card did not feature an added-distance race with more than ten horses. With the added-distance races, the pools were near par with some of the top pools on the night, which usually are seen in the sixth race. On January 9, the WPS pool was $72,049, while the exacta pool was $75,751 (only these pools showed a significant difference for collation). Compared to the sixth race on that card, the WPS pool exceeded the same pool in the next race, and the exacta pools followed a similar direction. This trend was evident again on the January 16 card, with the WPS pool in race five containing $4,532 more than the race six pool, and the exacta pool being $13,161 greater in race five than in race six. This supports the theory that bettors want something different, and they commended it by betting more money.
Added distance racing and bigger fields have been indicated to be a major component to the foreign market. Last year, Yonkers Raceway debuted matinee Sundays, which featured five races going one-and-one-quarter miles, with twelve horses in the first two races and ten in the last three (mind that Yonkers only goes eight horses across). The first five matinee Sundays last year, with numbers from the Daily Racing Form, had received $6.4-million in foreign wagering, exhibiting the untapped market of European gambling.
"I'm set on doing whatever the customer wants," Joe Faraldo, President of the Standardbred Owners and Breeders Association of New York, said about the program. "What's best for the horsemen is not necessarily best for the people, but the horsemen are protected and now it is time to look out for the good of the people and the future of the game."
"These guys (horsemen) have been super," Faraldo said. "I've always felt it was a distinct disadvantage not being on the gate, but the excuse I've been using is that you can't appeal to the global market with just eight horses on the gate. They (Pari-Mutual Urbain, who control wagering within France) wanted fourteen in each field and we settled on twelve." Faraldo wanted twelve horses because he felt drivers might be endangered with six horses in the second tier.
"When I went into the paddock and told them we handled $400,000 in the first race that first Sunday, from that moment on not one guy has said a word."
Yonkers has found the formula for attracting bettors and convincing horsemen to experiment with racing formats. They had the purse money to begin with, which aided the entry box come time to fill these big races, something the Meadowlands could not relish, since they struggled weekly to fill their box. Ultimately, Yonkers is the idea that horsemen and bettors can benefit jointly, with big races and longer distances that make bettors go crazy, and the purses that make horsemen happy.
So there may lay the answer: American racing may be able to "spice things up" with these experimental races, something I would love to see, if they can open the market to foreign interests. What I do not want to see is the horsemen making decisions for the customer that agitates them because their voices were not heard, such as with the ABC system. I loved it, and to have it taken away because the horsemen didn't like it left me feeling flustered. But, I recognized that the horsemen felt the same, since they are out to make an honest living. In the end, our industry may never advance when either party is inconvenienced, hence Yonkers accomplishments in their Sunday cards. One thing is for sure, there needs to be change, and all we have to do is realize it's right in front of us.
Ray Cotolo, long time follower of the harness racing industry, is a presenter on North American Harness Update.
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