JC / Railbird


Saturday’s Suffolk Return

Live horse racing returns to Suffolk Downs this Saturday, the first of three days scheduled this fall at the East Boston track, with a 13-race card worth $507,500 in purses that drew 111 entries. One race is over hurdles, five are on turf, three are Massachusetts-bred stakes, and two are written for horses who started at least once at Suffolk Downs in 2014. First post is 12:30 PM ET.

Horses with local connections fill the fields — a full 77 starters are state-breds, ran at the track last year, or are owned or trained by familiar names, including Jay Bernardini and Bobby Raymond. Last year’s leading rider David Amiss is back, as is jockey Tammi Piermarini, who has 10 mounts, including for trainers Christophe Clement, Gary Contessa, and David Jacobson.

In the state-bred stakes: 2014 Rise Jim winner Victor Laszlo returns to defend his title, as does 2014 Isadorable winner Doublicious in that race. Plausible, winner of the 2014 Norman Hall, starts in the African Prince.

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission approved on Thursday a reduction in Suffolk Downs’ takeout rates. All wagers on the October 3 and 31 cards — but not on this Saturday’s card — will be 15%, down from 19% on straight bets and 26% on exotics. Matt Hegarty raises the possibility that simulcasting sites may balk at the drop. “It’s certainly a concern,” Lou Raffeto told him:

… when asked whether simulcast sites will bite the bullet. “I think they will, because it’s in the best interests of the horseplayers. And really it’s not like we’re Saratoga or Del Mar, running all summer. It’s two days. It shouldn’t be a big deal.”

With luck, this little horseplayer-friendly experiment will goose some interest.

Spot Players

Indulto on how his racing buddies bet now:

The difference is that my friends play five to 10 days a year compared to my 50 to 100. These days they’re into the entertainment and social aspect of the game with perhaps a slim possibility of making a score, even more than in staying in the black.

… they only participate when the best face the best.

They have expressed no interest in the majority of races they perceive to be less reliable; the contestants too frequently over-medicated to the detriment of horse, rider or bettor.

Sounds familiar to me, because it’s the way my own wagering shifted before I stopped betting entirely last December (for reasons that had to do with all the issues that might be lumped together as animal welfare).

Sturm und Derby

Is there anyone who isn’t upset with Churchill Downs this Kentucky Derby week? Well, Steve Asmussen was smiling while paddock schooling Kentucky Oaks morning-line favorite Untapable and Derby contender Tapiture this afternoon, despite the PETA allegations. And trainer Art Sherman seems happy to be in Louisville, although who knows what he really thought on seeing California Chrome’s name misspelled on his Derby contender saddlecloth.

But nine out of 10 Horseplayers Association members polled reportedly plan to bet Churchill less or not at all, due to the recent takeout hike. Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm is fed up with Churchill’s gracelessness towards horse owners on stakes days (fellow owner Bobby Flay tweeted his support). And Little Mike’s owner-trainer Carl Vaccarezza is furious that the track took a blood sample for out-of-competition testing from his stable star in advance of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. (Little Mike now won’t be running on Saturday.)

Call it the Angry Derby.

If there’s good news, it’s that the horses don’t care. Twenty will go to post at about 6:24 PM on Saturday, and one will be the Kentucky Derby winner at approximately 6:30 PM. Post positions won’t be drawn until late Wednesday afternoon, but it’s not too early to start geeking out on Derby handicapping. If you’re looking for the 2014 historical criteria spreadsheet, it’s here, and it’ll be fully updated after Derby past performances are available.

4/30/14 Addendum: Re: the above in the context of the rumor that the Breeders’ Cup will be at Keeneland in 2015 (and Del Mar in 2016): “Lately, however, Churchill Downs’ ability to generate cash has been running neck-and-neck with its knack for making enemies.” Ow. And Frank Vespe explains why we should care about Porter’s rage: “He’s mad as hell … and a lot of people around racing are feeling the same way.”

Hollywood Beckons

Santa Anita meet’s closed on Sunday and its numbers don’t tell a happy story*. David Milch’s racetrack drama probably won’t either, but the “Luck” preview released by HBO on Monday generates a good kind of excitement:

As a setting for storytelling, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Milch.

The horses used in filming “Luck” were some of the first to test the restored dirt track at Santa Anita last December, the same surface on which 19 horses were fatally injured during the meet. With an additional fatality on the training track and six on the turf course, the total number of fatalities came to 26 (as estimated here). Santa Anita is funding a safety study: “We hope that data will be important to us and something that we can apply.” That is to be hoped! It was a real pleasure to watch Santa Anita for three years and rarely worry about seeing a horse go down. After this meet, I can’t say that — and I’m not alone.

How’s this for ugly? Fatality numbers were almost all that was up at Santa Anita. While attendance held steady, handle declined. The track announced a 9% decrease in average daily handle, but the raw CHRIMS data, available through CalRacing, showed a 20.7% decline in gross handle over the previous year, from $589 million (PDF) to $467 million (PDF). Adjusting for eight fewer days, and a decline of 9.7% in the number of races carded, the Blood-Horse found average daily handle was down 11.6%. Pull the Pocket has an interesting theory on why Blood-Horse, which originally reported the 9% decline straight, revisited the handle numbers so thoroughly and quickly.

As long as I’m linking bad news, here’s more: The national HBPA officially opposes the proposed RCI ban on raceday medications. Apparently, a five-year phase-out isn’t long enough. “Blah. Blah. Blah,” says Ray Paulick. Exactly.

*Not a happy story, unless you’re a horseman or owner, in which case, hooray! Total purses were up 5.1% for the Santa Anita meet.

Tools of the Trade

Bill Christine’s search for a Kelco put me in mind of my favorite piece of handicapping ephemera, a volvelle for assessing value called the Raceometer:

The 1940 Race-o-Meter

“The more green the better the bet!” Handy, but at 10 cents a race, pricey.

The 1940 Race-o-Meter

I’ve been on the lookout for more Raceometers, but all I’ve found so far is a similarly named wheel chart, the Race-o’Meter (note the odd apostrophe), produced by the Southern California Research Company in 1948:

The 1948 Race-o-Meter

Unlike the Raceometer, a tool for betting, the Race-o’Meter considers eight factors to create individual horse ratings. “Be sure you have a racing form before you when use you the Race-o’Meter,” advises the instructions:

The 1948 Race-o-Meter

It’s science! Beginning in the 1930s and continuing into the 1970s, “scientific” and “scientifically” were favored adjectives of marketers hawking handicapping systems and methods. In 1933, as defined in “Systology: The Science of Wagering Upon Horse Races,” a compendium of eight chart-heavy betting systems, “scientific” meant the complete eradication of individual judgment. “By the use of ‘Systology,’ the human equation is removed from wagering,” wrote the authors. “It leaves nothing to the imagination.” (How dull.) In 1961, “Science in Betting” assured its readers that it would tout no “miraculous betting-system,” instead, it would teach bettors how to use “scientifically collected” data, “which if applied intelligently can work consistently and accurately.” Just like the Race-o’Meter claimed, and most likely, the Kelco.

California Complication

Oh, California. In an industry roiling coast to coast, the turmoil out west is something else. Handle is down more than $77 million at Santa Anita. Too few horses cause canceled days. Horseplayers are in revolt. “In my opinion,” bettor Andy Asaro told Art Wilson, “the CHRB leadership has failed California racing.” The matter of who’s leading is about to get more complicated: A new group called the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a press release last night challenging the standing of the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the official group representing owners’ interests in the state.

Time for True Payouts

Steven Crist:

The argument against providing true payouts like $2.06 or $2.39 has always centered on the flimsy issue of forcing mutuel clerks to deal with pennies. The real issue is that all those confiscated pennies add up to several million dollars a year in each of the largest racing jurisdictions …

In an age where most of the handle is bet offtrack and increasingly through wagering accounts where no one is counting out small change, it is time to re-examine these policies. A horseplayer whose $2.39 payoff is being knocked down to $2.20 is having a 47 percent rounding tax applied to his rightful winnings – on top of a 15-to-20 percent takeout.

Ending breakage should be as much an issue as shrinking takeout.

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