JC / Railbird


Increased Purses, Reduced Takeout

Citing the success of their September 5 program, Suffolk Downs announced the addition of a stakes race, purse increases for Mass-bred stakes, and promoted reduced takeout of 15% for all wagers on the October 3 card.

Saturday’s Suffolk Return

Horse training at Suffolk Downs on September 4, 2015
For the first time in almost a year, horses were training over the Suffolk Downs track on Friday, September 4. Racing will be held on Saturday, September 5.

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.

Buck Up

Shying from picking American Pharoah? Dick Jerardi understands (DRF+):

The near Triple Crown misses have collectively psyched us all out. I definitely include myself in that group.

When you see Smarty Jones run maybe the best race of his life and get beat, and you see Big Brown get eased, and you see California Chrome get stepped on at the start, get trapped on the rail and get beat, you would not be human if you did not at least consider the history that also includes Spectacular Bid getting a ridiculous ride, Silver Charm doing everything but win, and Real Quiet winning for all but the final stride.

For sure! But the Belmont Stakes has also been a great race for playing against the favorite in recent years. The last post-time favorite to win was Afleet Alex in 2005, and only short-priced Union Rags (the second favorite to 3-2 Dullahan) in 2012 disturbs the string of double-digits since:

Winning favorites are indicated by a gray background.

For that matter, Curlin in 2007 was the last favorite to finish second.

American Pharoah is 3-5 on the morning line for the Belmont Stakes, which drew a field of eight, and if the public sticks to its Triple Crown wagering ways, it’ll be as “incorrigibly optimistic” as ever about his chances.

Root for history, bet for cashing.

6/5/15 Addendum: More on playing against from Ted McClelland:

If you want to go for an even bigger payoff, spend $84 to box all the challengers in the exacta…. In Triple Crown attempts since 1987, when the exacta was introduced, that strategy would have cost $1,284 and returned $5,119 — a 299 percent return.

6/8/15 Update: American Pharoah’s win added to the chart above. He’s the first favorite to win since Afleet Alex. His win pay is the lowest this century. The betting public looks pretty smart this year.

The Right Side

So, here’s a feature idea I’ve been kicking around — an occasional series called “You’re Doing It Right,” calling out instances in horse racing of good work. For example, Woodbine choosing to replace its Polytrack surface with Tapeta, because it makes sense for their racing program and business goals. Or NYRA, for whatever it’s doing to deliver a sharp, never-buffering high-definition video feed of its races across its digital platforms. Or TimeformUS, for its upcoming faster and more responsive relaunch and the backend development involved in making that happen. (I got a peek; you’ll want to check it out.)

Or Kentucky Downs, which edged out Keeneland — the leader for six years running — in the 2015 edition of the Horseplayers Association track ratings by offering full fields and lower takout:

“… Kentucky Downs has definitely given horseplayers something to get excited about,” said HANA President Jeff Platt. “Despite the short meet, the ratings algorithm does not discriminate when it comes to value; Kentucky Downs has it and horseplayers have been responding.”

Complete rankings are in this month’s Horseplayers Association magazine (PDF). There’s also a terrific interview in it with Andrew Beyer about carryovers, jackpots, and the grind of the modern game, plus seven questions for several players and handicappers. (Including me. Thanks, HANA!)


The March edition of HANA’s monthly newsletter is now out, and it includes two great interviews, one with jockey Julien Leparoux, and the other with Dana Byerly talking about Horse Racing Data Sets, the site she launched last month for sharing data. I’m biased, but HRDS is swiftly becoming a good, useful resource — the most recent addition to the site is a spreadsheet from Brisnet containing 25 years of winning speed and class ratings, which I’ve just begun exploring for possible Kentucky Derby implications.

Somewhat related: TimeformUS posted their winning figures for the last five years of Triple Crown race preps. You can find Beyer speed figures for the same races since 2010 in the Derby prep schedule (the column labeled “BSF”).

HANA’s newsletter also includes a short primer on churn, which Lonnie Goldfeder recommends setting a goal for each day you play. Goldfeder’s latest column at Daily Racing Form is about staying sharp; it’s a reminder that wagering, like any discipline, requires a commitment to practice.

Dark Pools

Michael Cox reports on “price steaming” in unregulated exchanges:

[It] might sound like a lot of money to bet on horses that you don’t want to actually win, but if the liquidity was high enough on CITIbet, it could easily be a lucrative strategy. Because CITIbet pay-outs are based on the home totalisator dividend, a bet on the exchange of $20,000 — depending on some other factors, including the liquidity available — could have returned around $128,000 to the instigators of the sting for a total spend of around $60,000 — still a tidy profit of more than 100 percent and at much better odds than the 1-to-5 initially showing before the price steaming took place. Still, in this instance, the strategy backfired to a degree as the large investments triggered robotic wagering programs that also took a slice of the inflated odds, and as a result, the payout was much less …


Tom LaMarra on simulcasting fees and Churchill’s recent takeout hike:

I’m no math whiz, so correct me if I’m wrong. In the case of Churchill, if its host fee remains the same, a rebate shop and its customers get to keep the extra 3 percentage points when the exacta takeout goes from 19% to 22%.

If you operate a rebate shop or are a large importer of simulcast signals, higher takeout is money. That may explain why racetracks, rebate shops, and [ADWs] don’t complain about 30% trifecta rakes: If they pay the sender 3% for the signal, there’s 27 cents per dollar to play with before taxes.

Matt Hegarty on how those cents might get shared:

If simulcast rates do not go up at the same rate as the takeouts, then some players may not feel the full impact of the hikes. Many account-wagering operations, including Churchill’s mammoth twinspires.com and an offshore site the company bought several years ago, offer rebates to players, and some sites may elect to forgo the additional revenue to increase the rebates to their players on the Churchill signal. Many rebated players, including those who use automated systems employing algorithms to determine their wagers, are highly sensitive to takeout rates.

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