JC / Railbird


Save Horses! Mug Horseplayers!

Let’s stop this idea in its tracks now:

Violette said there has been discussion about dedicating one-tenth of one percent of New York’s handle to retirement programs, which would need legislative approval. This would generate about $2.2-million per year.

“That way everybody that participates in racing — handicappers, tracks, jockeys, trainers, owners — would be giving something,” he said. “Yes, it means an increase in takeout. But I can’t think of a better reason for a takeout increase than the protection of our race horses.”

Raise takeout? An unfortunate necessity. Mandate that everyone who registers a foal pay $25 toward racehorse retirement? An impossible dream.

I’ve given money to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and other retirement groups in the past; I’ll surely do so in the future, because horses deserve a decent quality of life after the racetrack. But like most horseplayers, I don’t breed horses. I don’t own horses. And until those who do breed and own horses levy a similar burden on themselves to help cover thoroughbred retirement costs through registration, sales, or earnings — all possible sources of funds — then I’m not going to see a takeout increase, for the horses, as anything other than what it is — a politically palatable passing of the buck.

3/25/11 Note: There’s an excellent conversation going on in the comments about takeout and funding racehorse retirement, to which Violette thoughtfully replied this afternoon. “I will go even further; let’s not raise the takeout and take the same .001 from the existing levels,” he writes. “NO INCREASE. A solution must be found, this is for the greater good.”

Meetings Taken

Santa Anita and Del Mar executives recently met with horseplayers to discuss the January 1 takeout increase and other concerns. Art Wilson reports:

A HANA-backed boycott of California races is believed to be a factor in Santa Anita’s declining handle numbers this meet. HANA president Jeff Platt and the group’s California representative, Roger Way, met with Santa Anita president George Haines and Allen Gutterman, the track’s marketing director, on Sunday at Santa Anita and with Del Mar president Craig Fravel and marketing director Craig Dado on Monday … Aaron Vercruysse, hired recently by the Thoroughbred Owners of California to advise the group on betting matters, attended Sunday’s meeting …

The meetings are evidence that horseplayers, as represented by HANA, have gained the clout to compel conversation about customer issues. And while conversation isn’t action of the sort that’s going to end the players’ boycott, it is a start, one that went over well with Andy Asaro, a California horseplayer who attended both meetings. I talked with Asaro last night and he was positive about the discussions, describing the Santa Anita and Del Mar executives as “very interested” in the bettors’ perspective and open to making adjustments. He was less appreciative of the TOC, represented by Vercruysse. Although Asaro found Vercruysse pleasant and knowledgeable, he felt his presence was perfunctory. “He was there for the TOC to be able to say they talked to us,” said Asaro, suggesting that wasn’t enough. “They need to show goodwill.”

1/31/11 Addendum: HANA president Jeff Platt answers questions about the meetings. Noted: “However, I think there might be at least partial support at this point within track management to rescind the takeout increase. I say that because they reached out to us. They are looking for solutions.”

The Disconnect

From Matt Hegarty’s must-read on the state of the racing business:

But continuing to fatten purses is a solution that directly serves horsemen, not bettors. In a macroeconomic sense, it’s hard to argue that the $318 million in subsidies distributed to purses in 2009 made the game better. The U.S. foal crop cratered, the bloodstock market remained in its doldrums, and handle continued to decline at unprecedented rates.

Slots are the subject above, but unleavened takeout increases are similarly flawed. We’re seeing the results of a horsemen-first view in California now.

In the Red

How the pool totals looked through the card at Santa Anita on Wednesday:

Pool totals through race six at Santa Anita, 12/29/10
Edited screenshot from an anonymous player forwarded by Pull the Pocket. Player’s figures vary in amount, not trend, from the totals posted on Equibase.

There was a Super 5 carryover of $32,444 in the nightcap, to which bettors added $111,054, but that didn’t much help the day’s total. Only $4,038,178 was wagered on the eight-race card, 28.1% less than the $5,617,017 that was wagered on last year’s comparable eight-race Wednesday card. Reviewing the numbers, Bill Finley concludes:

There can be only one reason why Santa Anita has gotten off to such a wretched start — the takeout increase. It looks like horseplayers actually can be pushed too far.

I think he’s right that horseplayers are feeling pushed too far, although not to the extent that handle is off by so much due mainly to horseplayer action, which is likely magnified by several other factors influencing wagering. There were 50 betting interests at Santa Anita on Wednesday, for instance, compared to last year’s 60, a decline of 16.7%. Yesterday’s fourth race was scratched down to three starters — on which Santa Anita bizarrely allowed trifecta wagering — reducing the pool totals on that race to a third of what the fourth race took in last year. There also hasn’t been a ton of value in the pools since the opener: Favorites have won 13 of 26 races, at an average price of $4.50, and finished in the money in 20 of 26. I didn’t play Santa Anita on Wednesday, and it wasn’t because I was protesting — it was because there was nothing to play. Never mind the boycott — like the SoCal track surface argument of the past three years, the takeout debate obscures a deeper problem — for the most part, California racing just isn’t that compelling.

12/31/10 Update: Steve Davidowitz says it much better: “Given smaller fields dominated as they are by heavy wagering favorites, it even can be argued persuasively that the prescribed takeout increase will prove to be an unfair price for the product on display…. The net effect at the windows is sending a stronger message than any boycott.”

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