by Seth Merrow
May 27, 2009... With a brief lull in the major racing action -- "Waiting for Rachel", if you will -- I'll take this opportunity to toss out some ideas for the racing industry to consider.
We're all familiar with needed change in tote protocols, medication rules, and marketing plans -- the big things. But the ideas below are, for the most part, more readily "doable". Some, admittedly, more so than others. Smaller than the big overarching concerns -- but nonetheless fan-friendly, I think, and worth exploring.
Without further ado then, fifteen ideas for various segments of the racing industry to ponder [in no particular order]:
I list this idea first because it's been discussed by so many for so long. Often called "the most significant equipment change" -- everyone, including the past performance providers, seems to agree that this information should be available -- but the buck gets passed as to who and how.
The expiration date on excuses for this one has passed.
Ten years ago I suppose the argument could have been made that such a daily report would have been read by perhaps five people as it hung on a bulletin board somewhere in the bowels of a racetrack. Today however that excuse is out-of-date -- with the internet providing each racetrack a publishing platform that would allow virtually every race-fan access to this information.
If no action was taken in a race, so note it. If the race was looked at but an "inquiry" wasn't put up, so note it. Fill us in on the decision process when a DQ is made.
Why the secrecy? The referees in other major sports are right out there on the field of play making their decisions for all to see and the sun still comes up each morning. And, as pointed out many times on Equidaily.com, and in that 2007 Topics of the Week discussion, many other racing jurisdictions around the world are already providing this information.
Transparency in the stewards' booth would provide fans with a level of "quality assurance" -- perhaps motivating both the players and the officials to pick up their game a bit with the knowledge that the public is looking over their shoulder.
Let's erase the question "Is that a $1 exacta payoff -- or is that for $2 ?!?" from the vocabulary of OTB patrons everywhere.
There's a significant difference between two turns and a sprint for the handicapper. But often when doing the work the night before -- with the threat of rain in the forecast -- we're flying blind.
While everyone was basing their opinion on a grainy copy of the photo-finish that had been dubbed off of a TV signal -- the real photo was far clearer and put an end to the debate. But it wasn't until a week later that the track thought to post the actual photo-finish photo on their website.
On the bright side: Some of the California tracks already do this and if other track executives want to see how it's done they can visit the Hollywood Park website.
The camera is right on the finish line. No distortion because of the angle. And in photo-finish situations the slo-mo replay from this type of camera set-up is a great addition to any track's video production.
VIDEO REPLAY: You can check out the finish line cam for yourself. The slo-mo replay comes on at about 2:45 of this replay of Race 3 at Tampa on 5/02/09. Nice view of the close place-show finish -- for those waiting for that photo to decide an exacta!
Horse owners would be able to purchase "souvenirs" on an every day basis. But the real use for these machines would come on big race days when fans could buy tickets for their favorite stakes horses.
Again, these would be actual tickets that could be cashed -- but presumably most would be collected. As such, I would like to see the "uncashed ticket" receipts from these particular machines either go back to the tracks -- or, as suggested by Steve Byk when I mentioned this idea on his Sirius satellite radio show, perhaps the money could go to worthy racing-related charities.
Last summer at Saratoga I was watching a rather prominent public handicapper on TV as he downgraded the chances of a second-time starter coming out of the barn of well-known connections. The handicapper's reasoning was based on the fact that the horse had debuted in a turf event which indicated to him that these particular connections must not have had high hopes for the horse. One problem: That debut race was taken off-the-turf and this horse had been entered MTO.
It's a worthwhile piece of handicapping information.
This isn't a completely uncommon occurrence and if a 3YO facing elders has some significance to handicapping [and I think it does] -- then knowing that a 3YO wasn't facing elders is good to know.
Maybe an open circle for MTO/off-turf, and a circle around the 3-arrow to indicate "only 3YOs ran"?
Keaton's "idea man" in Night Shift
Perhaps not as "doable" as some of the other ideas, but, c'mon, raise your hand if you're like me and that three hour layover would become a whole lot more bearable if you could sit in an airport OTB and play some races!
Often times I've seen the "purse-money only" entrant appear as a blank on the video/simo signal odds board -- the same as a scratched horse. Unfortunately many simulcast facilities/OTBs don't pump out the audio from the track feed -- meaning that many bettors might wind up unaware of the situation. Though bettors can't wager on the horse -- handicappers might figure the horse into their strategic breakdown of the race, making is-he or isn't-he running information valuable.
A standard "purse-money only" symbol where the horse's odds would normally be displayed would solve this problem.
If each $.10 ticket paid $5000.00, the announced payout, per $1 bet, would be $50,000.00. In fact, only four winning $.10 tickets were sold, worth $5000.00 each -- making the TOTAL payout $20,000. The announced $50,000.00 would, in fact, be even bigger than the actual size of the pool! That makes the announced payout slightly deceiving -- maybe even more than slightly.
I propose that whenever the total of the winning tickets sold does not reach the wagering increment used to display the payout for that wager, the result should be announced -- and recorded in charts -- as an "extended" payout, with an appropriate symbol. This would alert people that, in fact, no one, or no group, had collected the announced payout -- rather, the winners had increments of the announced price.
It might not seem like a big deal -- but, for instance, there was an announced superfecta payout on Travers Day at Saratoga last year of over $1.5 million. In reality there were two dime winners of $76K each. It's hard to defend as intellectually honest jumping up and down and claiming a $1.5 million prize was won when it was actually one-tenth of that. [And hey, there's nothing wrong with jumping up and down and pointing to a $76K-for-a-dime winner!]
The "extended" notation [or any term the industry finds appropriate] would provide an easy fix.
Imagine walking into a casino and being told that you have to bring your own deck of cards to play blackjack -- and the casino doesn't sell cards. That's kind of the dilemma faced by horseplayers at some simo facilities that don't sell PPs. Meanwhile, other facilities sell PPs -- for $1.50 to $3 a pop per track.
Not to sound miserly, or, uh, cheap -- but oftentimes I will walk into a simulcast facility looking to kill 30 or 45 minutes. I'm just looking for a little fun, some action for that half- or three-quarters of an hour. So I'm going to play the next four or five interesting races -- regardless of track.
But when I walk in I don't know which tracks will have those next four or five races. I don't want to buy five or six programs at $3 per when I might not even use three or four of them. And without the programs I'm not sure if I'm even interested in some of the races. So it's a catch-22, without the programs I don't know which races I'm interested in, and once I know which races I'm interested in I might not want the programs.
So, in these situations, rather than spend $8 or $10 or $15 on multiple programs -- which will allow me to play four or five or six races in my allotted time, I'll buy one program and wind up playing one or two races.
So, assuming there are others like me, doesn't it make business-sense for these facilities to post a copy of the PPs for at least a few tracks somewhere in their facility?
All that said, another fine solution would be if the Daily Racing Program [pictured below] was widely available. If you haven't had a chance to use this publication let me recommend it. On any given day it carries PPs for virtually all of the tracks running -- cost: $3.
Hey, if I can get ten or fifteen tracks' PPs all for $3 -- problem solved. Although if a facility doesn't order enough to sell to any patron who wants one -- well, then we're back where we started.
Well, I believe free PPs should be available -- but I also recognize that that would mean a major shift in the data collection side of the industry. Who would pay for the collection of PP information? What would happen to PP providers -- notably the Daily Racing Form?
Perhaps though there's a middle ground. A compromise that would satisfy the need for free PPs, while at the same time maintaining the status quo among the current providers.
The solution? Basic past performances. Stripped down, rudimentary past performances with perhaps no more than three or four prior race running lines.
The BRIS condensed PPs provide something of a template. But, as shown below, my idea for basic PPs strips information even from those abbreviated past performances. Gone are jockey and trainers stats, and speed figures, as well as other info.
These free PPs could be made available on each track's website, for personal use only. They could also be used by simulcast facilities to solve the publicly-posted PPs problem described above. However, while a person could print them out for their own use and a simulcast facility could post a copy or two -- licensing agreements should prohibit their sale, or use as a mass handout.
The goal of these free PPs would be to provide a basic, stripped down product that would serve a clientele who, while not likely to buy the more enhanced product, would nonetheless be inclined to handicap and wager if they were provided with this free product.
In other words, there are some people who -- because of their own stinginess, or, as illustrated above, because of time-constraints -- simply won't buy PPs. But if given free PPs they will be engaged in the game and they will wager. Give them the stripped down product.
Meanwhile, those folks who currently use and buy the PP product are unlikely to downgrade to an "inferior" compilation of information. And while those that are new to the game might indeed begin with the stripped down version -- they are likely to "upgrade" as their interest in racing increases. So there shouldn't be competition from the stripped down version that would prove detrimental to sales of the current products.
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