Wednesday, February 17, 2010

And Off Stride They Go

Sitting outside, or in the grandstand at Greenwood brings back many memories. Racing was super-popular and we usually had a packed house and some energetic fans. Every harness fan at that time will remember the reaction when a horse broke stride. First there would be cursing; players more upset than they are finding out they do not get a tax refund this year. Then, after the horse would come by the grandstand, far, far behind the others, the crowd would give the driver a bronx cheer.

"Am1947" has been tracking horses who break stride in his database and posted them at Pace. I found the numbers pretty shocking.

At the Meadowlands there have been 11,815 pacers sent to the gate in the past year and a half or so. 329 of them broke at some point of the mile, for a 2.78% break frequency.

There have been 4604 trotters sent to the gate and 522 have broke stride, for a 11.3% break frequency.

That means about 900 times the past year or so a bettors money went up in smoke without even having a chance.

These numbers are at the Meadowlands, which has gentle turns, the best horses and a great surface. On a half mile track these numbers must be much worse.

This is clearly a problem. Someone heads to the track, pays admission, studies his program, waits twenty minutes between races, puts down his hard earned cash, and with trotters, 11% of the time their money goes poof, without even having a chance to play. The takeout is about 17%, so adding 11% due to breaking at random, it is like a huge takeout hike.

Breaking horses are part of the game, but I don't think they have to be. If we are being honest with ourselves, we all know that most of the cash for purses in our sport are from slots. What if there were refunds given for these breaking trotters? Are we really going to miss the smidgen of cash that we lose? Would these refunds be worth their weight in gold for customer satisfaction and churn?

Maybe we should try something new. If we do, perhaps when a horse breaks in the future we will not hear "f*#) harness racing", but "well, at least I get my cash back. I will try that horse next time" instead. The latter seems to be preferred from a customer service perspective.

17 comments:

Pacingguy said...

Be glad we are not in France. There if a horse breaks, it is immediately disqualified.

I don't think we can refund for a horse jumping offstride during a race. People complain about odds changing already; want to see some people complain when their 5-1 shot becomes 3-1 when a refund is ordered on a breaking horse.

Like you said, breaking horses is part of the game. At least in Canada you have the fair start rule. In the States, only North Dakota with their three day meet has a fair start rule. I am still waiting to see the propose rule change for a fair start in NJ come up for public comment. What should be happening is if a horse jumps before the start, you should get a refund; during the race you are out of luck.

What we should be doing is if a horse jumps in race, it should be required to requalify twice cleanly before it gets into a betting race.

Pacingguy said...

I would also be interested to see how many of these jumpers are two year olds, especially with trotters. Could the high number be because we are racing horses that are too young? Maybe not racing until three would drop the percentages a lot.

ITP said...

Break=Automatic refund????? I can't even imagine you wrote this blog entry.

There are so many reasons why this would be horrendous that I would need to hire someone for a year to type them in a response.

What happens when you have a 1/5 trotter that will either win by a block or break?
1. He wins easy...the people who bet on him are happy because they had no risk...win or refund
2. He breaks and still wins...refund for the winning horse and the others are happy to now get 2-1 on their 15-1 winning 2nd horse
3. He breaks and all the odds on the remaining horses get dropped off a cliff.
4. He's 15 in front coming to the wire and puts in a mini-break 10 yds from wire....judges now have to decide whether it was a full break or no break which will determine entire wagering result.

I could go on and on with those.

How about you have 2 horse boxed in ex at 10-1 and they are 5 in front battling for victory when 10 yds from wire one of them jumps. Your big winner turns into a refund even though the result was determined and official.

Having the judges ruling on whether each break or non-break gets a refund would cause havoc to the point that nobody would want to bet again.

What's next? Any horse that gets boxed in or shuffled has their bets refunded?

I'm still in shock from reading your idea.

Pull the Pocket said...

ITP,

There are no full ideas in there. That is why I said "we should try something new"

The status quo is not an option in harness racing - it is slowly circling the drain. Trying something new, whatever it may be, should be spoken about and discussed. 11% of trotters breaking in a race is not a good way to get thoroughbred players, or any player really to look at you. It is a problem.

You make some good points. Points I know to be an issue. I could have written 1000 words on ideas and their pros and cons, but I wanted to hear what others thought, and time is tight lately.

The point of the post is simple: instead of "no" what is a solution that does not include the words "let's leave things as they are"?

We have used the phrase "no, let's leave things as they are" in harness for 100 years. No is not a policy, it is a death warrant for the sport.

PTP

Pull the Pocket said...

PS: Here are some ideas. Whether they are good are not, who knows, but something other than the status quo.

* 2YO trotters break at 22%. They draw little bet. Do we run them before the races?

* to be accepted for entry trotters have to have three clean lines for a purse. this would keep the breakers on B tracks until they have clean lines, and when they are at the M bettors can be more confident. if the horse population goes down, so be it. At least the product would be better.

* If a horse breaks before the wings go, he/she is refunded.

* Each slots track works together and has a Super high 5, seeded, at low take for the last race each weeknight. You card ten trotters. The uncertainty can be factored in the handicapping, and it is a possible way to generate carry overs.

Trotting races piss people off, and they have much lower handles than pacing races. Perhaps those or other ideas can make the sport better...... or maybe not.

PTP

ITP said...

It would not be a smidgen of cash and it would not increase churn. That is what I am 100% sure of.

As for answers....I have one....the same as your main answer but I know it's the only answer.

If you own a gas station and are charging quadruple for gas compared to what your competition is charging....it doesn't matter what you do....washing windows, keeping your pumps clean, etc....you business is dead. Same thing goes for racing....coming up with ideas that mean nothing because a million good ideas can't overcome the main problem which is flat-lining racing.

The refund breaks idea is horrible. It would be an automatic handle sinkhole...as if we need more of that.

There is only one idea and one solution....any others are time wasted until the problem is solved.

Miss Woodford said...

Back in the day, even pacers raced free-legged. Hopples meant that the trainer and/or the horse's breeding was inferior, and up until the very early 1900s (around the time of freelegged Dan Patch) hopples were not allowed on the grand circuit. Nowadays most trainers put hopples on pacers as a matter of course, and it is inevitable that the same will occur with the advent of trotting hobbles that we see so often on top horses.
To me, breaking gait is not really "part of the game", but is primarily a result of unsoundness, bad shoeing, training shortcuts (particularly with ungainly 2yos), or any combination of the above. In addition, modern pacers hail from lines of hoppled horses, who may or may not have had the natural tendency to gait, and with gaits being inherited, more and more pacers "need" hopples. The solution is to limit 2yo racing, require 3 consecutive clean running lines for parimutuel races, require horses who broke in their last race to qualify again, and phase out the use of trotting AND pacing hopples, beginning at the stakes level.

ITP said...

* 2YO trotters break at 22%. They draw little bet. Do we run them before the races?

So no betting on 2YO trotting races...OK, what does that accomplish? Wouldn't it be better to put a bold letter disclaimer on the program saying these races are bad wagering races for non-professional bettors?

* to be accepted for entry trotters have to have three clean lines for a purse. this would keep the breakers on B tracks until they have clean lines, and when they are at the M bettors can be more confident. if the horse population goes down, so be it. At least the product would be better.

What is an A track? Is this an Ontario only idea? Are all PA tracks A tracks? Are stakes races included? If I race in NJ at Big M and my $300K NJ sired yearling is ready to race, where do I race him if Freehold is closed? Bangor? Northfield?

* If a horse breaks before the wings go, he/she is refunded.

What happens when a horse breaks for 3 steps behind the gate, doesn't miss the start and wins? Is he a refund or a starter? Who decides? What happens when a horse breaks and doesn't miss the gate but has to go 27 flat to catch it and then obviously gets beat? So any horse that breaks stride before start no matter how early in formation or how few strides shall be refunded? That will be great fun having a 10 minute inquiry every race letting the judges figure it out and then watching every price on the board get lowered.

* Each slots track works together and has a Super high 5, seeded, at low take for the last race each weeknight. You card ten trotters. The uncertainty can be factored in the handicapping, and it is a possible way to generate carry overs.

Each slot track works together????? How are they going to work together? Most don't care about racing or the bettors so how are they possibly going to work together to help racing and the bettor?

Pull the Pocket said...

Answers:

"So no betting on 2YO trotting races...OK, what does that accomplish? "

The Meadowlands already does this to a good extent running trot maidens at 7PM as non betting affairs. This was in response to terrible handle numbers and customer complaints. It would be smart if others followed their lead.

"What is an A track? Is this an Ontario only idea? "

Yes, that was directed to racing here in Ontario.

"What happens when a horse breaks for 3 steps behind the gate, doesn't miss the start and wins? Is he a refund or a starter? Who decides?"

If he breaks before the gate goes, he is a refund. If he hits the board, he is left up. That is exactly the same way it is decided in all tracks North America-wide now, with the fair start pole. The fair start pole is simply moved to when the wings open. Quite simple, actually.

As for slots tracks working together, your points are well taken, however it does not mean we can not be proactive and suggest things to move forward. Some slot tracks are doing some things based on customer suggestions, which I am sure we will hear about in the coming weeks.

PTP

Cangamble said...

I do think that churn and handle would go up a tad if say horses are refunded if they break before the first quarter mile.

But I've been known to be wrong too.

ITP said...

The Big M has plenty of 2yo trot races with 1st timers and others who wouldn't fit the 3 start rule as pari-mutuel races.

If he breaks before the gate goes, he is a refund. If he hits the board, he is left up. That is exactly the same way it is decided in all tracks North America-wide now, with the fair start pole.

Can I please have 100K to show on every horse that breaks before the fair start pole.


I'm not arguing the fair start rule. I was arguing that any horse breaking before the start should not be refunded.

A horse at Freehold today broke before the start and still came from behind to win.

Anonymous said...

As a Thoroughbred horseplayer who occasionally bets harness races, I don't become especially angry when a Standardbred I've bet on breaks stride. But there IS something that irritates me when I'm playing harness races.

I hate it when I handicap a trotting race and there is a horse (or horses) who is competitive at the level, but frequently goes on breaks (in a third of his starts, perhaps). I fear that if I bet on him, he'll break. If I bet against him, he'll stay flat.

As a Thoroughbred bettor, I prefer races where there are few variables (no horses plunging in class, no horses coming off lengthy layoffs, few horses making surface or major distance changes). Harness racing doesn't have those variables, which I like. But it's easier to anticipate whether a Thoroughbred will handle the stretch out than to figure out a trotting race where the field is full of frequent breakers. (This is much less of a problem in pacing races, I must admit.)

Richard said...

I do not bet harness racing......... and horses breaking is the main reason. It is the stupidest bet on the earth.... worse than slots. I bet and I don not even have a chance to cheer for my horse. I should just give the parking atttendant my $40.

Change the rule I might look again. If you leave it as is I will just continue to smirk at people who play these galloping trotters.

Rich

Anonymous said...

Agreed. If there is any track exec out there who does not think this should be overhauled they are probably watching the men's free skate tonight by adjusting the rabbit ears.

Wind Gatherer said...

I have never bet a harness race nor been to a harness track but I have bet my share of thoroughbred races and understand the risks involved when I place my bet. That said, I am not indifferent to the goodwill these refunds might generate and goodwill is in short supply.

Ideas are the only way to move forward. Nothing, no matter how good, survives by refusing to innovate. From what I have read here, PTP is a knowledgeable and serious player.

I would suggest a controlled test of the hypothesis is warranted. Then again, I have a few in me...

roger said...

Roger said...

22% breakers and a 17% takeout: might as well play the Powerball. That is the highest takeout I have ever seen..... no horseplayer should support that robbery. Some of the above ideas might rectify it somewhat. It is fairly obvious this sport should do something.

As for the poster who said they would bet 100k to show I say good. We need more people watching harness racing and if they are sitting there waiting for something that might happen 1 out of 200 times, they will probably bet some money into the pools in some of the other races..... and if they have been betting trotters for 20 years, they probably deserve the proceeds of a minus pool once every month.

Roger.

Anonymous said...

I think you have a point with refunding. Make it for extended breakers eg - instead of only a fair start pole, have a fair race pole. If the horse reaches it and is still offgait, give the cash back. there is nothing more strange in harness racing to see a horse a mile back galloping and knowing you are ripping up tickets.