I went to Mohawk last night with two betting friends. One of the lads had hit the pick 4 at Woodbine in the afternoon via his HPI account and wanted to cash out some money. I tagged along, and the third amigo decided he had nothing to do so he'd join us for a beer and to play a couple of races.
When I learned I would be going, I grabbed the program and did some preliminary work. If I am going to play a few bucks I try to never go in blind.I noticed there was a few possibles for the evening. In race one the outside horse looked to be overbet, and Waples' horse had a chance to win. In the third I really liked the Medors horse from the six. He was 7-2ML and was not well liked by anyone it seems. In the fifth I liked the five for some value, and was stoked to take a poke on Waffle's and Cream from the ten. He never wins and is rarely well bet, because of that fact. However, he was locked last time, and very live. From the ten he could provide nice value. Maybe 12-1 or so.
Anyway, we got there. 2-1 in the first race did not thrill me. There was a scratch. No value, no bet.
The third was head scratching. This 7-2ML horse, with a move up in class, opened at 3-5.... and stayed there. No value, no bet.
In race 5, the 10 horse was overbet from there. No value no bet, other than a couple action-bet supers.
Those were my big potential plays. Nothing spent on them, to speak of, other than an action play or two.
It was pure shark on shark action in the win pools. Anyone who watched a replay or knew something about racing was in on the live horses. They were hammered in the pools.
Harness racing has a huge value problem. Some might say that is it the way it is, but I believe some of it is self-inflicted.
Case in point, you have three bettors out at the track, willing to spend money. One of the three cashed for $15k earlier in the day - he no doubt would love to spend some money. Sure there was shark on shark action going on, but if we had even a sliver of value, we would take a shot.
Here is the anatomy of an evening:
We scan the card and look at something to take a shot at. Someone says the pick 4 might be a good idea. One of the guys says he does not want to play into the horrid rake on pick 4's at Mohawk, and he hates the twenty cent option. We convince him that the pool is going to be $50k, so let's go. We bet $150 in pick 4's.
When we turn to race seven in capping the pick 4, one dude says: Wow, a 12 horse field! Let's invest a few hundred in supers. It is a contentious race and it has to provide value, even with 20 cents supers! The chalk is a chuck for some value too!
'Ummm, no superfecta in race 7' someone says.
Why would they not card this race a super, offer a guarantee, maybe a bit better rake, and fire away? I don't know, but I assume there is some reason for it.
Even without a super, this 12 horse trotting race was our highest handle race of the evening. I bet WP on Christiana Hanover and wheeled two horses in the ex pool. One guy sat it out, and the other dude broke down and took some tris 2311 on top, with all's for $330. He hit it, actually, so it was a good race for him, but he did not light up the pools like he wanted to.
The 8th race had some value, because it was a really deep field of ten claimers. It was an interesting race. We bet that one; a very small amount.
Then we left.
In the end the volume we bet was minor compared to what we might have. If they carded an early double at low take, or a low take pick three, we would have bet it. If they moved the seventh race into the 5th and carded it as a super, we would have bet it. If the early pick 4 was 15% rake we would have doubled our bets. If they gave us anything to play, we would have.
There was simply very little value to play, so no value, no bet.
In thoroughbred racing this is not uncommon either. Open up a California racing form and look at those masterful five horse tilts. Cali protects their signal and forces people to play those races. If it was a free betting state I doubt you would see any volume at all.
This is a huge problem in harness racing, though, and it has been exacerbated the last ten years. I was chatting about the lack of value in our sport with Ray Schell, who was featured in Trot magazine a couple of months ago, and is a die-hard bettor. Ray replied:
"In a game of Shark vs Shark, no shark can win.
The only alternative is to swim in pools where the sharks have traditionally avoided...... the kiddies pools at small handle tracks with high take-outs. But of course, you are limited to playing for small stakes, low wager amounts and hope to win enough to pay for the program."
I think this is what we have been relegated to, in a large extent.
Racing has to think outside of the box. We need 15 horse fields with a 15% takeout in supers. We need a low take rolling pick 3 to entice us to do something. We need horsemen and tracks to work together to card interesting races - like handicaps with the best speed horses with the nine and ten. We need half mile track racing, where we stick the four best horses in the second tier, and make for some movement in the races. Do a deal with Betfair and let me put up $100 to bet that Medors horse in the third last night and see if I get a nibble at 2-1. There are literally 1000 things we can try.
6 horse fields with the live horse at 4-5 and no value on the board in a 22% takeout win pool is the death knell for this sport. It's ugly, it's not fun, it is not exciting and it is completely insulting to any bettor with an IQ higher than a thimble. You might as well not even print the program because no one wants to bet, or watch that stuff.
As someone smart once said to me "the intelligence of the modern bettor is lost on those in charge." He's right. Most of those people have long since left the betting pools. They are now playing other games. They will not be won back with a balloon giveaway. Only value will get them to look at us again.
Can a track out there do something - anything - and try to build on it? I hope so, because we certainly are not going to grow if we don't.
The problem seems to be a willingness to try, and a willingness to stick to something. We have messed up this sport royally for close to three or four decades. Even if some change does happen - with lower take, or deeper fields, or distance racing, or low take supers or Pick 4s - it will take years to grow the sport again and years to get the modern bettor who has left back. After two months of it, they will probably say "didn't work, let's hike prices and card six horse fields again". Just look at those goofy three week takeout experiments for evidence of that - talk about having no idea who your customer who is gone is.
We need some serious vision, foresight and guts to turn this ship around. I hope someone out there decides to give it a try. If so, there are three bettors last night at the Hawk waiting for a clarion call to give you their money.