Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's Ron Geary's Fault

I was recently asked by someone, "When did you start super-seriously playing the thoroughbreds?" When someone answers that question there is always a good story. Perhaps an old family story to see some great like Spectacular Bid, or Northern Dancer. In harness most people my age speak of seeing the Pacing Machine, or Jate Lobell, or Fan Hanover. My answer is nothing like that, and certainly less exciting.

When I was about eight I became a harness racing fan at Flamboro Downs, near Hamilton. Over the next ten or so years I read everything I could get my hands on for all of racing - thoroughbred and harness - I kept stats, I worked at racing, the best I could. This was fairly tough considering there was no internet, and no off track wagering where I lived.

When I moved to the big city to go to school I learned production possibility curves, finite math, and when Des Takoor warmed up his horse the last 3/8's in under 45 seconds, he was a good bet. I was a regular player. I bet mostly harness racing from that day forward, except on bigger days, carryovers and dabbling (a bad word, I guess, it was a fair amount) at night tracks, like Mountaineer.

In the summer of 2007, that changed.

I had been looking for something to add to my seven day a week betting near that time. In harness, the pools were getting small, the Meadowlands handle was falling, trainers were claiming off-form horses and winning with them at 3-5, ad nauseum. Local racing had tough takeouts too. I simply could not find as much value as I used to.

Then one day I came across someone named Ron Geary. Ron was the President and owner of Ellis Park in Henderson Kentucky. Ron decided that he wanted to try and place his track on the map, and he told the racing world he would do the unthinkable: He would lower his takeout on his pick 4, to 4%. Ron Geary made me stand up and take notice - he was someone who wanted my business.

I decided then and there that I would begin switching my focus to the runners.

I knew enough about racing to give a 4% take bet a shot, but I don't jump into things like this unprepared. I immediately began researching some software packages and after about a month I settled on one. I shelled out the $700 or so for it, but then I needed data files. I found out I had to spend about another $1,000 on those, so I did. I now had a software package, data, and began learning how to play in a new way. I was also $1,700 in the hole.

I called Woodbine because I wanted to see if they were taking the pick 4 at the low takeout. "No, we are not offering it at 4%. It will be 22%.", they told me, so I was shut out there. I searched and searched a way to play and I could not find one -  it seemed like no one was taking the 4% pick 4. One thing I have learned in racing, is if a track is going to offer low takeout, their signal will not be taken by very many. If they want to offer a high takeout, everyone will offer it out. I think it might explain why racing has fallen so far, so fast.

Anyway, I finally found something. And I began playing.

I would like to say that I took down the bank, but I did not. It was a slow burn but at least I was getting paid when I hit it. And the bet really did well going from a $17k daily pool to over a $40k one. One day the pool hit near 100k and that's not bad for a smaller track. Most of all, I had fun. I really did.

From that day forward I have spent a lot of cash betting this sport - big tracks, smaller ones like Ellis, it's a whole new world. I still play harness, but not as much as before.

When someone asks me why I play thoroughbred racing, I say to them two words: "Ron Geary". I'd like to thank him as I have made some great friends while playing the game seriously. If someone reading this wants to try a 4% pick 4 for their track, let it be known that in your own way you are probably growing this sport, just like Ron Geary did.

Photo credit: Mike Lawrence


The_Knight_Sky said...

One thing I have learned in racing, is if a track is going to offer low takeout, their signal will not be taken by very many. If they want to offer a high takeout, everyone will offer it out. I think it might explain why racing has fallen so far, so fast.


Absolutely correct. It took me a while to learn about this major obstacle that prevents racetracks from doing what needs to be done.

The business models are clearly counterproductive if racetracks have tied themselves up by keeping takeout rates at what seems to be a permanently high plateau.

A John Brunetti type scheme at Hialeah is a death sentence. It was and still is. Conversely if a racetrack wants to ensure its survival, offer something the other tracks are not doing. Lower the price of the product, more wagering the pools, for a extended period of time.

It many months, if not years to build interest and allow the fans to learn the local game. They shouldn't throw in the towel like they did in Maryland and explain that they're raising the takeouts because it didn't make a difference after a few weeks.

That's sabotage in the long term. Soon they'll be out of a job.

Anonymous said...

Ellis Park is probably my favorite out-of-state track to visit. They just do a lot of things right - obvious things that ought to be the standard at every track. Plus their hamburgers are life-changing.

It's a shame to see them with the troubles they have, because they are doing too good a job to deserve them.

walleye willy said...

You went to the dark side for a 4% takeout? May the ghost of Pop Geers haunt you for the rest of your life.

Pull the Pocket said...

I blame sharp fisherman like you for driving me to Ellis Park :)

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