In Racing, Principled Stands Can Take a Back Seat

I recently whipped through the book Men in Green on my iPad. It was an entertaining look at the sport of golf, through some of its known, and lesser known, legends.

One chapter really fascinated me.

Back a few years now, Tiger Woods was playing the BMW Championship and hit a ball on a Friday round, behind the green. It landed in a treed area, with plenty of pine cones, twigs, and pine straw. The only people behind the green were Tiger, caddie Joe LaCava and a PGA Tour cameraman. As Tiger moved a twig from behind the ball, the ball moved, and it was captured on film. Tiger played the ball after it moved. That's a two shot penalty. Tiger did not call the penalty on himself, and signed a scorecard for a lower score.

The Tour official in charge of making a ruling was Slugger White, who just happened to be married to a relative of Tiger's caddie Joe LaCava. Tiger was the biggest name in golf and he signed for a scorecard that did not include a moving ball. This is the guy who pays their paychecks, who signs posters and autographs at events for certain charities. He's a guy who plays the tournament and might not come back again. He's the guy who has a pretty bad temper and can make your life miserable. "Hell, I'm married to his caddies cousin." It was a big thing. 

None of that seemed to matter. Tiger was penalized two shots.

The "Rules of Golf" are a big thing. But with money, power, and all the rest, this might have been a prime time to see something funny being done. The ducks were all in a row for it. But it did not happen. A penalty is a penalty.

In the sport of horse racing, principled stands like this seem unattainable.

If someone breaks a rule, other participants can sometimes be silent, their representatives sometime stand up for that person, as do some friends in the media, and things seem to break down. No other Tour players came to Tiger's defense at the BMW, because they would've called that penalty on themselves and it's bad for golf. A rider with a buzzer seems to get as many or more mounts (funny how the rider gets yelled at in social media, but the trainer who uses him never seems to), a trainer with a string of positives more often than not has a full barn. It's the way it is.

One of the good things in horse racing for customers the last few years - Andy Beyer talked about it in April's Horseplayer Monthly - is the lower takeout pick 5. This bet has been branded by all tracks who have created it, as a value bet for the smaller player. It's also a great bet to promote to others who might not be looking at horse racing very often. As an industry, 15% takeout is the standard, and it has worked really, really well. Just last week Woodbine created a pick 5 with a takeout that is well above the industry standard at 25%.

Stepping out of bounds like this, which can sully a brand by hurting an industry standard and 'hoodwinking' people to play into a higher juice, when they are expecting lower, is simply accepted in racing. There's no commissioner to twist arms to hold Woodbine accountable to the industry standard. Other tracks, which this can affect, don't say much. ADW's don't much care - it's higher rake for them. Big players can get rebated more, so they don't seem to care much. Someone might know someone, like Joe LaCava's cousin, and things bog down. Woodbine advertises, and we can't get them mad. Move along, nothing to see here.

Pick a topic, virtually any topic in the sport. You'll see this phenomenon. Principles can leave the building in a hurry.

Golf is a closely knit game and has been since it began, just like horse racing is. But golf, unlike horse racing, is guided by a golden rule. That rule involves the growth of the game, with a respect for its history. A meekly paid rules official in this closely knit game can call out a golfing icon billionaire, and if he's right, he's right, and he will have almost unanimous support. In racing, hurt the brand, annoy customers with fine print, charge more when you should be charging less, give groups like PETA more ammunition, or a hundred other things? It just doesn't seem to matter very much.


Anonymous said...

The industry proceeds on a false premise.

They truly believe the public wants predictable racing.
From a betting standpoint, nothing could be farther from the truth.

A six horse field is more predictable than a twelve horse field of similar horses.
The betting public knows this and bets the twelve horse field much stronger. knowing that the smaller the field, the less value the race has.

A four horse field is extremely predictable but very few will bet on it, knowing that the effective takeout escalates as field size decreases.
A twenty horse field is extremely unpredictable but almost everybody wants to bet it

There are different surfaces.
There are different distances.
There are trainers, jockeys and horses for courses.
In my opinion, poly and dirt tracks that do not favor speed are less predictable, which is exactly what the game needs to flourish as a gambling industry.

You want more predictable racing which causes smaller payoffs.
The “ faster they go, the farther they go “ speed favoring tracks that bring with it the wonderful dynamic of speed horses getting hammered out of the gate.

The most beautiful thing about the greatest gambling game ever is that horse racing is unpredictable. Embrace that premise if you want to flourish in the gambling industry.

Just a thought.

Michael A

T.T. said...


-make bad policy
-bad policy results in wagering reductions
-press blames wagering drops on economy/fieldsize/what tracks say on facebook
-people in charge of making bad policy look to create more high takeout bets to make more money because the first bad policy they created made handle go down and they made less money
-when that doesn't work, create more jackpot bets


Anonymous said...

Pick 4's grew at big rates in racing (from 2004-present)because of low takeout pick 4's..... most tracks have them. Woodbine jumped on the train and started pushing their pick 4 on their feeds and promotional materials (not telling anyone their takeout rate; it is 25%). They took advantage of other tracks doing the dirty work for them. It looks like they are doing exactly the same thing with the pick 5. It looks like they're hoping no one notices the high takeout.

Not ITP said...

Only WEG could take the success of other tracks low takeouts on pick 4's then piggyback it, and conclude customers like their 25% pick 4 takeout.


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