Juice is Loose, The Masters, Gural, Friday Notes

Good morning racing fans.

As we head to the weekend, we've had some interesting chatter the last several days. Horse racing is never uninteresting.

Woodbine announced a new pick 5, at 25% takeout, and that's caused some consternation. The rake is clearly high, one of the highest in North America. New pick 5's we've seen created the past few years were at Santa Anita, Pimlico and NYRA, which range from 12% to 15%. Players have been accustomed and expect that level, and I highly suspect (because this new bet's high takeout will not be promoted), they will think they're getting a deal and they won't be.

Players have been complaining, and Woodbine seems to be, well..... This player was told this when he complained:
  • Thank you for inquiring about the new Pick 5 at Woodbine. We regret that you are unhappy about our takeout rate. If you are not satisfied with how the takeout rates are being implemented, please feel free to voice your criticism to the Ontario Racing Commissions office (416-213-0520) or the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency (1-800-268-8835). 
That's interesting, because if you call the ORC, they will say "we don't set Woodbine takeout rates, so call them", and the CPMA will say the same thing. This whole episode smells really bad. Woodbine had been doing some good things since Nick took over. This is a step backwards, and in my view they deserve the bad PR this is bringing. Good for players who are standing up for themselves.

Conversely, a track that is making some positive noise leads the Horseplayers Association list this year - Kentucky Downs. This track was an afterthought. With instant racing revenue they've done what all tracks with that revenue - e.g. Woodbine when they had it - should do. Create great races for horse owners, with good fields for customers. Then, lower the takeout to the lowest in North America. That's how you go from $900,000 handles to those over $3,000,000 per day in only three short seasons.

The 30 page Horseplayer Monthly magazine was released Wednesday.  It's the de-facto "industry issue" with rankings for 62 tracks, set by nothing more than math, comparing field size, juice, signal fees etc. There are also some dandy interviews, with people like Andy Beyer, gambler "Dink", and track insiders. One of my favorite parts of it is the "7 Questions" segment, because it touches on different types of horseplayer and fan. This game is ridiculously big tent, and that should be an asset, but in my view it is not exploited. Download it and give it a read if interested. It's free.

There was a fun discussion last night on twitter as some folks who have been playing Keenelend were saying "I miss polytrack". Strangely, there wasn't even a flame war. Let's face it, those fields are short, and chalky. I have a column coming out on what I think is an ideal future for horse racing, so that it can drive handle and more players. It has nothing to do with surface, per se, but it does involve the types of races Keeneland used to serve us as bettors.

Jessica has a "doing it right" post up, which highlights a couple of areas that are good news. It is interesting, with racing so down in the dumps, with handle falling, new bets that make little sense etc, you can get bogged down and feel there is little hope. But there are things that are positive. There are some companies trying. It's just unfortunate that she could write a post like that only once a quarter or so.

I have been watching the Masters coverage and it strikes me how storied the event is. The Masters has made a conscious decision to embrace history and goes out of their way to preserve it. I saw player interviews from past champions. Nick Faldo talked about how he gets excited for three weeks before it, and he is not even playing - champions dinners, the par three, hanging out with Palmer and others. Pimento sandwiches are still $1.50, because they think that's a tradition worth losing a little money on. Fans and players are respectful. It's a real treasure and part of the brand that will go on as much as they want it to.

Conversely I look last year at the Derby complaints. I am not a corporate basher, never have been, and never will be. I understand CHDN has to beat a $XX EPS target, and I understand that they're a corporation. But I wish there was more Masters for the Kentucky Derby. Churchill is a business, but it is also the steward of the signature event for an entire sport. With that comes responsibility.

Jeff Gural responded to trainer Corey Johnson last evening in HRU (pdf). Johnson is currently under a 13 month suspension in Canada for blood gas, and raced a couple of starts at the Meadowlands last year, where two of his horses tested over thresholds for cobalt. In true Gural fashion:

"The fact that his horse won a Breeders Crown at my track made me feel sick, as I imagine what a horse injected with a toxic substance might feel."

Just a personal note. This last week or two I have had to talk to many people in the business about various things and it always strikes me how many have similar long term goals, and are, in general, just decent people; smart, engaging, and generally have a love of the sport just like everyone else. I never need reminding of that; however, because I am tough on them sometimes - I am unabashedly pro customer, because I believe more customers are more revenue, and deserve to be listened to in a sport that doesn't seem to - that bears repeating. Thanks to everyone I have spoken with the past while. You were a true help, and I never don't enjoy it.

Have a nice Friday everyone.

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