Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Old Days Were About the Gamble, Too

I was chatting with racing historian and jack of all trades Bob Marks via email recently. I shared a story about the 1980's and the state of racing in Ontario.

The family stable, along with some friends, bought a horse in a New York sale, sometime around 1983. He turned out to be a pretty decent colt, winning a few New York Sires stakes and a 3 year old open or two. At four and five he really blossomed and raced in the FFA class at old Greenwood.

During that time there was no simulcasting, and several Ontario tracks like London, Rideau and others would have free for all invites, for say $30,000 or $50,000 purses (well above the local $14k FFA). These would mostly attract Toronto Saturday night horses. One such event was the Connaught Cup at old Connaught Park near Aylmer, Quebec. Our horse was invited and off we went.

The event was pretty huge, with people everywhere. They showed up to watch horses of a quality they could not see regularly. Keep in mind, these were not the top FFA'ers in the world, just from (mostly) Ontario. But there they were, lined up 50 deep at the machines, the dining room full.

This happened with many of these type stakes or invites -  the MCTV in Sudbury, the Labatt (now Molson) in London.

Now you or I can watch similar quality horses from anywhere in the world, on any device at a dozen different tracks each Saturday. In fact, the Open at Yonkers probably has higher quality fields than those were. Yet the tarmac is empty, the handle is poor.

The easy narrative that accompanies this, is that with simo these races are not special like they once were. We don't have to travel to the track to watch, therefore we stay home. But I don't buy it.

We can watch a U2, or Phish, or Pearl Jam, or whatever concert on youtube, for free. We can watch pro sports in HD for a small fee as a part of a cable package. These sports and bands are everywhere, yet the public still attends live events by the millions. They'll shell out $400 for tickets without question, when in 1980, $18 was the going price for a Stones ticket at the CNE, or Bills game at Rich.

What I think changed, and what we generally miss when talking about the old days - folks who showed up at Connaught, or Western Fair, or Windsor Raceway were never really doing it for the "horses" like we'd all like to believe. They were doing it because they'd be able to gamble on a good card on a Saturday night.

Once racing lost the gamble - to casinos, etc - it lost the crowds.

I remember the California takeout hike chatter, back in 2010. One executive said, "we're competing against the Dodgers or the Angels." I don't think that's correct, nor has it ever been correct. Racing is competing with gambling entertainment, or "gambletainment" as Eric Poteck calls it on the twitter. It was in 1980, and it is in 2017.

Does racing want bigger crowds, more people talking about the sport, more potential horse owners? If they do I suggest they focus on raising handles over the next decade. Handle is, and always will be, the sports' leading economic indicator, no matter how much we wax poetically about the past. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Fixing Odds is a Fix, But it's an Impossible One in US Racing

I watched a youtube interview with long time horseplayer Dave Gutfreund today. Dave decided to hang it up with horse race betting and concentrate on poker. He believes (among other things) late odds drops through money jamming the pools at one minute to post (via computer batch wagering and off-track money) are too much for him to handle.

He's right and this is a huge issue for gamblers, because it's very difficult to decipher what odds a horse will go off at when we make a wager. If we believe a horse is worth a 30% chance and we see 3-1 we wager, but the horse could end up at 7-5 so it's a bet we never would've made.

In Australia this was an issue, as well, but there was a fix. A fixed odds fix. In the early 2000's, fixed odds wagering represented about $40M in handle. By 2016, this number had vaulted to over $3.5B.

The market spoke and the industry listened. They offered what the customer wanted, in a tech world which demands it.

This avenue allows the industry to hold onto people like Dave, while still keeping a vibrant pari-mutuel system (with higher takeout) that grabs more margin from casual players. It also allows them to make more money on big days from once a year fans. If they want to be more than once a year fans, or once a year players, of course, there's a fixed odds system to attract them, with lower takeout.

This ecosystem also means the tote can be nimble. For example, not long ago they've looked at pricing higher on weekends and less during the week:
  •  "We don’t run a business based on what we want customers to bet on, we make sure we give customers what they want. We would like a pricing flexibility environment. Our strategy is to combine an offering to customers that has fixed-odds and pari-mutuel.”
Here in North America this type of modern dynamic pricing environment is virtually impossible to achieve. Some of it is regulatory, yes, but most, in my view, is from being tied to the status-quo anchor. Change would result in lower margins, certainly in the short term, and in this industry anything that results in a lower margin is simply a non-starter.

With sports betting being looked at by the Supreme Court, more and more betting customers will be introduced to fixed odds. And they will flock to it. But they'll probably be betting the Steelers or the Black Hawks; there will be no way to do the same thing in the sixth at Belmont.

Monday, June 26, 2017

There's No Joy in Toutville

I read an interesting thread on the twitter about public handicapping.

Scott and others make an interesting point when it comes to handicapping the horses for everyone to see - does one pick winners, or try and make money? As most who play this game know, there isn't that big a correlation between the two. 

In my very limited time posting picks (in a trade magazine) I found this a real struggle. When suggesting a pick 4 play, for example, I would key a 15-1 morning line shot who I thought would go off at 5-1, have about a 20% chance to win, while being no lower than around 9-1 in the pick 4's. I'd pitch a chalk I thought was 8-5, who'd be 4-5. I'd do all kinds of things I do as a matter of course when I wager to try and squeeze value out of the pool.

Needless to say, with a short time frame, the hit rate was poor. I'm reasonably sure I got called some pretty bad names (by new people who don't already call me pretty bad names).

I think those who do post picks are probably doing it the right way in just trying to pick winners. Sure they won't beat the favorite hit rate, but for people who follow their picks, they can have fun, and try and catch a few winners and exactas. And unlike in the sports tout world, most of these folks are not selling picks for hundreds of dollars, hoodwinking down and out bettors with unverifiable and ridiculous hit rates.


I was too busy last week to watch, but I was once again amazed at the interest on the twitter feed for the Ascot meet. Big racing days are growing more and more international, and they're offering the  racing tribe a chance to get together to discuss and handicap the game. We can't read too much into it (no, one-off races or meets don't mean racing is growing), but these meets do keep people engaged, and that's a good thing.

Canterbury has had decent weather, a return of the on-track bridgejumpers and a full set of barns filling fields. However, their handle per entry is down so far this year by 2%. Last year, despite the numerous problems for the awful product, per entry handle was up 9.8%. It's tough to compare either way, just like last year was. We have source market fees, more juice, and lots of weird factors. Such is racing.

It fascinates me that both takeout and minimum wages have a super-political bent. You're either for it or against it based on if your favorite letter is R or D (which of course is specious - 0% takeout or $0.00 per hour doesn't work, just like 100% takeout or $100 per hour doesn't work). It's a little different in the labor market world though, because they do test levels, and have smart people who like math examining them, and don't seem to care what some team-dude on cable news says. It might take ten years, but these folks who aren't besieged by politics will figure it out. I wish we had the same chance and the same time horizon in the sport of racing to test and figure out takeout. But that's obviously a pipe dream.

Enjoy your Monday everyone.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Racing's Competition Excuse

I read with interest yesterday's Bloomberg piece on Hong Kong racing. Some of it was certainly perfectly good fact, but I found it a little doom and gloom; talking about 1% growth rates, n' all.

The fact is Hong Kong racing has seen a major resurgence since 2006 when handles were US$7.7B. Last year's US$13.6B was more than a 70% increase since the so called "great recession". If the same thing happened in North America, handle would be about $24B instead of its current $11B, and I don't think anyone would be saying we're doing poorly.

It doesn't mean there are no storm clouds on the horizon in Hong Kong, and the article rightly talks about them. But the bottom line is, despite massive competition, leaks in the betting pools on the interwebs and all the rest we see in Hong Kong, the product, and business, is very strong.

Soccer betting, for example, has been up leaps and bounds. But handle keeps chugging.

Meanwhile on the competition front, something similar is and was noticed in Australia with the introduction of sports betting. In 2000, sports betting was almost no part of the legal gambling landscape. In 2015 it made up over AUS$6B of business. Despite that, like in Hong Kong, Thoroughbred horse racing handle has soared.

Here in North America, 'the competition' is used almost daily as an excuse to why racing betting is losing out; why handles have fallen, why growth rates are negative. It sounds good, but to me it's just that - an excuse.

Horse racing gambling can be the greatest skill-based gambling game of all if it's done right. And in this day and age with betting from home, fast internet connections, innovative live betting feeds like Twinspires and others offer, lots of data, and lots of available races at a mouse click, there is - in my view - no excuse for it to be fading. Just because a few more people are betting the Final Four or Powerball doesn't mean racing as a betting sport is dead.  I think it's an excuse we let the power brokers get away with far too often, and it's a dangerous narrative to embrace as fact.

Have a great weekend everyone.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

More Narrative Busting

In horse racing we read over and over again (mainly from insiders) that the big problem with ADW wagering is that purses don't get enough of a share; that it's an upside down business model. In some quarters companies who take bets are considered 'pirates'.  You've heard it all before. It's a narrative that has lived on for many years, and is probably believed more now than ever.

Yesterday on the twitter machine we saw this tweet:
He's absolutely correct. California racing's pricing is steep. A bigger share of wagering than anywhere else in the nation from ADW goes directly to California purses. It's why you see such small rebates from the state (and, rebating is almost totally prohibited in-state). It's why in-state players play (and get ground down) by massive takeouts.

If the model racing is striving for - more money for purses from ADW  - is expected to save the day, I think the California experience illuminates that things aren't that simple. I don't think anyone believes racing will 'be fixed' across North America if it was more like California.

There's a problem at times with revenues shares, and a changing betting world. No, the existing model is not perfect, it probably never will be, and will have to be monitored and tweaked to make it better. But, it's best if this narrative is laid to rest. The sport needs to concentrate on increasing gross handles, rather than shuffling existing handles around. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Gambling Little Things

After being immersed in the gambling world for too long to mention, the differences between what goes on with the private companies who try and earn your business versus North American racing never ceases to amaze me.

I like to scan for carryovers now and again. If work is a little slow during the week or I am sitting around in the evening and have a bit of time to handicap, I figure why not look for an edge and invest a few dollars.

Today, DeRosa posted there's a pick 5 carryover at Fort Erie, so I decide to have a look. Carryovers are value, attract money, and are some of the best things this sport offers gamblers. In fact, it's one of the very few edges this sport has in the gambling world. 

I log into the Canadian ADW to research and I see this:

That tells me just about nothing.

I don't know what race the carryover starts on, if it's a jackpot or not. It's relatively meaningless to me.

Since DeRosa is not an idiot, I kind of figure he's not betting into a jackpot with two grand in it, so I guess it's a real carryover. I decide to look at the race summary and conditions to see what race the Pick 5 starts on.

Great. Does Fort Erie even offer wagering? I suppose so, but I can't tell.

This seems futile, so I decide to go to Equibase.

At least I know it's a real carryover, not a stick-my-money-in-a-pail-and-light-it-on-fire jackpot bet. And I can "Buy Products". Hey, this is progress.

I'm unsure, sometimes, if any who bets, or who wants to attract betting dollars from gamblers looking for edges, even works in racing.

How difficult is this?

There's my bet or don't bet matrix. I could handicap and input my wagers for a half dozen carryovers if I had that. 

I totally get racing has monopolistic tendencies. I get that Ascot is on today and people (me included) want to watch good horses race in a nice setting. But why is it so damn difficult for a gambling game to sell itself as a gambling game? Why is it so hard to at least offer customers - customers who want and demand value, or newer people who understand value in gambling - what they need to patronize the sport?

Racing should take a lesson from Pinnacle, or others. They work daily to give gambling customers what they need in a timely and detailed fashion that allows them to give them their money. This isn't rocket science. 

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Unbearable Lightness of Being There

This past weekend the North America Cup charged $10 for entry, for the first time in a long, long time.  As most know, with slots tracks, the doors were thrown open for anyone to enter, big day or small, and this is simply the way the (harness sport) works. The full story, with some thoughts, was penned here.

Most people like the idea of not charging admission to the races, because of one simple premise: If you don't let people in free you are limiting the audience, and racing needs an audience. Further, this audience - if only one person out of 1,000 loves the races and comes back - is positive for growth.

I never really get this line of thinking.

Google is google, not because of flying cars, or Motorola buys and sales, Google Glass, Google Home, or Android operating systems. Google is google because when people visit their search engine they are prequalified to do something, and google gets them where they want to be for a fee. Out of $100B in revenue for Google, about 90% comes from this amazingly simple business plan.

In general, and this does not only apply to Google: When people are looking for you they're worth something. When they aren't, they're dead traffic.

Similarly, when someone spends $10 to see your race, or event, they telling you they are prequalified to be a fan, or bettor. If they've never bet but want to, you show them how to fish. If they were once a fan or bettor, tracks are given a ready-made market to recapture. If they're a regular, this is the night to make them feel appreciated.

When someone walks in off the street, for free, they mean almost nothing. The conversion rate for these folks is probably less than the cost to have them use the port-o-potty. They're dead clicks.

When a track has prequalified patrons adding, say, $40,000 revenue into the til it's more than a new revenue stream for a business badly in need of it. That $40,000 can be sunk back into the event to market and remarket. Maybe it's free bets, maybe it's a giveaway pick 4 ticket, or big race scratch off ticket. Maybe it's even a concert.

Racing, in my view, we too often play checkers. Whether it's jackpot bets or takeout rates, or in this case, throwing the doors open, it's always hit and hope based on something that sounds good, but may be no good at all. Racing hopes things get better, hopes the 77,000 people at Oaklawn for Arkansas Derby day in the infield who don't bet - and don't want to bet - somehow magically take up betting. This never works, but they do the same thing over and over again.

Prequalifying people, finding what they want from racing, investing into them and capturing them to either play more, or play again, is chess, not checkers. Harness racing, in my view, needs a lot more of it.

Have a great Monday everyone.

Note: Results from Saturday were as expected on the attendance front - it appears to be down. But on-track per-capita was up stoutly. The people who did show up did what racing wants them to - they wagered the whole evening.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Fooled By Randomness

We as horseplayers, industry watchers, and well, humans, immediately want to look for reasons for something when it happens. As someone much smarter than I wrote, we look for causality in just about everything. The problem with that is, much of the time there is none.

Today it was reported that Belmont viewership was down over 15%.

That was because, of course, there wasn't a Derby runner in the field, that the field wasn't deep enough, the card wasn't as good, and maybe people didn't really like Andy Grammer. 

Maybe one of those are correct, or (more likely) none of them are.

The fact is, this is a one-off horse race, with little long term data to compare it to that makes any sense. The result could be completely and utterly random.

This is a characteristic of small data, and we fall for it often. If a trainer is 8 for 11 over three years with a move, we should bet him each and every time thereafter. What often happens, is the trainer then goes 0 for 14 and we lose our shirts. We then say "I guess he's no good with that move anymore," when he was never good with "that move" in the first place.

Data only gets actionable, if it's actionable. A 72 hole golf tournament is pretty good at identifying the best golfer, because that's plenty of holes to smooth the random. But even then it only identifies the best golfer that week. A cricket match, lasting days, probably does a good job; certainly much better than a 7 game series in other sports. But it still signifies something within an event only.

The bottom line with the Belmont results - and before that the Preakness - is that many millions of people watched a horse race on television this spring. When we look at that in the context of the "big day" handles and interest, buttressed with the apples to apples long term trend, this is a positive number. There are a lot of issues in horse racing to fix, but it's doubtful this is one of them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

UK Rake Hikes - Tote Betting Has Its Place, But It Can't Be King

It was announced this week that (again) the UK tote has raised takeout on UK punters:

"From June 29 the win pool deduction is set to increase to 19.25 per cent from 16.5 per cent, while the place pool deduction is to increase by two percentage points to 20 per cent."

Although that might be a shockingly high increase to many of you, the UK tote - set up in the 1920's by Churchill to combat corruption in the betting pools - only represents 3% of the betting market (as of 2015). 

The reasons for the hike are probably pretty obvious. In the unregulated, mature UK gambling market, products like fixed odds wagering and exchange wagering generate the most net worth to the punter. Customers flock to those high volume low takeout (overround) products -  $3 of every $4 are spent with fixed odds bookies and exchanges. Betfred (who runs the tote), appears to have decided in the sunset of their deal with racing, that the only strategy they have left is squeezing the lemon.

While the tote (for WPS betting) struggles, gross betting volume in the UK (despite falling field size to make owning horses more lucrative) has not been doing that poorly, as below. 

When I read comments about the tote in the UK, they are often about the fact that the takeout is "high like America" and because of that, it can supply more money to purses. Maybe that's true if you multiply current bookie volume by 19% instead of 4 or 5%, but it's a silly premise, as we all know. The tote has a place - international betting, Scoop Six and the like - but in the WPS pools, in my view, it's never going to work like they think. 

Back in 2005 when folks were arguing about the tote (yes, they were arguing it way back then), a very sharp chap wrote this:

"The localised totalisator pool betting system is an anachronism that has been kept in place by antiquated monopolistic protectionist minset. It has and is continuing to fail both the horse racing industry at large and those that bet on the sport. A global, decentralised betting pool based upon betting exchange technology is the only way forward, but one suspects that the development of such will be held back by a combination of myopia, self-interest and inertia. Expect to hear lots of talk of legal, fiscal and technological barriers; and expect to see little action."

Betfred's takeout hike - because they can't make the system work in the UK - is strong evidence he was correct then, and now.

I suspect you'll see changes in the UK tote, making most of this takeout hike chatter pretty meaningless. But I don't think UK racing (and I am far from an expert, so take this post with a grain of salt) will grow if they try to shoehorn win betting punters, or exacta players into the tote system. It flies into the face of not only wagering economics, but also centuries of customer behavior, and that's a hard thing to overcome.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Horseplayer Advocates (& Horseplayers) Give Up the Fight

As most know by now, the $891,000 pick 6 jackpot was hit last week at Santa Anita, but as the DRF reports, it was not without controversy

The controversy arose a half-hour before the race when Horse Identifier Jennifer Paige discovered Fly to Mars was a gelding, even though he was listed as a colt in the track program and past performances.

Paige immediately phoned the stewards, who said they were alerted as the horses were loading the gate for race 10. Stewards quickly investigated and learned the Peter Miller-trained Fly to Mars had in fact been gelded since his most recent start in June 2016.

He was a “first-time gelding,” a piece of information that most bettors consider to be a potentially significant handicapping factor.

The problem Saturday is that no one knew Fly to Mars was a “first-time G” until after race 10 had been run.

At the present time there are insiders, horseplayers and others calling for changes to the "first time gelding" reporting rules, because the current rules clearly aren't working.

The problem with that is, we've all been through this before.

Back in 2011, "At Hollywood Park, a horse who was only reported gelded 30 minutes before post time (giving no chance for horizontal handicappers to change their tickets, or use the information) won, paying $56."

Changes asked for, by horseplayer advocates and others, were that fines be imposed and the horse be scratched. The logic behind such calls was sound, because if a horse is scratched, it's a strong incentive to make sure every horse's papers are in order. - no trainer who got a horse ready, pre-raced him, has owners in the stands, etc, wants to scratch a horse. When you add a fine, it's adds to the deterrent. This problem would likely be fixed forever, with strong deterrents, and strong leadership.

That didn't happen. Fast forwarding seven years, the same problem rears its ugly head in a very public way.

This is why so many horseplayers throw their hands up and leave. It's why so many give up the fight to change the sport for the better. No matter what case you have, what evidence you have; no matter if everyone with a lick of common sense agrees with a simple change like this, nothing tends to happen. Then, in seven years, or seven months, or seven days, you're right back to square one.

Being a customer advocate or customer of this sport is a war of attrition. And attrition keeps winning. 

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Racing & Change? Not Kodak Daunting, But Daunting

We've spoken about the harvesting business strategy here before. This involves straddling a middle line of the status quo and only making small tweaks, rather than big change. Although many of us - fans, bettors and even those working in the business - find this frustrating, at times there is a reason for reluctance to change.

One such case from the business world involves Kodak.

In 1975, some may not know, Kodak invented the initial plans that would end up being the digital camera. The inventors were allowed to keep working on it, to make it marketable, and in 1989 a near-prototype was created. It looked and acted the same as the digital cameras of today.

When it was brought to the leaders and the marketing department of Kodak, the project was immediately shelved. It was deemed too big a change, because Kodak owned the many steps of photography production - the camera, the film, and the development of pictures at mall kiosks everywhere. Change might mean billions in new sales in the long-run, but in the short term their entire business would have to be blown up.

After staying in business for another 20 or so years (with millions made off the patent that ran out in 2007) Kodak finally filed for bankruptcy in 2012.

In racing, the issues are not this daunting. Not even close. However, it should explain why, fairly often, racing acts like it does; with protection of data, with protection of the pari-mutuel system, with making small tweaks to betting menus, rather than large ones.

Kodak made the decision that revenue for 20 years or so, comprised of cash from mall kiosks, (falling) legacy camera sales and a patent, outweighed the benefits of (at least initially) owning the digital camera market. So they harvested. Racing in some slot jurisdictions are doing the same thing. For some tracks, at some locales, it might make some sense. As one California trainer told the media years ago, 'we have to get while the getting is good.'

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Optimal Purses Are Finally Being Openly Discussed

I read with interest the Tim Ritvo interview yesterday in the LA Times. One section was of particular eyebrow raising interest:

[You could put the money into purses], but purses … and horsemen will go crazy when they hear this, are not indicative of success. [New York Racing Assn.] has all the purse money in the world and their field size has not improved; $100,000 maiden special weights struggle every day. I do not believe that people who are going to sales and buying million-dollar horses care if maiden special weights are $60,000 or $100,000 when they spend a million dollars for a horse. What they are looking for is the development of a horse to win graded races.

The everyday guy, of course, that extra $40,000 helps, keeps him in the business a little bit longer and helps pay the bills. I don’t think solutions are taking money and throwing them into purses. I think we’ve seen that in slot-filled jurisdictions. They’ve taken a lot of slot money and thrown it in purses, but not cared about racing, and we’re seeing that money being pulled away and the handle not growing.

A lot of time we raise purses and trainers go up on their day rate.

That's not a snip from the nasty and untoward Pullthepocket blog from 2009, it's actually a direct quote from the guy who is going to be running Santa Anita.

Ritvo, in three paragraphs, essentially killed the entire force of reasoning California racing had for hiking takeout in 2010.

And he's right.

If the slots world taught us anything, it's that artificially increasing the supply of purse money creates  an inefficient system. It doesn't increase the gross number of horse owners, it doesn't increase the amount of money mom and pops are spending on horses, nor does it increase the amount of money spent on racehorses. It's the 'purses up foal crops down' phenomenon we've seen for years.

And, as concluded in the major study of gambling habits in this industry, it's no great shakes for increasing betting volume either. ".... wagering would increase by only 6% if purse were doubled. This is a surprising finding considering the importance that is attached to the purse variable in all major policy decisions to increase the wagering in this industry."

Purses don't do what's intended for a few reasons:

i) Bettors bet races, not purses

ii) An artificial influx of capital increases costs (think the healthcare system), because suppliers, etc, and vets, farriers, supplement makers and a hundred other things (including day rates) see inflation

iii)  The money is not spread around, because artificial monetary stimulus creates an upside down purse structure, which attracts super stables. These factory stables do what they should - claim everything, jam, take advantage of their economies of scale - and they throw the system for a loop

Like the healthcare system, or any other like it that possesses out of whack demand and supply, economic rationing is important. And grouped with that comes optimal purses.

For the demand side - i.e. those whiny customers - optimal purses means better races to wager on. You'd think this is a no-brainer, because more money bet means more money to the business. But, it's apparently harder than advertised. The business writes races for who yells the loudest, not for who bets the most.

For the supply side, the purse level (and condition sheet) means optimal racing opportunities for a horse population. It means less demand for what goes into the horse, and more demand for buying and racing a horse. As well, an optimal purse level keeps mom and pops and small owners invested and reinvesting because the 40% hitter at 55% on claim and drops isn't particularly attracted to your races.

Optimal purses (over time) then creates an ecosystem where an optimal set of races are written, bet, and supply the most bang for the buck for the horsepeople and horse owners. 

The problem Ritvo and others have, of course, is this is an industry without a leader - it's an industry with alphabets. Ritvo, I would argue, knows what needs to be done in California - it's not like it's a Chinese finger puzzle, and what I typed above is not rocket science. But he'll have a very hard time achieving it because he's an employee of the sport, not its director.

Folks like to say racing never changes. I disagree with that. It does change, and Ritvo setting the record straight on purses is yet another example of it. It's just that the business changes because it's forced to change, rather than being smart and proactive in its own. In the end, I believe history books will record it as racing's greatest failing.

Have a nice Tuesday everyone.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Tim Ritvo Has His Work Cut Out for Him - California Horses Don't Seem to Race Much

In a sport apparently in need of millennials, California has been attracting them this week. Unfortunately, twenty-something-twitter-memes involving gifs of burning dumpsters is not exactly  positive.

Although I don't believe that a cancelled Thursday card signifies the death of the sport on the left coast, I do certainly think California racing isn't hunky dory.

Racing, in a state that would be the eighth largest country (in terms of GDP) in the world, struggles, and it has continually confounded us.

Sure, we can point to the fact that studies completed as far back as 1989 have told them to lower the juice and be more customer-friendly (while they have arguably done the opposite).

We can point to a 12 Monkey's, X-Files CHRB meeting moment where everyone applauded a takeout increase (seriously, could you see any board of directors applauding a price hike..... "Reuters reported the Ford BOD applauded that their cars just got more expensive"). There are seemingly one-hundred issues.

But one issue seems to stand out like a sore thumb. In the land of movie studios and warm weather, it seems things are different with the horse population.

O_Crunk put it this way a month or two ago:

So, we have 74% of the horses in the US working to start. In California, that number drops to 66%.

There are many ways to interpret that, but there sure seems to be something there.

Anecdotally, I noticed similar at the Great Race Place when I was slamming the money through the windows (before the takeout hike, after which I stopped betting) and studying it each day.

Jcapper (a program used to analyze the races) has a nice feature called "Workout Score". This algo looks at frequency and speed of works and assigns a number to the horse. There can be "no score" (horses who rarely, if ever work, but race often, or no data), to a score of 57 or 58, which are lights out, bullet after bullet, every six days or so.

I noticed, again anecdotally, that California trainers seem to have so many big scores compared to other trainers. I see it even to this day, with shippers. If there's a "57", chances are it's a Baffert, or Miller, or O'Neill. 

Analyzing the data deeper (to make it more encompassing and less anecdotal) let's have a look at workout scores from 2106, at Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Belmont. 

The differences are striking.

I do want to be perfectly clear - in a world where I follow both Trump haters and likers, where I see the same data being spun based on that view in back to back tweets - we can't be guilty of the same thing.

The above data should not be used to form a conclusion, but be treated as something that needs to be examined further. There could be some chicken or egg (workout times are expressive of the inventory and not the other way around), no charted works could happen more often in the east, etc. As well, this data should be subset, and subset again, probably being buttressed or eliminated via in-person interviews and field tests.

However, it does appear that - for whatever reason - a whole lot more horses do their racing in the morning in California.

I have always been of the opinion that California's issues have been deeper than most think. It's more than raising prices and thinking it's a great idea. It's more than what we read on twitter when the stews don't bring a horse down.

It has always seemed cultural and structural and these are the most difficult problems to solve. For that reason, I think Tim Ritvo is up against it. I wish him luck.

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