Monday, May 15, 2023

The Super Spectacular Blog Vol 7 - Every Day is Groundhog Day, Sharp Money v Dumb Money, Triple Crown Spacing, Torching the Bank on Multis, Simple Takeout Models & Woooo I Finally Have a Beer Sponsor!

Welcome to the Monday Super Spectacular Blog, or as I like to call it, Merby! 

This week I saw a groundhog. He was up on his little hind legs checking for predators left and right, and although I was standing about 50 feet in front of him, he somehow didn't see me.  The rascal wobbled right towards me in a full sprint where I began to think that maybe this was a rare killer groundhog and I was a goner. He made it about ten feet from where I was, finally noticed me, and took a hard right turn into the safety of the woods. 

Fittingly that I speak of groundhogs......

What goes around comes around. Or in racing's case, what goes around comes around. And around and around and around. 

I was perusing twitter this past week and made a mental note of the complaints by fans, bettors and the industry itself. 

I saw, in no particular order -- 

  • "Takeout rates are too high"
  • "The status quo is not an option with drugs and integrity and needs to be addressed"
  • "The odds change way too much after the bell and it's a joke"

Meanwhile I was looking at a survey conducted by the Horseplayers Association 14 whole years ago now (n=839)

"The tabulated results [of the survey] were eye opening even to us. You very clearly told us the following three things in order of importance are what you see as the most important issues racing faces today: 

1. High Takeout... It's already too high and you want us working to get it reduced. 

2. Pool Integrity... Odds that change after the gate opens is simply not acceptable in this day and age. 

3. Drug Integrity... Racing needs to be regulated in a way that there are no questions whatsoever about the integrity of the game.

The most amazing thing, perhaps, is takeout rates have increased since that survey (California, Keeneland, Churchill and now even almost dumbfoundingly Kentucky Downs), and odds drops have gotten worse with big money concentrated at the top. And with stories about positive tests taking sometimes years to adjudicate, I am not sure that's gotten any better either.

We as players and fans tend to complain a lot and I know it's annoying to some. But sheesh, not only does the sport not fix these things from since the Bush Administration, they've mostly made them worse. 

I am trying to add things to the afternoon edition to get a hundred thousand or more new hits. This breaking news story is not about one of these things she's serving, it's just a random picture of a malt shop that the morning people didn't get to see.

We've chatted a great deal here about how marketing the sport is not about marketing to players, but to those in charge in government. This was illustrated this week with NYRA's $455M deal with the state

I think ribbon cutting, fancy hats, attendance, "big days" where politicians are interviewed about "jobs" and "land use" proves we're kind of living in a made-up world; a simulation that has an end-game. 

Many of you and I don't like that. But the end-game in this case results in a functioning Belmont Racetrack, rather than an Arlington Park that's a football stadium. 

CJ and David had a thoughtful discussion on horse deaths on their pod. It starts around the 18 minute mark. 

The new CEO of Twitter seems like she's a horse racing fan (h/t to Jason Beem). I can't wait until she follows @shottakingtime and he posts a picture of himself firing at Remington in his underwear. If she doesn't block him, she is one of us

Lots of talk on the twitter this week about moving around the Triple Crown. This seems to happen every year, but it does make me wonder. With the game changed so much the last quarter century is the two week break to the Preakness an anachronism?

Chip believes if the races were four weeks apart the Crown would be harder to win, and I tend to agree. Barring two or three, the Derby has the 20 best three year olds in the country and what, 80% to 90% of them don't enter the Preakness? It's certainly understandable because they pointed to the Derby and the race itself is rigorous; a 14 day runback can be counterfactual.  

Do we want a better Preakness and therefore a better series of races? If we do, the four week break seems very logical to me. 

Saturday night at the Big M the six horse seemed logical; a co-favorite in all the multi-leg and exactor action signalling about 5-2 off odds, but a funny thing happened near post time. The horse dropped from 5-2 to 3-5. The win pool was about $20k bigger than usual, so the only thing I can come up with is someone must've bet a five figure amount to win last flash. The horse was terrible and was way back, and this sure felt like dumb money. 

Back to the regular, how sharp is the money nowadays? On Saturday I was playing the pick 5 carry at Belmont and in the sixth race Arcangelo was hammered on the board to 5-2, off a 10-1 morning line. The horse was a steam figures horse, but those tend to be hammered by sharps in offshore markets, too. The horse wasn't bet that much at all there so it was surprising to them as well. . 

Meanwhile in the last leg, the teams were all over the 7 horse off a 4-1 morning line, with the horse paying lowest in pick 3's and 5's. This horse too was pretty ignored in other markets off the maiden win. 

At Mohawk this weekend, we had some similar races, like the claimer in the 10th where a horse has soundly crushed everyone he faced the last three races, including the horse he was facing again. He was inexplicably 3-1 (he's been 1-5, 4-5 and 6-5 in the same class) and the horse he's beaten was 4-5. Guess who got the job done?

Today's money is too sharp for the morning line, too sharp for the fixed odds books, and too sharp for me. 

MSW to MCL's is an interesting move to handicap. Like most obvious angles, the ROI tends to suck so we have to be a bit more creative. I've been looking at a layoff of 60 days or more (and a couple other factors) with horses with limited starts. Seems to be some promise on the win end, and intuitively it makes sense. We'll see how it goes. 

I find it's tough to score at this game with angles, so subsetting them (without overfiltering) is more art than science, but it's something I try to do. Most often to no avail but I keep plugging. 

I'm still stoked watching the 6 minute ABR video of Ramiro Restrepo before and after the Derby win with Mage. This is horse racing, in my opinion. It's why people buy horses and get up at 5 in the morning to muck stalls; wait with impatience for the bloods to get back, freak out with a bout of colic, wrap legs and hotwalk, make sure the feed tub is clean and everything is a-aok, and then do it again tomorrow. If you haven't seen it, may I offer it's worth your time. 

This game is sometimes exactly what's portrayed on screen, or in novels. Guys named the "Nose", a dude named "Red" who might've been the greatest figure maker we've never heard of. A 12 year old kid making bets with a bookie named "Willie the Door Man". 

That was all in Chris's Bet with the Best pod this week and it was pretty glorious.  

As I've noted before on the blog, when we made a memorable score it usually involves leaning on a horse and less about spreading. Michael's story about his pick six score with Tuff Spot was one for the ages. 

The owners of Count Mara should be happy with two second place finishes in $60k worth of races and I'm sure they are. But I'd like to be a fly on the wall when friends asked how close they were to winning the two races. Damn, just missed.

We've heard for a hundred years from so many how horse racing wagering is too complicated and we have to talk down to newbies. 

For those watching the NHL playoffs in the Tundra, the commercial breaks for Draftkings include a look at live odds for the game in progress, with an in-studio host talking about them.  They're posted as -320/+200 etc, without any explanation at all for newbies, who this advertising is trying to reach. 

It's perfectly fine to do that, in my view (and marketers do this all the time as a weeder) because you want to attract people who will figure it out. The ones who won't be curious to learn how a price works are probably not worth your time.  

Ray's tweet provides us with a good introspection, in my opinion. 

Mike Maloney often says how hard it is to balance the want and need to swim in deep waters on a Derby card, versus understanding just how hard it is to hit these bets. Even if you have a decent bankroll, say $2,000 or $3,000 it can go in a flash taking multi leg pick 5's and 6's on Derby Day. 

Leaving Ray out of this because I have no idea how he plays, but it amazes me how we spend so much time finding a winner on Derby Day, but so little time planning our betting attack. 
On these huge betting days, Mike often suggests wading into double or pick 3 pools instead of into the trenches of pick 5's and I agree with that perspective. The money just goes so fast the more legs we add, and we have to add more and more horses with the fields so deep. 

I'm one of you Ray. So yes, let's both clean it up. 

Speaking of multi leg wagers, last night's 20 cent pick 5 at Flamboro paid $2.63, and one of the winners paid $4.40 in a pretty contentious race. Thinking of how much can go wrong in a harness race, with traffic, breakers, drivers not trying, someone parking you out, etc, this is truly bizarre. 

Ontario in 2022 generated $35.6B in online gambling handle for $1.4B in revenue, through a takeout rate of 3.9%. Some in horse racing may want to up that takeout rate to 21% and make over $7B, but that's not how it works, of course. 

I often wonder - can horse racing generate $36B in handle at those lower rates? Perhaps not, but with $36B bet, that's a lot of people wagering and buying horses and visiting racetracks. 

Just for fun, here's a simple takeout model. The $11B handle is (near) actual, associated with a 21% takeout rate, and money bet and churned at different rates. We know the actual takeout is lower because of CRW teams etc, but, what would handle be at 12% or 5% in this simple model? 

Last week we mentioned the Alabama baseball team was under investigation for gambling related issues. It's expanded to two others - Iowa and Iowa State. 

Jeff Gural carries a can of whoop ass. He might be closing Vernon and he is wielding the stick about HISA in Jersey. He doesn't mince words. 

While places like Buzzfeed and cable news flourished the last ten years, I find the Economist is just about the opposite of them. They don't click bait and if they're on a story I know it means something. They dove into horse racing last week and as Caroline said "it's not a good sign" when a pub like that does

Fixed odds is expanding in Jersey. In addition to Monmouth we have Canterbury Park, Beemer Downs, Hawthorne, Emerald and Century. 

Here's some thoughts on the Trot Driver survey.  Harness is so much different than Thoroughbreds where you handicap the horse and race shape. In harness your first question (especially with younger horses) is if the driver is going to put the horse into the race or not. It can be incredibly frustrating. 

The Derby is Americana and a seminal cultural event, and I don't think current headlines in papers about the sports' issues will ever change that. Javier threw out the first pitch at a Yankees game. And everyone at the game knows why.  

Drape broke the story about the Forte positive last fall. New York regulators seem a bit broken don't they?

I've often said to myself, "PTP, this blog will have made it if you get a beer sponsor", and I'm happy to announce that time is here. Please watch this week's newest advertiser with a throwback tome to a simpler era, when instead of dodging camera phones and America's Best Racing social influencers, the only thing on a trainer's mind was heading back to the barn for a cold one. 

Now that I can't get that Pabst Blue Ribbon song out of my head, let me thank you profusely for reading volume 7 of the Super Spectacular Blog. 

As always, have a great week, be nice on twitter and go cash some tickets!

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