After many hours of number crunching, edits, story writing, emails and phone calls, the HANA Top Tracks Countdown is over. We give a hearty congratulations to Keeneland for being ranked first. Although the scoring system was dispassionate and quantitative, we believed they deserved it.
We have received many comments from day one. Horseplayers are opinionated: “I don’t like that track; why is it ranked so high?” or “I never make money there” or "why is my track not up there?". We loved the comments, and we love horseplayer passion; because we are horseplayers. It is the primary reason we made the track ratings measurable. We knew horseplayers would all have their favorites and want to talk about them!
As you all know, we used three major metrics, wager variety, field size and takeout (the price of the product, which Mr. Beyer had plenty to say about last week). These have long been held as important to horseplayers and have been studied mathematically as correlated to handles by racetracks for generations. As a fan wrote below about the criteria “I would submit to anyone who thinks that takeout, field size and variety of wagers are not vital, to start a racetrack, offer 35% takeouts, 5 horse fields, with win betting only. Then check your profit/loss statement at the end of the year. Let us know how you did.” He/she is absolutely correct.
Further, field quality is important as a horseplaying experience, but this is hard to measure and must be married to field size; so we stuck with our algorithm. As Steve Ross, Retama’s simulcast director stated “Field size is vital, to most horseplayers ranked higher than quality. A 14-horse open $5,000 claimer with a competitive field is much preferable to a five-horse grade-I with a 2-5 favorite and no trifecta or superfecta wagering." The stats bear this out. A full field of claimers beats a five horse stakes field in handle every day of the week, when standardized. We are still batting around quality ideas for next year, though.
As for pool size, this list was not for larger bettors, as larger bettors receive a rebate. Betting into Penn National is the same as betting into Tampa Bay for whales - the rebate they receive is simply larger at Penn than Tampa, so their effective takeout is the same. If you are betting $150 win tickets, you know what tracks to play, and you know pool size, or you go broke. For someone betting $5 WPS, or $10 WPS, it is a different story. We trust that horseplayers, when doing their own due diligence on the list, will find a track or two who fit their playing profile based on bet sizing. We are all different.
HANA was incorporated in September of 2008, and we have only been around for five or six months. Next year we hope to have over 1500 members (we are currently just short of 600) and we will be tackling the track ratings in an enhanced way - with a member survey. We will also be discussing tweaks as time goes on, as we have discussed with several horseplayers and HANA members over the last week. We are also following feedback on the chat sites like Paceadvantage.com, and on our fellow bloggers sites at the TBA.
As for this years rankings we have some summary thoughts-
Because the rankings are done with numbers and averages, some tracks that many might not expect to crack a top twenty, did in fact rank well. Tracks like Retama, Evangeline and Hoosier Park offer field size, takeout value and wager variety. They offer more in terms of those criteria than some large tracks like Santa Anita, or Saratoga or Del Mar (although those tracks did do well, too). Of course we are not saying that a summer afternoon at Saratoga or Del Mar is not pleasant, because it is. I doubt you will not find a HANA member who does not enjoy those meets for the qualitative greatness of their brand, and their racing. But in terms of pure value, we stand behind the list. Why? Because frankly being a horseplayer goes beyond a qualitative experience. Handicappers love the puzzle and they treat their wallets and bankrolls with respect. They love figuring out a pace scenario, using a key horse as a separator in a pick 4, or finding a longshot, or value play. If you play a HANA top ten track for a pick 4 you will find that you will receive a decent rake on the bet, you will be handicapping four races with full fields that stretches your mind, you will probably be able to play it for less than a $1 increment, and you will enjoy a possible big payoff for your work. No player wants to play a pick 4 with four short fields, a potential two races with 2-5 shots in the sequence, at a 29% takeout. And horseplayers despise six horse field trap races in a horizontal wager. I hope our list opens horseplayers and tracks eyes to tracks that will make their playing more enjoyable. We don’t expect anyone who wants to play grade 1's, or top tracks to suddenly change because that is a part of horseplaying too, but here are the tracks who offer something if you want to give it a shot.
Being a horseplayer is unique and everyone is different. I guess generally you might look at it like this: If you are sitting at an OTB and you play a top ten track, you will be having more fun. Playing a track like Churchill, or Keeneland, or Turway will allow you to enjoy yourself a little more than some of the lower rated tracks. Because when you succeed at the puzzle, play in a lower take, and play a ticket with more coverage, you give yourself a better chance to win. And here is not exactly a newsflash: Winning is fun. When horseplayers win they come back tomorrow. They spread the word about racing. They bring friends. We hope HANA’s list can help you have more fun, and put a few more dollars in your wallet.
‘Satisfied horseplayers’ should not be an oxymoron, it should be a mantra. The long-term success of our game demands it.
We all would love to see takeout lowered and we at HANA thinks this is no longer a negotiable point - it is reality. Our handicappers are a dying breed. Each day we lose another to another game like poker. We all must pull together to make racing and betting racing not a game where “everyone goes to lose”, but a game where “you can win and have fun.” We expect gamblers to flock to our sport - a sport with the unenviable tagline “you can beat a race, but you can’t beat the races.” This will not happen in large numbers unless we help players win. We have to get rid of that silly saying.
How can tracks move up the list and/or crack our top ten next year? In a word, give bettors what they ask for: Lower takes, full fields and wager variety. If you succeed in this, you won’t only be helping us, you will be helping racing grow so that we can capture a whole new generation of fans, and keep the ones we already have.
Thanks to everyone at the Bloodhorse (thanks for putting up with a volunteer organization in trying to get the articles edited and spelled right!), Equidaily and our pal Ray at the Paulick report.
Allow us a special thanks. To Bill who compiled this list along with his capable partner Raleigh, thanks for the work. To Andrew, who way back when HANA was simply an idea, offered out his thought which became this track ratings list - kudos. To Greg who wrote many of the pieces, thank you. This took hundreds of hours, and we don’t pay much, ok we don’t pay anything!
Each one is a proud HANA member, and we are also proud that our fledgling organization has been recognized the past several months for being a force for productive change. A change we hope grows the game. It’s what we’re all here for.
Thank you for reading.
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Please watch for our Top 65 tracks list out soon. This list was compiled beginning in September 2008. We will release version I (our current version of the top 65), then as time allows, with many new meets opening we will release version II. Version II will update takeout rates, field sizes (we are going on a one year field size average, so tracks that improve will have better numbers and should be rewarded since recent gains should be documented) and finally update new wagers (some have recently announced changes already). Please keep an eye out for further details