Friday, February 13, 2009

Epilogue - Track Ratings

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, 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.

If you'd like to join us, please sign up. We could use the help.

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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your hard work.

Maybe at some time we can do Best bets in Horseracing.

Thanks again

Richard D. said...

Total waste of time. Nobody cares what the takeout is when the track runs a bunch of nags that are not worthy of a 2 dollar bet. Outside of Keeneland, the list is one big waste of time.

Anonymous said...


Mountaineer has $2.5M handles with all 5 claimers. People play it; the signal is sent far and wide.

Hawthorne with cheap stock this past meet grew handles more than any other track in NA. $4M handles.

So just because you dont play them, dont say other bettors dont.

Anonymous said...

I love it when we have people who think if you dont sit there and handicap allowance races at Belmont you are not a bettor.

I play ALL small tracks. There is an edge there if you want to work at it. And oft-times the takes are alright as the HANA thing shows. Mark Patterson wrote a good artcile in horseplayer mag if anone is looking to read about smaller track betting. was a good read.

HANA said...

Thanks for all your hard work.

Maybe at some time we can do Best bets in Horseracing.

A: Thank you sir. We have a few more things planned when we find some time. A few things thrown around by members so far: Harness tracks list (about 20% of HANA members play harness or both); An ADW report card, where they are ranked in a systematic way.

They take a ton of time so we don't know when we can get to them, but we'd like to.

Thank you for the kind words.


HANA said...

PS: Thank you for the suggestion. We will get Bill to look at compiling a sheet of best value bets from the spreadsheet we have for the ratings and we will do something with it.

Great idea!

Anonymous said...

Good for you! It was done in the most accurate manner possible and your choices were made for all the right reasons. Racing needs you. Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I agree. Great work. You should be congratulated!

Anonymous said...

Tracks have treeated betters like there is only one type of them for a long time. There are many types, with many price points, or different ideas on what they like to bet. This was a good list for generic tracks. The post is right, as rebates are given to big guys and they get the same prices at all tracks pretty much. They were right to exclude big players and pool size.


Kevin said...

Small tracks suck. The pick4 and pick6 pools usually have about 3 bucks in them, that's even if they offer the wager. Give me a break. Who wants to waste time on that trash?

Plus if I put 500 to win on a horse in one of these dump tracks, my odds go from 8-1 to 8/5.

Anonymous said...

if you are betting $500 to win on a horse why are you concerned about this list for regular people? go to rgs get a huge rebate and play high handle tracks. most people dont bet 500 to win and they dont get money back like you. at least some of these tracks offer some better prices for us small people.

Indulto said...

Richard D. wrote, “Total waste of time. Nobody cares what the takeout is when the track runs a bunch of nags that are not worthy of a 2 dollar bet. Outside of Keeneland, the list is one big waste of time.”

Hardly a “total waste of time,” HANA’s national exposure in the Blood Horse was a major accomplishment from a recognition standpoint. HANA exists because horseplayer concerns and preferences have not been given a major forum from which to be heard and a common voice with which to speak.

By almost any objective or subjective criteria, Keeneland had to be the top rated track from a horseplayer’s standpoint. It is the only track offering top quality racing that enables small bettors to compete with large ones through ADW rebating and by imposing among the lowest direct takeout and exotic wager minimums in the industry. Prior to that, they had attempted to lower takeout directly for all bettors in the face of broad industry opposition.

As a simulcast patron, I can’t take advantage of its attractive surroundings, but I wish the TRACKUS system would be extended to other venues. I’m still baffled by its new synthetic surface, but I wasn’t satisfied with the inside speed bias of the old dirt track either. They are listening and they deserve their top ranking at this time. Any other result would indeed have been a waste of time.

The remainder of the list is unimportant for now, other than as a gimmick to get HANA the attention it deserves. How many people would have to be polled before encountering the same top ten in the same order? Among day-in-day-out players, weekend warriors, and vacation-only players -– even with similar bankroll sizes -- there will be significant differences of opinion.

Future ratings cannot ignore the importance Saratoga plays in the mind and heart of any horseplayer or horseman who has ever been there. Even New York State politicians were careful not to mess with the track’s ambience and history
in their corrupt pursuit of slots revenue while trying to wrest control of the racing franchise from NYRA. Many feel it was as much the continued success of that venue that was responsible for NYRA’s keeping the franchise as it was its ownership of the land which it eventually was forced to cede. Unfortunately, the importance of all graded stakes racing following the Belmont has been devalued by the Breeder’s Cup.

NYRA claims it wishes to respect horseplayer concerns regarding its increased takeout and vacationer-inconvenient ticket cashing policies; pointing the finger of blame at its political overseers. When New York’s deeds match their words, perhaps Saratoga will then recapture its reputation as “racing’s jewel.” And have you noticed, RD, even Saratoga now runs races unworthy of a $2 bet!

Wasting time and being able to make better use of it are apples and oranges. As has been noted, a lot of uncompensated time by the HANA team was put into the project, which could also have provided an opportunity to involve the membership to a greater degree than previously; and to prepare the organization to work in concert as it grows in preparation for using its strength in numbers effectively once it has them. Members could have been polled on the criteria and their weighting and the results reported and commented on at the blog. In that way each HANA member could have had a vested interest in -- and shared in the satisfaction from -- the result. Dean says that members will be surveyed next time. I hope that applies to the planned ADW ratings as well.

I know Dean is a sulky kind of guy, so I hope membership feedback endorses his plan to rank the harness tracks. If HANA has a hardest worker -- a tireless toiler or, perhaps, a sleepless one –- it is he. To Andrew, Raleigh/Bill, and Greg: Nice work! To those involved at the Blood Horse, thanks and I hope your site will continue to reflect similar horseplayer input.

The HANA team, officers, and advisory board appear to be doing good things, but only they know what it is they are doing until it is done. Perhaps there is sufficient member feedback from e-mails, but the general membership never gets to see them or even meeting summaries like the CHRB provides in addition to transcripts. Obviously time and funding are factors here. Perhaps subscriptions could be purchased for such e-mail distributed documents that would pay for their cost and possibly other expenses as well.

So, RD, look at how much time I would have saved if you had never submitted your comment, but I don’t think I wasted it.

Anonymous said...

Well said Indulto. Thanks to all those involved for a great job.

Indulto said...

Thanks, rwwupi. I've enjoyed reading your posts on the Del Mar forum even before you became one of the earliest HANA supporters there.

Anonymous said...

I found it hilarious that Kentucky Downs was #2.
1. The finish line is 300 yards away from the clubhouse.
2. The "grandstand" is a pos tent with crappy chair on a gravel bed.
3. The "clubhouse" has no flat screen lcds and the televisions are all different color tints.
4. The non smokers sit 1 row in front of the smokers in the simulcast area.
5. The foos and service in the restaurant is horrible.
This track is the worst experience for a bettor I have seen except for some of the very tiny Arizona fair sites.
Try going to some of the tracks you ranked highly next time before making your picks lol/.

HANA said...


Here is the criteria used to rank the tracks:


Richard D. said...

Keeneland and the bloodhorse go hand in hand. So any recognition from bloodhorse is only because they have keeneland as number one. Can't give any credit for that. Just plain old brown nosing.

As for bankroll, please. The greatest bet in the history of horse racing is the pick 6. You don't need to unload to get the big prize. I think a 8 dollar, a 16 dollar, or a 32 dollar ticket is about the best chance a man has of walking out of the track with the real money.

These small tracks do not reward that type of bet, the pools there are tiny. And for that they should be lower on the list.

HANA said...

When we asked if Ray and BH would print the top twenty, none of the tracks were revealed and neither BH nor Ray Paulick asked who was ranked where.

Cangamble said...

Richard D., do you have any idea what the percentage of big Pick 6 payoffs have gone to anyone betting $32 or less? I don't think it is very high. I know I haven't hit one yet, although I rarely play them, I do make fantasy tickets up and I still have no luck.
Going with your "logic" an even better bet is buying lottery tickets when the jackpot is over $5 million.
It would be nice to see those criticizing this list come clean and say if they are racing execs or horsemen from a track that they thought should be on the list.

Anonymous said...

KY Downs is the biggest joke of the list. The idea behind it was solid, the execution of the list extremely poor.

Anonymous said...

"To Bill who complied this list.." Not being a nitpciky PITA, but please fix that typo! It is too well written to be soiled by that.

Suggestion: Do not answer The Call of the Dumb.

Anonymous said...

As an anonymous track official (who didn't make the top 20), I would like to see the metric stay the same so that when we make changes we know that we are doing it to move up the scorecard and not in vain for the 2010 ratings.

HANA said...

"To Bill who complied this list.." Not being a nitpciky PITA, but please fix that typo! "

Thank you.

HANA said...

"As an anonymous track official (who didn't make the top 20), I would like to see the metric stay the same so that when we make changes we know that we are doing it to move up the scorecard and not in vain for the 2010 ratings."

Thank you for that tidbit. We plan to always offer the original three criteria as a main metric. But we also have to be sensitive to constructive criticism from members and others. However, you will never see this list be a popularity contest, or "best track to visit". We are not the travel channel, we are a horseplayer group. As well the list will never be a popularity contest. If someone wants to make a popularity list they just have to look at tracks 1 thru 65 based on handle. The highest handle tracks are probably the most popular.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

That's a good answer. I have been lurking and it amazes me that some people are talking about traveling to a track, the sightlines, or how good their food is. In addition the talk about popularity makes me have a chuckle. If some blogger wants to run a survey about tracks that are well liked, well duh..... Saratoga, Del mar and Keeneland would win. It is not rocket science and I wold not even read an article about it. Your criterion was well thought out and something I want to see as a horseplayer. Stand firm because the people talking about such things are not your audience, I am, as are all true horseplayers.

HANA said...

Ps, to "As an anonymous track official (who didn't make the top 20"...... if you wish please let us know when/if you make changes for your next meet or whenever. If they are of player value we would be happy to write about it and let the readership and members know.

Thanks again for the comment.


Whoet's Picks said...

Which track was #65 ????

Anonymous said...

Yeah great, so the ambiance or not being able to see the finish of the race while live at the track isn't important. Sure it isn't/
And betting $10k maidens on the turf is great handicapping too.
Your top 2 tracks run tiny boutique meets of very limited length.

Let them try grinding it out more than 6 days a year or two 15 day meets annually and see how great they are.

Anonymous said...

In weeding through some of the bizarre comments on bad coffee, taking a plane trip to some track or everything else you did not measure, I am struck by the very little critical comments regarding your number one track. With that, it should be more than obvious to everyone, that your methodology did a good job.

Anonymous said...

have you considering the loyalty reward programs at tracks? What do you think about a track that offers FREE live & simulcast programs, FREE DRF's, and a COMPLIMENTARY brunch buffet every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for players who wager $10,000+ a month, in a private, members-only club?

Please visit Sam Houston Race Park before releasing your results for the 2010 rankings.