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Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Derby's Big Tent

"If only we could recreate that every day" is an often heard response to the thrill, excitement and general good feel for the Derby. Clearly that is impossible, but if we analyze what the Derby is about from a betting perspective (leaving aside the obvious branding and focus of the event), we might be able to help our sport.

Derby Day is a day where everyone is a bettor, and everyone is a fan: The tent is ginormous.  On the one hand you have the casual fan who has an opinion and might bet $2 across the board on his/her favorite racehorse. You have the professional player who loves the $1 superfectas, because if they go deep on tickets they can really make some money. You have the dedicated horseplayer who can mix around some $0.50 pick 3's or 4's, or get together with a few others who like the same horse in the big one, and pool some cash for a syndicate. Everyone is drawn to the card, because the card is completely "big tent".

Richard Thalheimer's study not long ago focused on field size and takeout as the main components of pari-mutuel handle. The thought is simple: A larger field size gives bettors more choice, and lower takeout helps them last longer and get good value for their money.

The Derby exhibits those two components to a "t".

The large pools, and plenty of "dumb money" in the Derby presents people with some tremendous value. Pants on Fire was 7-1, which means every other horse is an overlay, and that can wipe out a value players takeout to nothing. If these horses are well bet on the board, they are also well bet in exotics - a veritable feast for value players.

In terms of field size, the big tent approach continues. With 20 possibles, with almost countless permutations for pass/don't pass, you will find something you like.

I like Animal Kingdom because he has the pedigree for it and has loved the surface in morning works.I hate Animal Kingdom because he prepped on polytrack.

I love Dialed In because he is a closer and should get a strong pace to run at. I hate Dialed In because he is a closer and will have too much traffic.

I like Twice the Appeal because of Calvin! Twice the Appeal is 10-1 and should be 100-1, so you're crazy. 

On and on and on. There are literally thousands of different reasons to like or dislike a Derby horse.

Set your minds eye to a Derby with five horses instead of 20. The lead up to the race after awhile would be like watching a test pattern.

As all bettors are screaming at once: That is what we go through about 95% of the time!  A 5 horse field at Santa Anita, or Arlington has permeated the landscape of this sport, with disparate interests all fighting for table scraps. When an odds board's implied probability mirrors actual - it is red light for our customer base, big, small or medium. With it we have a pup tent, not a big tent.

When racetracks offer us fields and a pool size where we can have an opinion and act on it, the tent gets bigger and bigger. When they don't we are left with a trickle of handle and a customer base who is not energized about our sport.

We can't give people the Derby every day, but the fundamentals of what the Derby is from a betting perspective should be in the back of every race secretary and executives mind at all times. We can get better, it just takes some work. The roadmap is right in front of us each May.

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