Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Night School Town Hall Recap

I was one of the panelists on the Night School Town Hall online chat session Tues Sept 11, 2012.

Before giving my recap I want to express the following:

The other panelists: ESPN's Jeremy Plonk, Jill Byrne, paddock analyst for Churchill Downs, Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Trey Buck, executive director of racing for the American Quarter Horse Association, Jason Wilson, vice president of business development for The Jockey Club, Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of the Stronach Group/president and general manager of Gulfstream Park, Jim Miller, assistant general manager of Hawthorne Race Course, Mandy Minger, vice president/marketing of Daily Racing Form, Amy Zimmerman, Eclipse Award-winning executive producer for HRTV, Jennie Rees, Eclipse Award-winning turf writer for the Louisville Courier-Journal, John DeSantis, senior vice president/editor for Xpressbet, Jeremy Clemons, vice president/marketing for Twinspires, Satish Sanan, Breeders' Cup-winning owner/breeder of Padua Stables –

ALL of the other panelists – EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM is a GREAT ambassador of this game.

I’ve met many of them in person. There is one universal theme among them that I find refreshing. To a person you will not meet ANYONE more upbeat and positive about racing. You will not meet anyone anywhere who LOVES horse racing more than the people on last night’s panel.

Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to have been thought highly enough of to have been invited onto the panel - and I certainly enjoyed participating.


If you are a horseplayer and you followed last night’s Town Hall chat session (or if you read the transcript) you have to be struck by the following:

For ninety minutes the panel managed to duck what the vast majority of HANA’s horseplayer members see as racing’s core issues.

Why is this important?

According to numbers on the Jockey Club website, in 2003, all sources handle for thoroughbred racing conducted in North America was $15.9 billion. Last year, for calendar year 2011, all sources handle for thoroughbred racing conducted in North America came in at $11.4 billion. That’s a loss of 28.3% in just nine years. (The loss is even worse if you adjust it for inflation.)

That, by itself, should be enough to send a red flag up the pole.

But nothing of the sort happened on last night’s Town Hall panel. In fact, by the end of the night many of the panelists were patting each other on the back for all the things that racing does right – and without ever once addressing in any meaningful way the three obvious elephants sitting in the room.

I want to talk about the obvious elephants sitting in the room.

In 2009, we did the first HANA Survey. In that survey, 75 percent of you identified high takeout as the primary reason you bet less than you otherwise would. In that survey, more than 70 percent of you identified an outdated tote system and odds that change after the bell as the number two reason you bet less than you otherwise would. In that survey, more than two thirds of you identified racing’s drug problem as the number three reason you bet less than you otherwise would.

Not only that, but in survey after survey, HANA’s horseplayer members have consistently confirmed those original findings.

From a market research standpoint, I have very little trouble identifying the obvious elephants sitting in the room as follows:

  1. High Takeout.

  1. Obsolete Tote System/Odds that change after the bell (translates to lack of integrity.)

  1. Drugs (translates to lack of integrity.)

Don’t get me wrong. I think Night School is a wonderful idea. However, racing cheerleaders can only take you so far.

Until or unless racing decides to take on the obvious elephants sitting in the room – expect racing to continue to decline in popularity among the public at large and expect racing’s key metric: handle - to continue its long term decline as well.

EDIT: One thing I didn't get to see live as a panelist during the chat session were results of the polls. However, while scrolling through the "replay" of the chat I came across the following:

Poll Results - What is Racing's Biggest Problem to Fix?

Poll Results - Which Idea Do You Like Best Tonight?

I rest my case.

Jeff Platt
President, HANA

PS - For those of you interested in a "replay" of last night's chat, here's the link:



Anonymous said...

I think they were censoring questions last night at Night School. My friend and I could not get in any questions about the high cost of past performances.

Anonymous said...

How do you respond to Chuklas's statement that Maryland did lower takeout and it had no impact on business?

Anonymous said...

That was a maddening comment regarding the Laurel takeout change.

A short experiment where it was not taken by some ADW's because the takeout was too low..... recipe for disaster.

It's like lowering the price of icy-cool lemonade at your stand while the town has a three week blizzard and saying "my price change hurt me"

Anonymous said...

A better question might be: How does someone like Chuklas explain reduced takeout wagers that have proven highly successful? What about TVG's promo at HOL this summer where they tripled the amount of money in the late double pool? Or the 14% takeout pick five at DMR? Up more than 40% in 2012 vs the prior year and basically saving them from having a down handle meet.

The effort it takes racing suits to pretend 22% blended takeout isn't a huge problem has to be maddening.

Anonymous said...

I agree.

The polls taken by Plonk during the Twon Hall showed takeout was the #1 issue for those watching. Then you have an exec say (in effect) "you're nuts".

It was there in black and white, yet they still ignored it. I don't understand racing people.

Anonymous said...

I sent a comment in to rebut Mr. Chuklas statement but they didn't put It up..

kyle said...

While we are want, and know in our hearts and minds that what racing needs desperately is, better pricing, I think we need to be more exact in our approach. The real unignited catalyst we need to put a torch to is churn. That cannot be accomplished in a piecemeal manner wherein the least catalytic of wagers are the first and only targeted. Wagering, through takeout reductions, needs to be driven first to the straight pools, then the exotic verticals, and LAST to the multi-race. Only that strategy will increase the velocity of wagering dollars and give churn a chance to work its magic.

Sal Carcia said...

Another issue the game faces is allowing computer algorithmic access to the betting pools from offshore accounts. It causes a virtual increase in takeout rates and it contributes to the late odds changes. It's unfair to the bettors and unproductive for tha game. It's a problem that is mostly invisible to the public.

Anonymous said...

On Tuesday's Steve byk show the host attacked Jeff Platt for giving his honest opinion about last weeks Night school.

First hour,10-15 minutes in.

Anonymous said...

There must be an error in the transcript. When I load it up in my browser it says the same shit that was being said ten Yeats ago..............


Anonymous said...


I just listed to Byk's comments. He likened you to a guest at a wedding who tells everyone the food was bad and the bride was ugly.

Trouble is, when it comes to racing -- THE FOOD IS BAD and THE BRIDE? SHE'S NOT MUCH OF A CATCH THESE DAYS.

I say if the status quo isn't working -- and clearly it's not -- then someone needs to find the courage to tell it like it is before it's too late.

Apparently, none of the cheerleaders on that panel -- and sadly -- none of racing's many suits drawing a 6 figure paycheck are willing to do that.

--Charlie James
--San Diego, CA

Anonymous said...

Mr. Byk is a cheerleader, which is absolutely fine; and he has the right to his opinion.

What I have a problem with: When racings cheerleaders chide those who want to get at our deep problems in the game, they become a deterrent and an impediment.

This is a sport that needs change and it needs it badly. We need forward thinkers who say "look, the data shows the price of a bet is too high, the tote system is outdated and drugs are an issue, how do we fix them?"


Anonymous said...

No question Byk is a cheerleader,especially for NY racing.

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