Monday, December 31, 2012

Charles Town Handle Trends Positively

Despite a slight drop in field size (from 8.53 to 8.33 horses per race), Charles Town was able to outperform the industry trend in 2012 with an increase in all-source handle of 5%. This capped a strong 2012 where Charles Town had a record handle year, with $1M averaged for the first time in their 79 year history.

Charles Town announced a takeout decrease in September, 2011:

Takeout for trifectas, superfectas, pick threes, and pick fours will shift from 25% to 22% effective Sept. 17.

They've also been very responsive to giving out their signal to everyone. There are very few advance deposit wagering sites where you cannot bet Charles Town.

Distribute the signal, work on takeout, and promote your track and bettors tend to give you a chance.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Thanks to Everyone Who Worked So Hard at HANA Harness .....

Horse Rescue United Recipient of Contest Donations

(Allentown - December 28, 2012) – Horse Rescue United (HRU) is pleased to announce they are the recipient of donations as a result of this year’s The Pen vs. The Chip Handicapping Challenge sponsored by the Hambletonian Society, Meadowlands Racetrack, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs.  

 The Pen vs. The Chip Handicapping Challenge, organized by the Horse Players Association of North America (HANA) Harness Division, was a season long competition where handicappers using computer programs (The Chips) and handicappers using pens and programs (The Pens) competed against each other handicapping over sixty race cards at various standardbred tracks in North America on The Road to the Breeders Crown.  Each handicapper competing represented horse rescues who are primarily involved in standardbreds which are used in harness racing.  While various rescues in Canada and the United States were beneficiaries throughout the contest, HRU was the recipient of the grand prize thanks to Mark McKelvie, one of ‘The Pen’ handicappers being the overall contest winner.

“Just being one of the standardbred rescues selected to be represented by the handicappers was a great honor for Horse Rescue United as it is recognition of the work HRU does”, stated HRU President Anouk Busch, “We would like to thank the sponsors for making donations to advance the work of standardbred rescue, HANA for running the event, and of course Mark McKelvie whose handicapping skills made it possible for HRU to be the lucky recipient.  These donations will assist HRU in rescuing and retraining retired standardbreds”.

Horse Rescue United Inc. is a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity located in Allentown/Chesterfield, NJ dedicated to the rescue, evaluation and retraining of horses.  While HRU does rescue horses of all breeds, the majority of horses rescued are standardbreds.  For further information about Horse Rescue United, please visit HRU’s website at

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Tax Change Notes

We'll continue to follow this, but for now, Steve Zorn summarizes what these tax changes may mean for horseplayers here.

It's a detailed, common sense look at the changes and what they mean for an everyday player.

A must read.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Tax Changes Could Be Costly For Horseplayers

Today on the NTRA website:

 "Congress and President Obama have recently proposed capping or otherwise limiting itemized deductions in an effort to raise revenue for the U.S. government. Some horseplayers may be negatively impacted if they are unable to fully deduct pari-mutuel wagering losses as itemized deductions."

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Harness Track & Its Horsemen Go Transparent

A whole new view for horseracing fans

Drivers asked to explain their performance, good and bad; unparalleled transparency brought to Chicago racing

MELROSE PARK, IL – The Illinois Harness Horseman’s Association (IHHA) this Friday, will unveil unprecedented between-race interviews that promise to revolutionize the way that fans handicap and understand harness racing in Chicago.

“I hope racing fans tune in to the Maywood Park signal on Friday,” said IHHA President David McCaffrey. “There are no other horseman’s associations or racetracks going behind the scenes like we are, doing immediate post-race interviews with drivers and trainers.”

The IHHA board decided during the summer to pursue post-race interviews with drivers in order to help fans understand why drivers make certain decisions on the track and to explain extraordinary circumstances.

“If a horse is the favorite to win a race and he races terribly and finishes last, I think fans want to know what’s going on,” said McCaffrey. “It could be something as simple as a piece of paper in the track that spooks a horse and causes him to break stride or a knee boot that comes loose and impedes the horse’s gait. Either way, the fans deserve an explanation.”

By bringing the drivers into the living room, the IHHA hopes that the public will become more engaged and will use the interviews when they handicap races. The board also hopes that the interviews will bring more transparency to the sport. To that end, fans will eventually be able to submit questions via Facebook and Twitter.

“There are a lot of factors on the track,” said IHHA board member and driver Marcus Miller. “A driver might get boxed in or there could be an equipment malfunction. Drivers make mistakes sometimes too. But the public needs an explanation. We need them to know that we’re honest out there.”

The concept is similar to what fans of other sports are accustomed to seeing in post-game interviews. Jeremey Day will be conducting the post race interviews. Day is co-host of the North American Harness Update and a Daily Racing Form Harness handicapper for Balmoral Racetrack. Drivers will be asked about their performance on the track and given the chance to explain what happened.

“We want to address the questionable parts of the race,” said Day. “If a driver’s strategy seems questionable or there was an equipment malfunction, we’re going to look at the replay and talk about what happened on the track.”

For the past month, the IHHA has been conducting generic interviews with trainers and drivers. A collection of these interviews can be found on the Illinois Harness Horseman’s Association YouTube channel. IHHA board member Bernie Paul said that these interviews will be different.

“These aren’t going to be fluff interviews. We want the tough questions,” said Paul. “We ask NFL quarterbacks about why they threw an interception or ran a specific play. Racing fans deserve that same kind of transparency.”

The first driver interviews will be conducted on Friday, December 7th at Maywood Park.

“Fans are going to be surprised,” said Paul. “This is a whole new approach to the sport. We think this will really help with handicapping and give fans a better understanding of the entire game.”

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Common Thread on Handle Movements

We were reading the Paulick Report this morning and noticed that Hastings Park in British Columbia has been having some success.

They appear to be taking a multi-pronged approach by being more customer and player friendly and that process began in early 2011. 

"On the heels of Santa Anita raising its takeout, something that has clearly alienated many customers, Hastings went in the opposite direction. Mutti decided to go the extra mile for the fan. Not only did they lower the takeout, they put in Wi-Fi throughout the grandstand, upgraded their graphics package for their video presentations and created a Pick Five with a carryover component. The Pick Four takeout went from 22.3 percent to 15, a decrease of 36 percent. "We are trying to reengage the horseplayer that we might have lost, not only locally but throughout the marketplace," he said."

It's about branding, marketing, lower takeout, field size, and player friendliness. It's not reinventing a wheel.

This is a common thread of late. With many tracks.

Charles Town started lowering takeout precipitously and becoming more player friendly a couple of years ago. Their handle has gone up and people who were never even looking at Charles Town are.

Last year they had their 15th straight month of handle increases. Their pick 4 handle, buoyed by lower rake, was up 55%.. Pick 3 handle was up 16%.

Woodbine lowered takeout in 2011, began to offer guaranteed pools, and worked hard to be more player friendly. Their handle was up 7.5%..

Kentucky Downs restructured, lowered takeout and had a record meet.

Balmoral Park in harness lowered takeout and began to offer more and more better opportunities. The pick 4 handle has gone from $8500 per pool, to over $30,000 per pool. This has spilled over: They've gone from $77,000 bet per race, to $92,000 bet per race. I remember back in 2010 when they did this. After two months of it and handle was not trending hugely upwards, some were telling them to jack it back up.  Thankfully, they knew Rome wasnt built in a day, and long time suffering horseplayers would not change and churn more overnight either.

NYRA dropped takeout, added some field size. Their handle is growing.

Keeneland, of course, has always been player friendly. If some executive said "let's raise takeout to make more money" at a Keeneland board meeting, they'd probably be replaced immediately and don't think for a second horseplayers don't realize that. They're the #1 track in the HANA ratings for a reason. Their brand continues to be solid. They've set some handle and attendance records recently.

Tampa Bay Downs has been lowering takeout since 2001. In that year their average daily handle was less than $2M. Now it's over $4M - it's doubled in ten years.

Penn even lowered some of their egregious takeout. Handle has been trending higher.

On the flip side, California who raised rakes in 2006 to fix things, were back in 2010 and raised them to fix things, well again. Their handle has been pretty disappointing; the problems they have are still there. If not for the low takeout pick 5, started after handle imploded in early 2011, what would their overall handle be?

Los Al, which was supposed to be a "test case for higher  takeout" has seen their handles become anemic.

What about Parx? Lotsa casino money, but look at those takeouts! Parx handle is poor, and has been for some time now. 

The above does not mean that lowering takeout is a cure all for everything. If you and I are selling CB radio's and offer them out at $5 instead of $10 it doesn't mean we're going to sell more. For proof of that there are tracks who are having problems even if they have lowered takeout - their place on the dial, their long term branding, their product, their field size and other external struggles tracks face all play a part in handle. If someone tells you takeout is the only thing plaguing the sport, they're wrong.

However, a takeout reduction allows a track to say "look at us, we are trying to give you a boost on payouts, trying to get field size up, trying to show you a good time if you visit on-track; we're open for business and we want your betting business".

This simply allows them to do things to build on the success that they may achieve. It puts more money collectively in bettors pockets, so when they cash they have more in the ADW account, or on their credit voucher at the track, so they can bet more the next race. It helps handle grow, and helps customers have a better time by having a bankroll last a little longer.

Often times, tracks who lower takeout follow with free PP's, concentrate on field size, look into Trakus and HD pictures and better graphics. Player friendliness is an overall strategy, not just a one off. 

Keeneland is open for business. So is Balmoral, so is Charles Town, and so is Hastings. These are places who want your money and they are going to work for it.

Horseplayers, in some way shape or form, over time, are saying "yes".

This is what horse racing needs. More answers of "yes" to the question "are you going to bet my track this weekend?"

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tampa Bay Downs – Handicapping Info You Can Use

Tampa Bay Downs ranked 2nd overall in our 2012 HANA Track Ratings - kicked off their 2012-2013 meet yesterday. I spent some time this morning creating a text file that contains a look at data trends from the previous (2011-2012) meet.

Here’s a link to the file:

The file is broken up into three sections: Dirt Stats, Turf Stats and Combined Stats.

In this write up I am going to talk about trends in the dirt stats only. (For those of you interested in looking at similar trends in the turf and combined stats, the link to the text file appears above.)

About the Dirt Stats
I used my own database to pull up data for every starter that ran on the dirt at TAM during their previous (2011-2012) meet. I further broke out that meet data out into the following separate categories: By Gate Draw/Position from the rail out in the starting gate, by Speed Points, by Rider, by Trainer, and for those of you interested in getting a handle on shippers, by Ship From Track.

I have been told by a handful of horsemen that the Tampa Dirt Surface is one of the deeper track surfaces in North America. The data seems to bear this out.

Gate Draw
Horses that drew the rail last meet on the TAM dirt didn’t fare too well (statistically.) However, last meet at TAM it was the middle dirt posts (specifically the 4 hole) where horses outran their odds – as well as horses that drew the far outside (specifically posts 10 and higher.)

Speed Points
The Speed Point Numbers stored in my database are generated by an algorithm I wrote myself. If you were to study them closely you would likely find them to be a close approximation (but not an exact replication) of speed point numbers provided by data providers such as Brisnet or Track Master. That said, the data break-out using my own speed point numbers does suggest that the TAM dirt surface is a little deeper (and a little more tiring) than dirt surfaces of North American thoroughbred tracks in general. Horses with need the lead tendencies (specifically those with 8 speed points) fared horribly at last year’s TAM meet (barely returning $0.50 for each $1.00 bet in the win pool.) However, horses with tactical speed (specifically those with 3 or 4 speed points) fared much better and returned flat bet profits in the win pool.

I sorted the dirt sample by number of rider wins. Ronnie Allen Jr. led all riders on the TAM dirt course last meet with 60 wins from 385 starts. However, Allen’s ability to get his mounts to the outside and make a run from just off the pace wasn’t lost on the betting public. (Allen’s dirt mounts returned just $0.55 for each $1.00 bet in the win pool.) Fortunately, the Tampa Bay Downs riding colony did have its share of overlooked riders on the dirt last meet. Angel Serpa, Daniel Coa, Erik Barbaran, Willie Martinez, Jesse Garcia, Pedro Cotto, Jr., and Wilmer Galviz all made frequent trips to the winners circle - and flat bet profits were there to be had by bettors savvy enough to recognize their abilities.

Next I sorted the dirt sample by number of trainer wins. Jamie Ness was the dominant trainer on the dirt, with 68 wins from 114 horses saddled. Amazingly, a win bet on each of his starters would have netted a flat bet profit. However, Ness wasn’t the only overlooked trainer on the dirt last year at TAM. The dirt starters of Jorge Navarro, Jane Cibelli, Bernell Rhone, Dennis Ward, Mark Passley, Lloyd Lockheart, Chad Stewart, Anthony Pecoraro, Thomas Proctor, Leigh Delacour, Angel Hyland, Brenda McCarthy (and a few others) all made frequent trips to the winners circle –at good prices too.

Ship From Track
Finally, I broke the dirt sample out by ship from track. Shippers from APX, BEL, CDX, DEL, HAW, MNR, PID, TDN, TPX, and WOX underperformed (vs. their post time odds) on the TAM dirt course. However, horses shipping in from BEU, CRC, GPX, LRL, MTH, PHA, RPX, and SUF consistently outran their odds – and flat bet profits were available to bettors savvy (or lucky) enough to have spotted the trend early on.

I’ll go out on a limb and make an educated guess. If you have read this far you are probably a horseplayer. At the risk of stating the obvious: There is no guarantee that trends from the previous meet will carry over to the current meet. However, as a horseplayer myself, I find it helpful to look at previous meet trends whenever I am faced with a new meet.

As the new meet unfolds, I’ll come back and post updates using current meet stats.

Jeff Platt
President, HANA