Friday, December 20, 2013

Handicapping Quotes from the HM!

With the weekend finally arriving, here are a few quotes and a reminder from us!

**** And for me when handicapping what “it” most often “depends” on is PRICE, which is why my favorite line in Len Ragozin’s book The Odds Must Be Crazy is “at 30-to-1 I loved the line [the horse’s form or pattern]; at 3-to-1 I would have hated it.” (Ed DeRosa)

**** A man touting his own system might tell you that it had an ROI of 37% last year at Belmont. Nice (if it's true), but what about every other track? Did it lose everywhere except Belmont? Often, it's the information that isn't being revealed that it is the most revealing. (Barry Meadow)

**** This angle provided a couple of bomb winners in 2013, including Phil’s Thunder at Woodbine who paid $77.

**** This year, unlike some pockets in his career, maiden claimers have not been a strong suit. His win percentage has been decent (23%), but his horses are very over-bet (returning 77 cents on the dollar)

**** Short term and more subtle track biases however give astute horseplayers a major advantage and it takes only a few minutes a day to find them. Here's how. (Lenny Moon)

 **** The condition moves and form cycle theories Ragozin formulated have revolutionized not only handicapping but thoroughbred training methods and claiming as well. Finding value through hidden form and avoiding racing horses too often so as to avoid bouncing are now commonplace in modern racing. (Melissa Nolan)

Where did those quotes come from? The Horseplayer Monthly. Download 20 action packed pages right here, for free. And signup to never miss an issue (we do not spam!) Have a great weekend everyone.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Nice Carryover and Some Carry-Math

Mike Antoniades is a horseplayer, who happens to write press releases for a track. Oftentimes they are interesting press releases and this is one of them.

Not only do you learn about a good carryover tonight, you get to see some carryover math.

Low takeout Balmoral Pick 4 carryover swings huge advantage to players on Wednesday
                 Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - by Michael Antoniades, Balmoral Park racing analyst

   Balmoral Park handle this Wednesday will get a giant boost because no bettor was able to select all four winners on the Sunday Pick Four or the top five finishers in the Ten cent High Five. Both of these Wednesday wagers will now have guaranteed pools. The Wednesday Pick Four pool will be seeded with a one day carryover of $28,237 and Balmoral Park along with the United States Trotting Association will guarantee a Pick Four pool of $75,000.
   With the low takeout of 15%, the Balmoral Pick 4 will offer the rarest of gambling opportunities which is to play with a substantial gambling advantage. Simply speaking, the amount paid back to the winners will exceed the amount wagered on the bet if the final pool is less than $216,474.  Based on the extraordinary value of the bet, the Balmoral Pick 4 this Wednesday is from a statistical gamblers view one of the must plays of the year. The following example is based on a variety of final pools starting with the guaranteed final pool of $75,000.

Final Pick 4 pool       New money        Net pool after 15% takeout   Players advantage        

$ 75,000                      46,763                         67,985                   plus  45.2 %
 100,000                      71,763                       89,235                   plus  24.3 %
 125,000                       96,763                       110,485                  plus 14.1 %
 150,000  l                  121,763                         131,735                   plus  8.1 %              
 175,000                     146,763                       152,985                   plus  4.2 %
    Using the $75,000 guaranteed pool, you would have $67,985 returned to the winners after the fifteen per cent takeout even though they wagered only $46,763. This would create a surplus of $21,222 which would be added to pay off the winners. The $75,000 pool would create a players advantage of over 45%. This statistical anomaly occurs with the combination of low takeout and a substantial amount of dead money in the pool.
    Therefore we will go with an estimated pool of $125,000 which will still give the players a 14.1 per cent advantage (see above chart). Clearly there is ample reason to believe that players will respond strongly to this wagering opportunity. And that is not all. The Ten cent High Five also has a one day carryover of $13,893. The USTA and Balmoral will offer a $40,000 guaranteed pool on the Wednesday pentafecta which is also the final leg of the Pick Four. The Pick Four is on the Final Four races and starts with race seven at approximately 9:15 central and ends with the High Five finale on race ten at approximately 10:25 central. 
   Balmoral Park and Maywood Park, with the help of the USTA Strategic Wagering program and Track Master offers free deluxe twelve race program pages for the Pick Four and High Five on every racing night at

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Handicappers & Our Sponsors Help Retired Horses

HANA Harness Handicapping Contests Nets Standardbred Rescues $7,000 Over Two Years

December 17, 2013 – In addition to providing handicappers an opportunity to show off their handicapping skills and provide race fans with some wagering ideas during the year, one of the major goals of HANA Harness has been to raise awareness and funds for standardbred rescues.  Thanks to our handicappers, who have been willing to handicap lengthy contests for nothing more than satisfaction in knowing they are helping unwanted horses, and our sponsors, it has allowed HANA Harness to donate in excess of $7,000 over the past two years.

While HANA Harness is thankful for last year’s sponsors, we would like to specifically thank this year’s sponsors for their donations, for without their assistance, we would not be able to donate funds to this year’s worthwhile rescues.   

Thanks to our Gold Sponsors, the Hambletonian Society, Chicago Harness (Balmoral and Maywood Parks), Illinois Harness Horseman Association, Meadowlands Racing & Entertainment, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs.  In addition to these sponsors, recognition also goes to our Silver Sponsor, Red Shores Charlottetown for their donation to Canadian Standardbred Rescue.

HANA Harness looks forward to hosting another handicapping contest in 2014.  We welcome sponsorships from racing organizations, tracks operators, horsemen associations, suppliers, and owners.  If you wish to be considered for possible sponsorship opportunities in 2014, you may contact HANA Harness at to be contacted when the time is appropriate.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Turning Fans into Horseplayers

Players' Expectation and Random Selections in WPS pools
One of the hurdles the industry faces in converting the first time track visitor and new would be racing fan into a long term horseplayer is the severity of the negative gambling experience imprinted during those first few track visits.

How bad is it (really?)

If WPS takeout is 16% you might think the novice horseplayer, who doesn't know a thing about betting horses, and whose selections therefore might realistically be no better or no worse than random picks, should have an expected return no worse than 84 cents per each $1.00 wagered (1.00 minus the takeout percentage) right?

You might intuitively think that - but you'd be wrong.

Believe it or not, the true long term mathematical expectation of horse race bettors who make the equivalent of random selections in WPS pools is a net loss approaching 25 cents per each $1.00 wagered.

That's approximately 1.5 times worse than the percentage net loss most of us might intuitively think results from a 16 percent takeout rate!

Below is a cut and paste of some numbers pulled from my calendar year 2013 database. The database includes every thoroughbred race run in North America during calendar year 2013 from Jan 01, 2013 current through a few days ago Dec 08, 2013.

The top part of the data readout shows what would have happened to the player unfortunate enough to have bet $2.00 to WPS on every starter in every race during the time period covered by the database (approx 350k starters in all.)

The ROI numbers towards the bottom of the WPS columns reflect the return for each $1.00 wagered: Net losses bordering on minus 25 percent for WPS bets.

Data Window Settings:
Connected to: C:\JCapper\exe\JCapper2.mdb
999 Divisor  Odds Cap: None

      WHERE [DATE] >= #01-01-2013#
      AND [DATE] <= #12-31-2013#

Data Summary          Win         Place          Show
Mutuel Totals   529184.70     529707.00     531006.60
Bet            -699134.00    -699134.00    -699134.00
P/L            -169949.30    -169427.00    -168127.40

Wins                45440         90386        131813
Plays              349567        349567        349567
PCT                 .1300         .2586         .3771

ROI                0.7569        0.7577        0.7595
Avg Mut             11.65          5.86          4.03

Next up, the second part of the above sample with the data broken out by odds rank with no attempt to break ties:

By: Odds Rank

Rank       P/L        Bet        Roi    Wins   Plays     Pct     Impact
 1   -14901.00   93348.00     0.8404   17228   46674   .3691     2.8396  
 2   -15208.70   88526.00     0.8282    9642   44263   .2178     1.6758  
 3   -18372.90   88404.00     0.7922    6540   44202   .1480     1.1382  
 4   -18563.50   88650.00     0.7906    4681   44325   .1056     0.8124  
 5   -22870.40   87296.00     0.7380    3078   43648   .0705     0.5425  
 6   -22460.60   81236.00     0.7235    2034   40618   .0501     0.3852  
 7   -20465.90   65288.00     0.6865    1155   32644   .0354     0.2722  
 8   -14106.40   46530.00     0.6968     616   23265   .0265     0.2037  
 9   -10315.90   30140.00     0.6577     294   15070   .0195     0.1501  
10    -8129.40   17866.00     0.5450     110    8933   .0123     0.0947  
11    -2351.20    7388.00     0.6818      46    3694   .0125     0.0958  
12    -1884.80    3616.00     0.4788      13    1808   .0072     0.0553  
13     -245.60     578.00     0.5751       2     289   .0069     0.0532  
14      -63.00     258.00     0.7558       1     129   .0078     0.0596  
15       -2.00       2.00     0.0000       0       1   .0000     0.0000  
16       -2.00       2.00     0.0000       0       1   .0000     0.0000  
17       -2.00       2.00     0.0000       0       1   .0000     0.0000  
18       -2.00       2.00     0.0000       0       1   .0000     0.0000  
19+      -2.00       2.00     0.0000       0       1   .0000     0.0000  

This part of the data sample shows the favorite-longshot bias and hints at why horse racing might be at least attractive to some players from a viable gambling standpoint.

Note that win rate and roi (or player's expectation) varies with the odds.

The player who makes a serious go at studying the past performance records of horses will discover that horses have both positive attributes and negative attributes in their records. Positive attributes incrementally increase the likelihood of strong placings. Conversely, negative attributes result in incrementally worsened placings. Of course, the betting public realizes this and a high percentage of those attributes (as collectively seen by the crowd) are reflected in the odds.

I don't think there's any question that the newbie would be horseplayer faces a steep uphill climb. But most of us assume the hill to be climbed is 1.00 minus the takeout rate. (As you can see from the above numbers that is clearly not the case.)

In my mind getting people out to the track by itself isn't going to cut it.

The real question as I see it is this:

How do you create a good enough GAMBLING EXPERIENCE for the new would be horseplayer to make them want to come back for more?... A LOT MORE? (Enough to where the "fan" turns into a horseplayer?)

In my mind the most probable way the new would be race goer gets converted from a casual fan into a horseplayer is the same transformation process most of us underwent ourselves.

How I Became a Horseplayer
Speaking from personal experience and strictly for myself, 30 plus years ago when I first began looking at horse racing data:

I studied some data and noticed certain things in the data suggesting a realistic shot at break even play and beyond. And because of that I made the shift from "fan" to horseplayer. For me that conversion process did not happen overnight. It took about two years.

I'd like to point out that had I not seen anything early on in the data to suggest break even play was even possible I never would have taken up betting horses in a serious way. My first early visits to the track were at Turf Paradise back in 1981-1982. I initially began going to the races with a group of about a dozen friends who - one by one - dropped out by attending less and less frequently.

By 1984 I realized I was the ONLY one left from my original group. Everyone else had stopped going.

Oh, I'm still in touch with many from that same group. We've gone on many a camping trip, have gotten together for ski weekends in Utah and Tahoe, trips to Las Vegas, have rented beach houses in San Diego, etc., but largely as a direct result of the negative gambling experience imprinted on them - no one from that same group other than myself has expressed even the slightest bit of interest in a day spent betting on horses.

The game was different back then. In my opinion things were easier for the would be horseplayer.

When I first started betting horses in a serious way there were still crowds of people at the track - and many among that crowd were there for a good time... Hell, I remember being in my 20's and striking up conversations with LOTS of people whose betting was based on birthdays and phone numbers. (Good luck finding people at the races doing that today.)

The numbers in the above data sample paint a realistic picture as to the severity of the negative gambling experience faced by the new would be horseplayer.

Keep in mind the above data is WPS only. (FYI, it's worse for exotics... MUCH WORSE.)

I would be curious about the transformation process any of you underwent during your own conversions from "fan" to horseplayer. (Feel free to drop me a line at

Racing's Long Term Handle Trend
According to statistics at The Jockey Club website, North American thoroughbred handle peaked at $15.9 billion back in 2003. The trend has been down sharply ever since.

If the long term handle trend in North America over the past 10 years or so wasn't off by one third or more (not adjusted for inflation) I wouldn't be writing about takeout.

However, I think the long term downward handle trend is alarming. I also think it's crystal clear that insisting on takeout rates that create net losses bordering on minus 25 percent for bettors making random selections in WPS pools plays a big big part in shaping that trend.

According to economic studies commissioned by The Jockey Club we've stopped creating enough new horseplayers to replace the ones who are leaving the game each year. (The last one that I read says the net loss now averages 4% per year.)

The crowd attending the races when I first started going isn't there anymore. And as was so eloquently pointed out by one poster in a thread at in this post about getting people out to the track

"Guys don't worry about it.........nobody new is coming"

How Many Zeroes?
Today you still have that same crowd, the 20 and 30 somethings I used to see at the track - only now they are in the casino - where instead of minus 25 percent for WPS they are betting on games of chance where the prize payout percentages offered are significantly higher.

The built in house edge for roulette is 5.26%. I'll use that for example purposes because roulette is generally considered to be one of the worst gambling games you can play in a casino. If you study the layout of a roulette table, you'll quickly realize it's those two 'zeroes' that create the house edge and make roulette the bad gamble that it is.

Q. How many 'zeroes' do you have to add to a roulette wheel to turn roulette into the equivalent of what a newbie horse bettor faces? (Where random WPS selections produce long term net losses bordering on minus 25 percent?)

A. Believe it or not you have to add TEN ADDITIONAL ZEROES - until the layout itself has TWELVE ZEROES ON IT! – in order to turn roulette into the equivalent gamble (net losses of minus 25 percent) faced by a horse bettor making random WPS selections at 16 percent takeout!

TWELVE zeroes! (Mull that over for a few minutes until it sinks in.)

No one in their right mind is going to spend any serious amount of time immersed in study trying to develop a system to beat a roulette wheel with TWELVE freaking zeroes on it. (Can we at least agree on that much?)

While I agree that "marketing" can and will get new "fans" out to the track...

How can anyone in their right mind think that takeout isn't a huge part of the problem?...

That "marketing" alone is all it takes to convert "fans" into horseplayers?...

When what we are marketing, from a prize payout standpoint, is a gamble equivalent to a roulette table with twelve freaking zeroes on it?

I humbly submit to you the idea that no amount of marketing will ever be successful selling THAT.

In my mind the only way to convert first time race goers into long term horseplayers is to give them a realistic sense they can win.

How do we do that (with a straight face) given the above numbers?

Jeff Platt
President, HANA


Tuesday, December 3, 2013


John Pricci talks about the DRF in his most recent column. 

"In practical terms, DRF stopped covering the game when it got into bed with the racetracks, the most glaring example when it failed to even acknowledge that a boycott of Santa Anita betting pools organized by the grassroots Horseplayers Association of North America group that was protesting a significant rise in takeout existed, much less that it was successful."

We do not place that quote up to editorialize about it; you can draw your own opinion. In fact, we have not read every column or column inch to know or not know if the boycott was ever mentioned in the DRF.

However, looking back we would like to thank the various publications that we do know spoke directly for you, the horseplayer, during that time, by covering the story.  They are too numerous to mention, but including Mr. Pricci's own site, the heavy hitters did work the story, like the Bloodhorse and Paulick Report, and, along with local beat writers like Art Wilson and Ed Zieralski. A good deal of them (large sites and small sites) stuck their necks out to cover the boycott, whether they agreed with it or not, whether they liked us or hated us, or whether or not they may have gotten a nasty email from an advertiser threatening to pull their ads. We appreciated all of them during the time we were working - on almost no budget, solely on donations from people like Barry Meadow and other horseplayers - to get your voice as a customer heard on a very important issue.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Gambler Speaks: 5 Reasons Horse Racing Has Declined

Hartley Henderson has been around the block. He boils down the reasons for racing's decline in five bullets.

The high takeout at the racetrack – It's quite shocking that the takeout on any win, place or show bet still averages around 20 cents. That is the equivalent of betting on a sporting event where both sides are listed at -150. And for exotic bets the takeout goes as high as 35 cents ..... All bettors want is a product that they can win at and they don't view horse racing as the product to do so. Casino games take out as little as 2 cents on the dollar on blackjack and poker to as much as 5 cents on slots and sports betting generally takes out around 5 cents on the dollar. So betting on a product with a 5 times higher takeout than the worst casino game is just viewed as unacceptable by today's youth, who are very mathematically inclined as well as being more savvy with their gambling dollars. 

To read all five, please click here.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Illinois: Another State Adds a Takeout Hike Tax

Yesterday it was reported "Illinois Horsemen and Tracks Reached ADW Accord". In the story the following:
  • the plan that was agreed to "will fully fund the (IRB) and will impose a temporary surcharge on wagers placed through ADW and at the tracks, OTBs, and inter-track wagering facilities."
These "surcharges" are what you, the customer, has to pay in addition to public takeout rates. Horseplayers, as most know, play takeout rates now rivaling what some states charge their scratch and win lottery players.

Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Virginia all have these type fees (NY's will change January first). Other states have or are stifling online betting, like Texas and Arizona.

For information on why this is being done to customers, it's here.

It's been reported on and through other channels, including our feedback, that customers are not taking this sitting down. They are doing what rational customers do. They have begun to play less horse racing, and/or have looked into poker. Or they have begun to look offshore, where racing gets no money from them. There is currently a four page thread at, for example, about offshore wagering.

It's interesting that these policies have been tried before, in places like Italy. Takeout rates there were reasonable, but fees and more and more were taken out, whereby the customers would simply tap out too quickly, and leave. Takeout rates, as reported here, were over 40% on some bets in 2008.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Paul Moran

As most of you know, award winning racing writer Paul Moran passed away last week.

To read a heartfelt article from his friend John Pricci, please visit here.

Paul was a supporter of horseplayers and when HANA was a fledgling group, he gave us a send-off on his personal blog. We noted that way back in July of 2008.

We thanked him for it then, and we thank him again today.

Rest in peace Mr. Moran.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Horses & The Hoodie

This article originally appeared in October's Horseplayer Monthly magazine.  To read that issue, chalk filled with handicapping articles and stats, please click here. It is 100% free. 

A couple of years ago the New England Patriots were on their own 28 yard line with 2:08 to play. They were up 34 to 28 on the Indianapolis Colts and it was 4th down and two. That would make for an easy decision, one may guess; you punt. But Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick didn’t punt, he went for it. 

Bill Belichick | New England Patriots

Unfortunately for Coach Belichick and the Patriots, this seemingly brazen move backfired; the Indianapolis defense stuffed them. Two minutes later the Colts converted and the Patriots lost 35 to 34.

The news media and fans, both during and after the game, wanted Belichick’s head on a stick.  They asked, "How could a coach who is supposedly so smart be so stupid?  I mean really, you punt in that situation. It’s not even debatable."

It turns out Bill Belichick was not stupid, he was just playing the odds. In that situation, with hundreds of thousands of simulations, the play was to go for it because you’d win more often if you did. A supercomputer named “Zeus” at a Boston University confirmed it. Belichick was doing the right thing because he wasn’t playing a gut feel; he had access to and was playing the numbers.

Even with that piece of information, most sports writers, fans and commentators failed to believe it.  Going for it in your own end just seems so wrong, so against convention, so against what we’ve always been taught in football, that is has to be wrong.

As horseplayers we fight similar feelings each day. A lot of us learn handicapping at a young age, and the things we learn – the “rules” - stick with us. We’re not sure they’re true, but they sound like they are. We’ve seen it happen, our friends talked about it, we read it in a handicapping book, or saw an analyst talk about it on a simulcast screen and we’ve cashed some tickets, too. It’s our “gut feel” and it has to be right.

Sometimes it isn’t.

I have a friend who will not bet rider Julien Leparoux if he is riding a speed horse on the turf.  I think he saw him strangle a speed horse or two and said never again, or maybe because he is from “over there” he rides too patiently and is a toss out. No matter what the reason, he’s an “auto pitch” according to my friend. I don’t think he’s the only one who does that with Mr. Leparoux. On chat boards or on Twitter I see the same quite often.

Bill Belichick might ask, “but is he really that bad?”

Leparoux, on the green in 2013 (that rhymes), wins 17% of the time and his ROI is a solid 0.95. With “e” or “ep” tagged horses – the speed – my friend may expect a bad number, but Mr. Leparoux has clicked with 21% for an ROI of 1.10. With the top last race pace fig with a similar paceline in 2013, he wins at 27.2% and possesses a sparkling ROI of 1.19. With horses on the green with Quirin speed points of over 5, he wins at 27% and is also highly profitable.

So much for that theory, perhaps.

We all want to see some sort of recency in works for a horse who has been off a little while. One friend fades pretty much every horse off three weeks or more without a work. That is not going out on a limb and makes perfect sense. In fact, the numbers bear this out. In 2013, horses off no work and off 25 days or more have a lower impact value than those who are worked.

One day we’re discussing the third race at Belmont where trainer David Jacobson had a horse off 28 days with no works who was 5-2.  “I think he is not hitting the board,” said my friend, as he walked to the virtual betting window to toss him out. Unfortunately for him, the horse ended up winning easily.

It turns out that conventional wisdom does not work with some trainers and David Jacobson is one of them. With no works, off 25 or more days, he’s hit with 7 of 22 starters for 31% (for about a flat ROI). His win percentage with all horses is around 24%.  In a common sense situation where we should look elsewhere – in Belichick parlance, we should “punt” – we should actually be sitting the race out, or keying the horse in exotics.

Starters off extended layoffs is another fade for many handicappers. In the 1970’s and beyond, these horses, who are at times coming back off huge problems, won at a terrible win rate. They were the quintessential “auto pitch”.  In modern horse racing they are still poor and win at a rate that is worse than average, but if they have a bullet work and a properly spaced worktab, horses off 300 or more days in 2013, have a 0.992 ROI and win 17% of the time.  For some trainers, as you can see here, betting them can be extremely profitable.

Bill Belichick is a good coach and one of the reasons he is a good coach is because he is unafraid to buck convention, when bucking convention has some type of validity. Handicappers like me and you are playing against other handicappers – this game is “pari-mutuel” – and if other handicappers are all doing the same thing, it does not mean it’s necessarily correct. We need to be skeptical, yet wary; respectful of wisdom, yet curious. By channeling our inner Bill Belichick we can become better and more profitable horseplayers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Not Providing Timely Track Information Impacts Horseplayers (and Others)

Don't tell anyone and please keep this between us, but I bet a couple of football games this past weekend. From Wednesday onwards I got the injury report, weather reports, and rumors and such regarding things that many I am sure would not like to be public, like the Richie Incognito affair.

I am pretty sure some fans want to know if the wind will be blowing on Sunday in Buffalo, but don't kid yourself, these things are out there for bettors. Gambling on football games is a big business. Although the legally bet numbers are fairly small, the total easily is estimated into the hundreds of billions of dollars. The league knows that, and so do you and I.

I also bet the Breeders' Cup this weekend.

On Friday we all adjusted our play at least a little bit. We had heard stories about kickback, about how outside speed was good on the dirt. We factored that in and we're big boys and girls; we deal with track bias all the time. As fans, on social media and other outlets, it didnt quite feel right. For horse owners who got a closer ready for a big race on a track that he or she would be compromised on, I am sure they were not very happy. This was not ideal for anyone in the sport, really; however, that's racing sometimes.

What caused many the most problem, was what happened overnight.

We heard "rumors" they were trying to slow down the track and make it more fair.

Joe told Pete they were watering more. Some guy on twitter said he thinks he saw them tear up the inside a little bit.

Pete told Susan, and Susan said "they want a track like this on big days so it won't change"

Larry and Janet agreed, but weren't sure.

Some believed Joe and some believed Susan. Some read the guy on twitter but said "I have to wait and see".

The next morning there was a carryover in the pick 5 pool. Bettors would bet up to $7 million dollars into that pool, which rivals what Vegas will take on the college football games that day. I could see what the weather and injury report was for Florida and Florida State. When putting together my pick 5 ticket to that large pool I had absolutely no idea what the track was going to be like. Should I key the speed like yesterday? Are the rumors true so I should use the Romans closer in the Juvy fillies? I really don't know because no one is saying anything.

Where was a press release? Where was a mini-press conference with the track super? Beuller?

Where was a spokesman saying something simple like "we've had a dry season here and kickback is a bit of an issue. We heard horsemen and jockey complaints and some from customers, so we worked on the track all night. We can't guarantee it will be more fair to closers today, but we are trying to make it so, so for those betting upwards of $100 million dollars today, plan your wagers accordingly."

Was that too much to ask?

Ideally our tracks for big days would be fair surfaces - fair for jocks, trainers, owners and the fuel that makes the sport go: Wagering. That might be wishful thinking. But there is no excuse not to give information in a timely manner to everyone at an event regarding track maintenance. It's what professional gambling businesses do as a way of doing business. Horse racing should as well. It's a gambling game, not a hobby.

Related: John Pricci : Track Bias Unfair to Horses, Horsemen and Bettors Alike

Thursday, October 31, 2013

That's a Great Response and Thank You!

We were pretty surprised and happy with the response to this month's special edition of Horseplayer Monthly, focusing on the Breeders Cup.

This month's issue hit over 1,000 downloads in record time. Your shares, and your response, was pretty unbelievable, and more are being added to the download list each minute. We thank everyone who shared it via twitter, facebook, on chat boards and elsewhere.

Also, we'd like to thank the contributors:

Mike Dorr, Lenny Moon, Melissa Nolan, John Doyle, Garnet Barnsdale, Jessica Chapel, Seth Merrow, Ed DeRosa, CJ Milkowski, Mike from, Patrick McGoey, and Michael Beychok of Beychok racing. Their participation was 100% free and no one asked for a thing from us but a thank you.

Thanks to the Breeders Cup - a better group to help out with this issue you can't find. Peter, Tim et al, thanks and we wish you a successful week.

Thanks to advertisers, TimeformUS, Derby Wars, (good luck with Summer Applause!),, the Meadowlands (what a fantastic ad and awesome looking new grandstand, cant wait), Grand River Raceway (announced today handle was up 11.5% and they had a super-takeout decrease too).

Downloads from all across the horse racing world. Thanks!

If you are looking for a PP package, TimeformUS has a deal for readers, so pop in and click the link; away you go. Derby Wars has a few huge games for Santa Anita this weekend too.

Thanks to HANA's Jeff Platt for scouring his database for those five pages of unique stats too. And to Greg Reinhart for putting it all together.

Where are the horseplayers in Wyoming and Alaska?

If you haven't read or shared the PDF, please do from here. You can also read back issues at the link, and signup for new issues, in your inbox, 100% free.

Thank you again, and enjoy the Breeders Cup. May your bets and trips be good.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Distaff is a Pari-Mutuel Puzzler

What race interests me the most this weekend? The Distaff.

What got me going with it, was of course, the Beldame, where Royal Delta lost to her younger foe Princess of Sylmar. When the connections sportingly offered her up again for us as fans and bettors for the Distaff it made an already interesting race more interesting.

What tilted me as really really wanting to watch this race, however, was the handicappers in this month's Horseplayer Monthly (you can get your copy for free here)

When asked a simple question: "Will Royal Delta be better than she was in the Beldame" we saw what makes the game of handicapping so great - a difference of opinion.

John Doyle: "I’m not sure. She might be a bit past her peak form now and has been using that front running style to dominate soft fields all year. Princess of Sylmar ran past her pretty easily in the Beldame. Also, dealing with Beholder early could compromise her finish. She is the champ and can repeat again, but I am betting against it."

Mike Beychok: "She'll be much better"

Mike Dorr: " Almost certainly. I buy the narrative that Mott that did not have her primed for the Beldame, aiming for the BC. Her worktab seems to bear that out - before a "target" race, she would always fire a bullet or top three effort on the day. Before the Belmont race, she was not. She once again has a full clip before the Breeders’ Cup."

Jessica Chapel: "Yes, but not well enough to beat Beholder"

Mike from "I don't think she will race better. I think she's going to have a tough time against Princess of Sylmar once again, and I don't see her improving off her last."

We have Royal Delta a best bet for a couple of people, a throw out to some. We have Beholder a best bet for a couple of people too, and others who talk about her potential limitations. And Mike adds Princess of Sylmar to the list. I have not even touched what a few others thought.

This is why this is a great race, in my opinion, and what also makes handicapping the greatest gambling game invented. One simple question - many answers.

To read the full issue, it's here. It's 26 pages, so you might want to print it out. We thank everyone for contributing.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Inside Scoop on Signal Fees & Pennsylvania Racing

We had a call last night and found out more information on changes that are affecting the customer in places like Pennsylvania.

Recently, both Pennsylvania and New York decided to follow in the footsteps of states like Virginia by implementing "source market fee." For those of you who may not know, source market fee is a "tax" on the state's residents who play horses through an ADW or a rebate shop.

Here are some answers from a racing insider that has been following this. We pass along this person's opinion for you here:

Q: What happened in Pennsylvania? Why did a state with such a massive slots subsidy for racing decide to implement a source market fee?

A. My understanding is that despite a massive slots subsidy (hundreds of millions of dollars) the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission was operating at a deficit - I'm told about $5 million this year.

Rather than allow money from the slots subsidy to be used to fund the Racing Commission, the Pennsylvania horsemen instead lobbied the State Senate and demanded a 10% tax on ADWs and rebate shops.

That's how Pennsylvania's 10% source market fee came about and I see some problems with that:

Despite popular belief by many in racing to the contrary, ADWs and rebate shops don't have enough room margin wise to absorb the tax themselves. So they are forced to make some hard choices.

They will either: Pass the tax on to the customer by cutting rebates in an amount equal to the tax. Or worse, many ADWs have simply decided to stop doing business in Pennsylvania altogether.

Q: What's the feedback been like from the horseplayer community?

A: Within the past week Pennsylvania horseplayers began receiving letters and emails from ADWs and rebate shops notifying them their accounts are being closed.

Naturally, they are not happy about it, and some players I have spoken with have no plans to take the news lying down.

Players have begun writing letters to the Pennsylvania state legislature asking why an industry that gets so much slots money with so little handle would come after customers of the sport.

One bettor who is a landlord is encouraging his tenants to write about it, too - and going so far as to tell his state senator that as a taxpayer he would much rather see the slots subsidy go to health or education instead of racing.

Pennsylvania has never been a favorite state for horseplayers. So it's not surprising to see players upset. Time will tell if it is a handful of players or a groundswell.

Q: Are players whose accounts have been closed been singing up with ADWs that plan to continue doing business with Pennsylvania residents?

A. This varies. Some of the low volume players: Yes. But not all. Many of the smaller volume players I've spoken with say they will stop betting on horses altogether.

However, most of the high volume Pennsylvania players I have spoken with will simply move to another state - one without a source market fee. Other high volume players are saying they plan on opening an account with an offshore bookmaker where they can still get good rebates and bet horses that way.

Sadly, when you look closely at the money generated by Pennsylvania's high volume players under these circumstances:

There will be less total money going to support Pennsylvania tracks and purses after implementing source market fee than total money going to support Pennsylvania tracks and purses before source market fee.

Certainly, none of the money bet by Pennsylvania's high volume players will end up going towards the specific purpose behind the 10% tax: Funding the operation of the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. Why do I say that? Because high volume players are high volume players in the first place because of the lower effective takeout created by their rebates. Take the rebate away and the high volume player will bet significantly less.

Q: Why are New York and Pennsylvania doing this?

A. Easy answer: They can. In the past Charlie Hayward and the NYRA Board of Directors successfully fought against efforts at source market fee in New York because they knew it would cause handle to drop, and with that, cause a net drop in total revenue. However, the NYRA Board of Directors was recently replaced, and to the best of my knowledge, nobody on the new board offered even an ounce of resistance when New York's horsesmen began lobbying for a source market fee.

Q: Do those who lobbied for the source market fee in Pennsylvania realize handle will go down?

A. Sadly I don't think anyone in Harrisburg really thought things through. I'm being told they took Pennsylvania ADW handle from last year - multiplied it by 10% - and used that as the basis in their budgeting for how much tax they would collect.

The reality though is likely to be quite different than that. Personally, I'd be amazed if the real amount collected as a result of the tax turns out to be even half the amount they are budgeting for.

Q. Why do you say that?

A. Because, aside from causing ADWs and rebate shops to close customer accounts - which drives players away from the game - Pennsylvania's source market fee is really a hidden takeout increase.

Pennsylvania players who choose to remain in the system and bet into the parimutuel pools are going to have their rebates cut to the extent that they will basically be paying full takeout. Keep in mind that Pennsylvania has some of the highest exotics takeout rates in the US. As a result of paying full retail, unless a player is exceptionally gifted, his or her bankroll is going to be decimated.

As a result. most players will end up betting significantly less.

Q: Are other states likely to follow suit?

A. It wouldn't surprise me. If they do, there will be a lot of upset customers.

Q: Can horse racing survive long term with fewer choice of outlets, jacking up prices and less distribution of their product?

A: It looks like we might find out.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CBS's Undercover Bettor Redux

We caught a repeat of the Undercover Boss episode with Churchill COO Bill Carstanjen recently. I really enjoyed the show to be quite frank. It is fun to see a fish out of water, when the water is a racetrack – a place we all know as horse owners, fans and bettors. He spoke with many at the track – a trainer, a jockey valet, a press person and a cleaning person.

We figured we'd run one of the most popular posts on HANABlog in homage

What if Bill took the job as an Undercover Bettor?

First, Bill would have to wake up really early, or stay up really late, reading the PP's. He would have to work at it, because betting is difficult. Then he and his shadow, Bettor Pete, would have to head to the track, pay for parking, admission and find his spot in the simulcast center. There he would have to track down the changes – always a tough task at a simo-center. And make all necessary adjustments.

Then it would be time to make a bet.

He and Bettor Pete would check the TV monitors and see that an exacta was paying $22 at two minutes to post, but the other track they were following, a similar ex is paying $38.

“Let’s play the $38 one, as it is paying more” COO Bill says.

“Each track decides if it shows payouts in $1 increments or $2 increments. The $22 ex for $1 is actually a better bet than the $38 one for $2. So we should bet the $22 one.” Bettor Pete explains.

"How do you know which track shows $1 and which $2?" asks COO Bill.

"Experience. It took me a long while, though" replies Pete.

"That seems strange, especially for new people racing is trying to attract" says Bill.

"That's the way it works in horse racing, " says Bettor Pete.

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “Why would racing not show all increments the same, for the good of the customer?”

Then the race would go off, with Bill and the bettor holding a live $2 3-2 ex for $44 smackers if successful. It is looking good. The three horse has a big lead and the two is coming wide…… yes! Victory!

But there is an inquiry. Bill and his bettor are trembling – although it appears there will be no change, after all we saw this type of non-infraction be left up 100 times or more – it is never an easy time for a bettor. Then the tote board goes dim, there has been a change. It is announced, with no real explanation from anyone on camera and the prices are displayed.

“What happened”, says COO Bill. “Is your money just gone?”

“Yes, that’s the way it works” says the bettor. “In places like Australia and Hong Kong they have protocols to handle inquiries so the public is better informed, but here it goes from track to track. Most times your money just changes hands without nary a peep. And rulings change from track to track, so it is a bit of a mystery”

“Well I guess someone wins when you lose, so bettors are still getting paid somewhere”, COO Bill explains.

“Sure” says Pete. “But if you went to work on Friday and found that your paycheck was given to someone else, would you be happy because at least someone got paid?”

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “why would racing not have a uniform set of inquiry rules, and report it the same way all across the sport, so customers feel that their money is more respected? And no, I don't want Bob Evans to take my salary each Friday and call it even either”
“On to the next race,” says the bettor.

For the second, Bill and the bettor both agree, the seven horse is the play. He is 6-1, and looks like an overlay.

“The only problem I see,” says the bettor, “is that the six horse is trained by a guy who just got caught with a positive test, so we clearly have to watch out for this fella.”

“Positive test?” says COO Bill. “If he has a positive test, why is he training a horse in a race today?”

“That’s the way it works in horse racing,” says the bettor.

As the race draws closer the odds drop to 5-1 on their potential play, but still right in the wheelhouse of the bettor.

“Anything over 4-1 and this bet is King” our bettor tells Bill.

“Gotcha” says Bill. “Let’s go bet”

At ten seconds to post they lay their cash down. They each bet $40 to win.

Any they’re off. The seven horse, their bet, gets an easy lead. $40 at 5-1 is $200 profit, a nice days work. But COO Bill – a numbers guy at heart – notices that at the bottom of the screen the horse, who was just 5-1 at the quarter, is now 5-2 at the half!

“Hey our horse is 5-2 now!” he pleads to bettor Pete.

The horse, all out in a game effort, loses in the last jump.

“Oh well”, says the bettor.

“Oh well!?! What do you mean, oh well?! We just bet a horse at 5-1, and we said we would never bet him at anything less than 4-1. He ended up at 5-2 while the race was being run!!! What the heck is up with that? How can we take the odds board seriously!?”

“That’s the way it works in horse racing,” says the bettor. “Racing probably has the power to do something about it, but we just end up waiting and waiting for fixed odds betting, or something to address it. I think a lot of the tracks are only concerned with slots.”

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “why would racing not do something to make it better for customers and help grow racing?”

“For our last race of the day, I do like the four at Fair Grounds…...” says the bettor.

Bill jumps in: “Fair Grounds, I like that track!”

“No, I was going to say I do like the four at Fair Grounds, but I have stopped betting that track because this meet there was signal dispute. These things happen time and time again and bettors are left out in the cold. I, and many players here, are stopping playing tracks that do that.”

“I’m sure they have a reason for doing that… " says COO Bill.

"I don't know why they do it, but that's the way it works in horse racing," says Pete. "The customers are kind of an afterthought in these internal squabbles"

The camera would then show Bill looking melancholy-like into the air, scratching his chin, wondering, “why would racing not fix any issues amongst themselves without withholding signals, so the bettors can still play their favorite tracks?”

“Well what about the next at Calder” says COO Bill.

“I don’t play Calder. They raised takeout two years ago to astronomical rates." replies Pete.

"Oh" says Bill.

“Well, it’s been a pleasure Pete” says COO Bill.

“So do you want to be a bettor Billy?” asks Pete.

“If racing makes some changes, Pete, only if they make some changes.” says COO Bill.

At the end of the show when the "boss" gives away really good things, Pete shows up and Bill just kinda shrugs and says "I can't help you Pete, you're up against this yourself." It wasn't the warm and fuzzy feeling we're used to on this show, but alas, as Pete says "it's the way it is in horse racing"

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Horse Racing's Class Conundrum

 This article by Jerod Dinkin originally appeared in October's Horseplayer Monthly magazine.  To read that issue, chalk filled with handicapping articles and stats, please click here. It is 100% free.

 On a recent weekday evening in early summer, I was scouring through data at a Midwestern track seeking potential opportunities for an advantageous wager or two. I finished five races worth of research and was struck by the pure number of different race conditions listed in the Past Performances. Of the horses running in just the first five races, there were over 75 unique classes listed in their Past Performances.

  The concept of Stakes versus Allowance versus Claiming is simple enough, but the challenges faced by racing secretaries to fill races has created a whole new set of race conditions ranging from Non – Winners of a certain amount in a year, to State-Bred races, to endless numbers of different Claiming conditions, to Starter Allowances, to several subsets of Optional Claiming races [Granted, in the example above, some of the 75 unique conditions were simple differences in the values of the allowance races before and after changes in purse structure (i.e- $17,785 nw1x vs $18,995 nw1x) which reflect similar overall class. However, to the uninitiated it can all look like confusing hieroglyphics].   

  This need to fill races has created an unintended consequence: Further alienating potential new customers from becoming regulars. Class in the modern era is difficult enough for an expert to comprehend, let alone a newcomer. I rely on an in depth data service to help me discern which races are the strongest since pars and other methods of class analysis are too antiquated in the modern era for my particular needs. I have a tough enough time explaining the simple nuances of the game to newcomers without the myriad of classes involved, which is enough to make your head spin.

  Horse racing should take a cue from Greyhound racing with respect to this issue where in general, a simple letter system for grading races is utilized. In most jurisdictions the top level races are “A” races with descending levels of class down to “E” and “M” for maidens. If a dog wins a race at the “D” level, it moves up to “C”. If it goes a certain number of races without hitting the board at its current class, it moves down a level. This is simple and self-explanatory.

  Just this past year, the Meadowlands Racetrack implemented a similar letter based classification system for harness racing and it was met with rave reviews. Bettors online forums and across social media were impressed with the contentiousness of the races.  Handle increased dramatically at the track due in part to this application, as well as other customer friendly initiatives.

Meadowlands Racetrack

  One of the great things about horse racing is the total number of moving parts in the handicapping puzzle, so this is not to advocate moving to a letter grade system in a widespread manner. However, wouldn’t it be nice if on a uniform basis, the track program and/or simple past performances could include a letter grade or number system to help those without a more familiar grasp of the game with the subject of class?

  Of course, this is a truly minor issue in the realm of all that ails the game and is by no means a make-or-break proposition for long term survival. However, due to the lack of institutional inaction on several higher level issues such as takeout, medication uniformity, and access to the product, we’re left with tiny incremental steps to help improve the game where possible. For this low attention span, Twitter, time starved era, patrons of all generations are demanding simplicity and consumer products that cater to this trend (in the gambling arena, slot machines and the lottery are two such examples) rise to the top. A simple class approach could be one small step toward making this great game more viable for mass consumption.