Tuesday, July 30, 2013

John Swetye on Cary Fotias

One of the founders of HANA, John Swetye, reflects on the life of Cary Fotias, who passed away at age 60 last weekend.

Cary stood on the shoulders of giants, but he was also a genius.

He was influenced by Ragozin and Sartin, but expanded their ideas. Like Ragozin, Cary made figures, but like Sartin, he added velocity to the mix. Cary's creation was velocity-based pace figures that were used to identify not only the fastest horses, but also horses coming into or falling out out of peak condition.

He once showed me the reams of data he used to do statistical analysis of horses shipping from track to track and dropping in class. He used the knowledge from the research to make sure the adjustments he made to the running times of the races made accurate daily variants. I doubt anyone has ever used such high level math and extensive research to design a system to make figures. I have seen, read and heard a lot about how to make speed/pace figures, but I have never known of any other figures that were made at the high level of Cary's numbers. His methods were revolutionary. His methods were also proprietary, but even if they weren't, there are very few who would be willing or able to follow in his footsteps. The task is simply too daunting for most.

Huey Mahl was a rocket scientist who liked to predict the trajectory of horses running around a track. Cary Fotias was a professional horseplayer who could have calculated the trajectory needed by a rocket to land on the moon.

He came up with so many new concepts that he had to devise names for them -- Reversal, New Pace Top, Cyclical Pace Top, Plunge Line, Turnback and my personal favorite -- Turf Decline Line, etc. I don't know of any other handicapping author who presented so many unique, even revolutionary, ideas in one book.

Noted handicapping author, James Quinn, Ph.D., summed up Cary and his book, "Blinkers Off" very nicely:
"A new voice for the new millennium belongs to Cary Fotias, and he comes in loud and clear. His contribution is both contemporary, one might even say postmodern, and significant. He uses velocity-based pace numbers and energy distribution concepts to identify horses coming to peak condition. The horses can be expected to deliver their best efforts next time, and many do.

A number and variety of figure analysts have depended upon numerical patterns to infer improving form, even peaking form, but none has succeeded, with a high degree of reliability, until now.

A new and important author and book that can enhance handicapping proficiency is always cause for celebration. This one is cause for jubilation."

Nick Mordin may have written the best description of Cary, "Cary was the loudest, funniest, smartest and nicest man I've ever known."

Cary Fotias was a wonderful man. He was never out to hurt anyone or put anyone down. He was as honest and trustworthy as anyone I have ever met. I sure am going to miss him.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hong Kong Racing Outhandles the US

Horse racing in Hong Kong handled a record $12.1 billion US in the last fiscal year. This, for the first time, beat US wagering in one calendar year.

From this side of the pond there are myriad excuses given how the above could occur, namely the lack of competition, dense population base, cultural differences and more in Hong Kong. However, when one compares apples to apples and digs into it, it appears to be a heck of a lot more than that.

It wasn't always like this. In 2006-2007, handle was falling, just like it was in the US and Canada. Then some changes were made, and the tide was stemmed.

Lowering takeout through rebates on losses in 2007 was the big factor, and along with the usual things Hong Kong tends to do: Publishing vet reports, making sure the product is beyond reproach and others, has resulted in a 57.1% handle increase since 2006.

In the US handle was $14.8 billion in 2007 and will likely come in somewhere around $11 billion this year, for a 25% decrease.

Is horse racing dead? Not in Hong Kong it isn't. It seems it's thriving.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stop The Madness In Florida

Thoroughbred racing in Florida appears to be getting more dysfunctional with every passing day. Gulfstream and Calder, south Florida's two major venues, are running head-to-head on weekends right now, even going so far as to have the same post time, although as this article by Jim Freer on notes, Calder has been running their races off so they don't conflict with Gulfstream's. As you can see in that article as well, while both tracks are claiming wagering success, wagering on the Summit of Speed card at Calder did show a decline of a few hundred thousand dollars from 2013 to this year. Gulfstream has also applied to be the host of the Florida Stallion Series Stakes in 2014, an event Calder has been the site of since 1982 and would like to continue to host.

This has caused issues for horsemen as well. Gulfstream is allowing horses to race anywhere they want and remain stabled at the track, but Calder has taken a much more restrictive approaching, prohibiting horses that race anywhere else in the state of Florida from returning to the track. As this previous article about the situation explains, Calder's strategy isn't just aimed at Gulfstream, but also Tampa Bay Downs, which ran two days (June 30 and July 1). This article explains Tampa Bay Downs' approach. Since they ran those two days, Tampa Bay Downs is now a full-time simulcast host, and now longer has to accept wagers through Calder. That upset officials at Calder, and at the time, they indicated it could lead to purse cuts.

This fight between Calder and Gulfstream, and even Tampa Bay Downs, must get resolved not just for the health of racing in Florida, but for the health of the sport in general. Throw in the continued flap about parimutuel barrel racing in the Sunshine State, and there are even more problems. What is the solution? Calder and Gulfstream need to work out a lease or some other similar type of agreement where Gulfstream could run some of Calder's dates. The sooner this happens the better, and the state must show proper leadership and get involved to get it resolved. While the tracks are claiming wagering bonanzas, the biggest field (after scratches) on Sunday at Calder and Gulfstream were only seven horses, which is not as attractive as it would be if there was only one track in operation.

There is nothing wrong with healthy competition for wagering dollars between tracks, but in this case, the tracks are hurting each other and in turn, hurting the horseplayers, and it needs to end.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Do Hollywood Park Stewards Drop The Ball?

Race six on Sunday afternoon at Betfair Hollywood Park started with So She Dances dropping jockey Joe Talamo after stumbling at the gate and only got worse from there.

As you can see in the race replay, Branding, with Gary Stevens aboard, was making what appeared to be a winning move in the stretch when she was shut off in between the eventual winner,  Miss Radiance (Alonso Quinonez), and the loose So She Dances.  Track announcer Vic Stauffer said in his race call that Branding was "sawed off by the loose horse...and that you can't claim foul against a loose horse."

However, with the stewards not putting up the inquiry sign and allowing the winners' circle photo to be taken, Stevens claimed foul against Miss Radiance and Quinonez, and with apparent good reason as you can see on the head-on replay that begins at 5:30, it appears that the loose horse wasn't the culprit, but Miss Radiance drifting out into Branding's path under a left-handed whip.  The stewards looked at the head-on replay for approximately four minutes, and despite the apparent video evidence that Miss Radiance had fouled Branding, they ruled that "although Miss Radiance drifted out it did not cost Branding a better placing," and allowed the result to stand.

The stewards' decision caused a social media uproar with Branding's owner Craig Bernick, trainer Tom Proctor, and Stevens (1, 2)  all disagreeing with the stewards' decision via Twitter.  Media members Jay Privman (DRF) and Becky Witzman (HRTV), among others, were also against the call as was owner Samantha Siegel.  Horseplayers were also displeased with tweets like this and this representing the general feeling.  One person was happy, though, that being television and radio personality Jim Rome, whose Jungle Racing LLC owns the mare.

There are issues with this decision.  First, the decision appears to be wrong given the video evidence, and second, the reasoning given, that Branding didn't miss out on a higher placing, is also faulty. Finally, what mechanisms are in place to check this call?  If this was the National Football League,  a supervisor of officials would review the call, and if deemed wrong, the league would issue an apology and the officials would be subject to discipline.  Will that happen in this case?

This final tweet sums up the entire situation for many - What do you think?