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.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pennsylvania Horse Racing Gets Clobbered

Today, two things showed up on the Internet related to Pennsylvania horse racing.

First, a thread surfaced on alerting horseplayers that some of their ADW accounts are being closed. It appears (although we do not have confirmation), Pennsylvania tracks and horsemen have upped the fees 10% on in-state horseplayers. As you all know well, this makes ADW's leave the state. Customers have to leave too. As one of the commenters on the thread said, this is strange for a state who has so much money already from slots, and are charging customers some of the highest takeouts in not only the US, but the world. We'll work on this story and have an update next week.
  • I just got the email from Amwager telling me that I have to close my account. same thing, PA 10% charge. This is so typical of the racing industry. They are going to drive money off shore.
Second, it seems the problems in Pennsylvania aren't just relegated to that. The Paulick Report story published today (and the resulting comments) paint a scathing picture about Pennsylvania horse racing
  •  This is in a state that has had as many controversies in racing as it has roller coasters at amusement parks. No one seems to be in charge at the Department of Agriculture that either knows or cares about horse racing and the enforcement of existing rules is, to say the least, questionable. “You have to be careful when you walk through the backstretch at Parx,” a Pennsylvania owner told me not long ago, “because there are so many horses being milk-shaked you might trip over a rubber tube and hurt yourself.”
It seems Pennsylvania racing, long-complained about by you the horseplayer, is having its laundry aired publicly today, with customers, along with racing's participants.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

That's an Interesting Way to Train a Horse

A member sent in the following picture of his racehorse with his trainer, which made it in Horseplayer Monthly as the picture of the month for October.

Our Breeders Cup edition is starting to be compiled. We began getting some letters to the editor (please send them to info at if you'd like to let us know what you're thinking) and we're asking for more pictures.

Do you have a picture of the month you took? You and the comrades at the simo-parlor, or track, your horse? A win ticket that you're proud of?

Hey, we're here. Let us know.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ten Questions with Paulick & Merrow

This edition of "Ten Questions" originally appeared in September's Horseplayer Monthly magazine. To read that issue, or get the recently released October issue, which includes another edition of "Ten Questions," please click here. It is 100% free.

Ray Paulick of the Paulick Report

1. Age you made your first bet (if worried about legalities we’re okay with “18”) - 23

2. Favorite Racetrack to visit – Longchamp

3. Favorite Racetrack to wager on - Del Mar

Del Mar Racetrack

4. What % are you a “fan” and what % “horseplayer” (must total 100) - 85% fan /15% horseplayer

5. If you are down to your last $2 and you have to wager it on a grade one race, what trainer do you want your money on? Christophe Clement

6. Most quotable trainer you’ve ever encountered - Louis Roussel

7. First word or words that come into your mind when I say “horse racing”- stimulating

8. Exchange wagering, yay or nay? Doubt I'll be a participant. I'm too slow to make decisions. I like 30 minutes between races.

9. The Breeders' Cup reversal on race day Lasix for two-year-olds was ________? extremely disappointing.

10. 8.5 furlongs, fast track, Secretariat or Spectacular Bid? Spectacular Bid

Seth Merrow of Equidaily and Capital OTB

1. Age you made your first bet (if worried about legalities we’re okay with “18”) - Uh, yeah, "18."

2. Favorite Racetrack to visit- Saratoga, but frankly I always have fun at the racetrack - any racetrack.

3. Favorite Racetrack to wager on – Saratoga, but again, I enjoy the mind-puzzle of handicapping and wagering - so I enjoy it regardless of the venue. Heck, I enjoy betting at the dog tracks when I visit Florida!

4. What % are you a “fan” and what % “horseplayer” (must total 100) - Tough question to answer - I'd say I'm more "horseplayer" than "fan" -- but it really depends on the situation. Watching Rachel Alexandra come down the stretch in the Woodward and feeling the Saratoga grandstand shake under the passionate screams of 31K+ fans - I was 100% "fan". So - when there's a "story" involved - a horse or a personality that brings something extra to that particular race, I'm probably more of a "fan". But typically I would probably say I'm about 70/30 "horseplayer."

5. If you are down to your last $2 and you have to wager it on a grade one race, what trainer do you want your money on? Allen Jerkens. If it's my last $2 I want a guy who can get it done - but might float a little bit under the radar, so I can get a price.

6. Most quotable trainer you’ve ever encountered? Eric Guillot was certainly colorful at Saratoga this season (if Moreno had won the Travers would past performance providers have had to come up with a notation for "voodoo"?) - but I guess I'd go with Wayne Lukas as quotable - in his recent role as kind of an elder statesman for the sport.

D. Wayne Lukas with Gary Stevens

7. First word or words that come into your mind when I say “horse racing”- Fun.

8. Exchange wagering, yay or nay? Nay. I love the concept of fixed odds - but let's find some way of making that a reality without introducing the possibility of people making money when a horse loses.

9. The Breeders' Cup reversal on race day Lasix for two-year-olds was ________? OK with me. I'll let the owners, trainer and breeders fight that one out.

10. 8.5 furlongs, fast track, Secretariat or Spectacular Bid? Dead-heat?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Takeout Explained In Nine Words

The "takeout debate" rages. There are stats, and mathematical formulas that I have long forgot how to figure out. The Phd's and wagering economist types say it's too high. Some people counter it's too low. Track execs say they spoke to a few people in the slots and they think takeout involves Kung pao chicken. I don't know, there are a million more theories.

Throw that out the window please. From a customers point of view, this is about how it goes.

Good luck this Saturday at the windows fellow horseplayers!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Keep the Pan Shot, But Give Us a Better One

Yesterday the pan shot took a drubbing at the simulcast conference. Patrick Cummings of Trakus said

"They're [racings pictures] all the same–every single one of them," Cummings said. "This is not the way we consume other things in our lives. Is the pan shot the best way to look at horse racing? We should recognize how it is we consume our product. "Are we capturing the race in the best possible light? Is the industry doing the best it can to captivate the audience?"

I like Pat and for major TV horse racing events a lot of these ideas make sense. In all parts of the world racing is covered in a much more exciting and vibrant fashion. It certainly could look better.

However for bettors (and if you believe that in-running betting is coming at some point), the pan shot kicks ass. Plain and simple.

But is the pan shot perfect? Not by a longshot.

We've all watched a race at Saratoga or Kentucky Downs. On the far turn we might as well be looking at ants from the top of the mountain. Unless you've been following your bet from the beginning, or have a handy program in front of you with colors, you can be completely lost. And that's for us, those who have been watching racing for decades and decades. What about newer people? It must be difficult.

Trakus recently has experimented in some areas by highlighting the favorite in the chicklets, and I think this is pretty cool and makes perfect sense. The most money is bet on the favorite, so we might as well give the most people an easy way to see where the horse is. Even if you bet a longshot and he's near the lead, if you see the highlighted chicklet coming, you know a good horse is coming after you.

On network television for the Derby, look at the screenshot above. Isn't it so much easier to know what's happening when they use the "bubble" with the horses name over top? I can't pick Orb out of that picture if you paid me.

Is there a way to do this in every day racing? Your guess is as good as mine. But that's one thing I'd love to see, for say the top four choices.

We all agree that the pan shot is one we all need as bettors. I wonder if we need to focus on improving it, instead of adding cameras in every nook and cranny of the racetrack. What do you think?

Is a Better Tote System Nearing Reality?

At HANA, both in surveys and e-mails, your thoughts on racing's tote system have been well documented. In a phrase, you don't like it. Well, that may be changing.

According to a story on by Frank Angst, "the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau has secured widespread support for its new Tote Security System it will launch next month with plans for full implementation early next year."

The new system "provides real-time monitoring of outlets participating in pools, adds features to assure proper closing of pools when the gate opens, and reduces the time of win odds updates to two seconds as the race nears."

All 41 member tracks of the Thoroughbred Racing Associations (TRA) are going along with the new tote system, and all four tote companies are also on board.  TRA tracks along with non-TRA tracks, ADWs, and OTBs that wish to carry the TRA track signals will pay a fee of $950 per month for the new system.

Just one of the major benefits of the new tote system will be, "...more efficient collection of wagering information...tracks will be able to provide current pari-mutuel odds on upcoming races.".

Interestingly for horseplayers exacta and trifecta data will be added, giving a better glimpse of multi leg wager pools.

To read all about the new tote system and how it will benefit horseplayers, please click here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Interview With "CJ" From TimeformUS

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

Craig Milkowski is the head figure maker for TimeformUS, the recently released past performance product partnered with TVG and Betfair.  Craig has a long history in the space through his published figures at and we thought we’d sit down and ask him about the fine art and science of figure making, and handicapping in general.

Q: How long have you been making figures and would you describe it a continual work in progress, i.e. you are always learning something new, or are you completely comfortable in where you are at as a figure maker?

A:  I’ve been making figures since the early 80s, so about 30 years.  For better or worse, I’m always trying to learn something new.  I am comfortable with the figures I make, but I always think they can evolve into something better.

Q: Your performance figures and pace figures at always had a great reputation for predictive value and ROI. Are the TimeformUS figures similar to your previously published performance figures, or have you changed them in any way?

A:  I think they are actually better.  I now have a team to work with and the capability to study the figures, both strengths and weaknesses.  We will build on the strengths and work on the weaknesses.

Q: TimeformUS figs use pace to help construct them. Can you talk a little bit about this? Is this why sometimes we

see a horse who beat another horse have a lower TimeformUS figure than the runner up in the same race?

 A:  Our figures are still largely based on final time, but we    use what we like to call “pace infusion”.  We like to show how the pace part of the trip might have influenced final time.  A frontrunner dueling through a fast pace will get some extra credit, while one on the lead in a slow paced route will not, and perhaps even get a slight penalty.  Another example is that closers on turf can get some extra credit in turf routes when the pace is slow--as long as they are actually passing horses.  All of the infusion is based on surface, distance, and the pace of the race in relation to final time.

Q: For past users of your program, your pace figures were published, and were quite good at deciphering a pace scenario and race contentiousness. Are there plans to publish those pace figures at Timeform? Does the “Pace Projector” currently reflect these pace figures?

 A:  The pace figures for both the races and each horse will be available in the Deluxe version of the past performances, which are coming soon.  The TimeformUS Pace Projector reflects a rating from the old program, the overall early speed rating.  It looks at the last five races each horse has run, both the speed they displayed and the position they held, and formulates one number.  The adjusted fractions that are available in the regular PPs also show the speed each horse displayed.

Q: How do you create your “Spotlight Figures?”

A:  Spotlight Figs are based on the Speed Figures and look for the race in each horse’s last three that most closely matches today’s surface/distance combination.

Q: Come the Breeders Cup, should we see many European invaders, one may think there may be an edge for players because the TimeformUS figs should match up with the Timeform UK figures, being made on the same scale.

Through your data mining and due diligence with both, are

you comfortable with the US versus European Timeform figures in terms of head to head match ups?

A:  I am very comfortable using the figures of European invaders in comparison to ours.  We’ve seen plenty of examples on a smaller scale already.  Timeform is very protective of their brand, and they are comfortable with the numbers.  Their numbers are made using different methods, but we think they accomplish the same goal--measuring race performance accurately--and they can be used for comparison.

Q:  Clearly a good speed figure has great predictive value, with an ROI boost when compared to betting a favorite or a top final time at today’s distance and surface. However, as with anything we do as handicappers, there is more to the story – we need to find ROI. Can you take us through your selection process while using a top TimeformUS Fig, and how you may try to up your ROI on a top figure selection?

A:  I personally am not a “bet the top fig” kind of guy.  I am more of a pattern guy, looking for horses improving and declining in form.  When I make figures, I don’t concentrate on gearing them towards just a healthy ROI.  I could probably approach break even or better if that was the goal, but the win percentage would decline at the same time.  The goal of our figures is to tell the handicapper how fast a horse ran each time he stepped on the track, and for the handicapper to use that information to find good bets.

There are lots more tools available to our customers than just the figures.  There are some innovative trainer and breeding ratings, lifetime PPs, and so much more. I bet I haven't even found everything myself!

Q: A great many handicappers and fans have lamented the lack of true talent at a distance nowadays. In your experience have horses gotten slower at 9 furlongs or more the last decade? Have there been any major changes in speed that you’ve seen in talent levels as foal crops get smaller, or as (is rumored) track superintendents try and make a safer surface, which might involve slowing the horses down? As well, with so few races on a given day at 9 furlongs or more, how tough is it to be confident of your final figure in those races in the first place? Easier or harder than years ago?

A:  One goal of speed figures is to be able to equate performances at different distances.  I think some other prominent figures I have seen have lost touch with that goal.  I monitor how fast the best horses (G1, older males and females) run all the distances under G1 conditions.  So, if horses are getting slower, I adjust the scale to bring them back in line.   I do the same thing on different surfaces.  To answer your questions, since I have made adjustments to
longer races, the horses are actually getting slower at longer distances in my opinion.

Q: Varying runup distances/times and less than stellar timing in general have been a concern for HANA and its members for a long while. How do you feel about the current state of timing in Thoroughbred racing and what can be done to improve it, in your opinion?

A:  The mistiming of races is a lot more prevalent than people realize.  Timing is better at some tracks than others.  There are also plenty of times where the timer works, but the data is entered improperly into the system and winds up incorrect in the PPs.  There are two things racing should do that would eliminate nearly all timing errors.  The first one is to move to Trakus type timing systems.  The technology in use today is woefully out of date and prone to errors.  The second thing is to just get rid of run up.  It is a terrible idea in racing, one that no other place I’m aware of is using   There is no reason not to give the exact distance of a race and the time it takes to run from gate to wire. I could write a 10 page report on the pitfalls of run up, so I’ll stop now.  Look for something on our blog in the future.

Q: What does the future hold at TimeformUS? Are you working on anything you can share?

A:  One thing I can promise is TimeformUS will not become complacent.  We are embracing modern technology and using it to our advantage.  As mentioned earlier, full pace figures are coming soon, as are additions to comments on days when front runners either dominated or struggled.  We aren’t going to get into declaring biases, but the info will be there for people wanting to dig deeper.  There is a lot more to come, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves.

Q: Not forgetting your loyal customer base at Pacefigures, especially since many of them are HANA members, what kind of feedback have you gotten from them now that you are at TimeformUS? Do you find they are comfortable with the switch and have they been supportive?

A:   All of my customers have been very supportive of the move.  That said, there are some reservations and some things people are used to having that they don’t have now.  Many have been involved as beta testers for some time and had some input before launch.  We do listen to ALL customer feedback while at the same time keeping our goals in mind…making playing the races modernized, faster, and more fun.