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