Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Arlington Meet Results, Boycott Updates

The DRF is reporting handle was down 19% at Arlington this meet, citing several factors.

"The handle decline set in early, with betting during May and early June off almost 25 percent compared with the previous season. Arlington was forced to cut purses then and cut them a second time when handle failed to sufficiently rebound. The track attributed the decline to short fields and new simulcast competition from the popular Gulfstream signal, but a horseplayers’ group also urged an Arlington boycott as part of a larger protest against the takeout policies of Churchill Downs Inc., Arlington’s parent company."

Via this question on the April HANA Survey, your support was swift:

and it had a broad purpose in mind:

Your impact is not known - there are many factors that go into handle - but for those of you who have participated in the action, there's an update.

Currently we are following the Churchill Downs-Kentucky Downs racedate issue, being heard by the Kentucky Commission. As you know, Kentucky Downs has lowered takeout, worked the race office hard to get big fields, and has been described by you as "a players racetrack".  Their handle has tripled since 2011, and things are moving in the right direction. We may need your help in the near future regarding this situation. We do have boots on the ground, watching this very closely, and we will continue to update you as the situation warrants.

As always, thanks for your support.

Churchill-Kentucky Downs Date Fight

A preliminary tweet today from the DRF is extremely troubling.
Kentucky Downs, which recently concluded its meet to record handles, and almost universal horseplayer and horsemen praise, runs in September.  If Churchill plays hardball for September dates, the only logical conclusion is that Kentucky Downs will have none.

As reported on the Paulick Report, September handle at Churchill was down, but the meet provides strategic corporate and shareholder value to the gaming company. September dates were also vital to CDI being able to raise prices by decreasing your payouts as a horseplayer.

"...... Churchill Downs, which is coming off a 12-day September meeting that saw reported declines in handle and purses and dwindling field size of fewer than eight horses per race.
......... The additional dates also helped the bottom line of Churchill Downs and its parent company, CDI, by reducing the Louisville track’s year-long average daily on-track handle below a $1.2 million threshold that lowered tax rates from 3.5 percent to 1.5 percent. It also gave Churchill Downs host status on some big simulcast days that were financially beneficial to the company.Under Kentucky law, that sub-$1.2-million average daily on-track handle also permitted Churchill Downs to increase takeout.... "

HANA continues to support a member betting boycott of all CDI tracks and corporate properties. We will keep you posted on any developments.

Further reporting. If this clarification is valid, it looks like Kentucky Downs would be forced to run an abbreviated meet before September 9th

Friday, September 19, 2014

RIP Mike Mayo

All of us at HANA were saddened to learn of the passing of Mike Mayo following a brief illness.  Mike was the longtime chairman of the National Handicapping Championship Players' Committee, and worked tirelessly to represent all of our thoughts and concerns.  In addition to those duties, Mike was an extremely accomplished horseplayer, qualifying for the National Handicapping Championship ten times.

Our deepest condolences go out to all of Mike's family and friends.  Per the NTRA release linked in Mr. Waldrop's tweet above funeral arrangements for Mike were still pending, however, Mike did make it clear that he was not a big fan of flowers. He asked that horseplayers and friends consider a contribution to Old Friends retirement farm, to go toward the care of the beautiful animals that brought him so much pleasure. Contributions can be made directly to Old Friends, 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown, KY 40324 or online via PayPal at

Player Alert: Parx

This weekend's Pennsylvania Derby is slated for Parx (formerly Philadelphia Park).

For discerning horseplayers who may be watching and wagering on the event, payout rates for some Parx bets are among the poorest in racing.

The overall takeout score for Parx is 56th out of 64 tracks surveyed in this season's HANA Racetrack Rankings.

Trifecta and Super takeout are the highest in North America.

What about the good news? Well, daily double and exacta payouts are not particularly penal , and win juice is a middle of the road 17%. If you are playing and are looking to get paid more when you cash, those are the pools that are worth looking into.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Skinny on Kentucky Downs

Via the DRF, Kentucky Downs handle from Saturday set a handle record, out-handling both Churchill and Los Al.

What's the skinny on this place?

Kentucky Downs has the lowest blended takeout and biggest fields in North America. (for a full list of statistics on 67 racetracks in the US and Canada, it's here). When they use instant racing money for purses, they've done it with you in mind. You know some of the four or five horse field stakes races we see so often? Not at Kentucky Downs.

Kentucky Downs President, in Horseplayer Monthly magazine (available for free here) said, "Horseplayers and horsemen were very complimentary of our last two live meetings. They remarked that they could not wait until next year. I believe that more of that group will point their bankrolls and horses to our 2014 season, which begins Sept. 6."

They have.

Handle in 2011 - with the higher takeout rates of 17.5% win and 22% exotics (the rates Churchill Downs raised theirs to in April) - was $915,000 per racecard. In 2012, after the takeout decrease at Kentucky Downs, the handle was $1,520,000 per racecard. In 2013, that grew to $2,500,000  per race card. This year looks to better last year's record breaking meet.

There are still two days left to play the Downs. Good luck if you're wagering and watching.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Big Day For Kentucky Downs

Via Twitter from @DRFMcGee

Four years ago, Kentucky Downs' handle for their entire meet was not over $4 million dollars. In 2012, Kentucky Downs engineered the largest takeout decrease in North American racing history. They've climbed to #2 in the HANA Racetrack rankings.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The State of Summer Meets

This article by Jerod Dinkin appears in the September edition of Horseplayer Monthly. To read the remainder of that issue for free, please click here.

Mankind/womankind cannot live so cynically as to believe that physical interaction is no longer important in the post-modern era. In our sphere of influence, Twitter, Facebook, online contest sites, and ADWs are the reality of the times and what will sustain the sport moving forward. 

Cyberspace is replacing physical space, but one cannot and will not subsist without the other. Namely, the sport won’t grow in cyberspace without positive experiences cultivated on track, at a horse farm, at a yearling sale, or some other physical venue, and at least for the time being (until Instant Racing takes over the world) the races are still run over a track, outside, on good ol’ fashion dirt and grass that God created (homage to Nick Zito).

As the summer winds down and the boutique meets come to an end, I’m reminded of how nothing in racing can replicate the on-track experience of a quality summer meet; the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Del Mar with a laid back deco style and a fashionably late post time to match; Saratoga, with a nostalgic carnival motif, tree lined paddock, and a facility that rivals Fenway Park or Wrigley Field in terms of historic charm in the world of sport; and Arlington Park, a quality facility with top notch customer service providing a memorable experience. These summer locales provide a great family atmosphere and vibe that will help catalyze such memories and should cultivate new support to the game over time.

With all of the competition available at this juncture vying for the precious entertainment dollar in an uncertain economy, the significance of the summer racetrack destination cannot be overstated. We need to make sure the sport remains a part of the entertainment conscious of a typical non-racing fan so when it comes time to decide where to go this weekend or next, “the track” is considered along with the theme park or a day at the zoo. 

There is no doubt that the sustainability of the sport moving forward is largely based on appropriate pricing of the product as a gambling pursuit; a business that will involve a majority of its dollars wagered online. This is the reality of a 21st Century world where horse racing holds no special advantage in the pantheon of gambling activities as it did in much of 20th Century. Quite on the contrary; we’re too expensive and overly fragmented into small groups where the norm involves a precarious power struggle. 

John Q. Onceameetsaratogaguy (“J.Q.O.”) decides he loves going to the Spa so much that he will become a regular bettor through an ADW to continue his interest in the game. Here are said barriers to entry that J.Q.O. must now go through:

1.    Reside in a state where it is legal (sorry Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Utah): 24,000,000 people aged 18 and older reside in these seven states.

2.    Successfully research available ADWs: After looking at all of the possibilities (which involved calling friends and extensive “googling”), he decides the best service with the most features is “”, but it isn’t available in his state. After more careful analysis, he realizes there is only one option, “” which is inferior to most other ADWs. As a consumer in the year 2014, he wonders why there isn’t more choice. It strikes him as a bit monopolistic or at the least “anti-capitalistic”.

3.    Takeout: Now that he is funded and ready to bet, he becomes inquisitive about how horse racing stacks up to blackjack and sports betting, his current preferred forms of gambling.  J.Q.O. looks up the track takeout ( He thinks to himself, good Lord, that can’t be right, it must be a mistake – those numbskulls at HANA have at all wrong. How can a business subsist charging customers those rates? Subsequently, J.Q.O. finds out that some major circuits are actually increasing takeout and one even overcharged bettors above and beyond the current legal rate.

4.    Perception: J.Q.O. recognizes some of the big name trainers from his experiences at the marquee tracks and from watching the Kentucky Derby on TV, but never knew much about them beyond the two minute human interest pieces used to kill two hours of coverage (you know, instead of showing really good Grade I races that occur prior to the marquee events). He is despondent in finding out many of them have a list of medication infractions that make Ben Johnson look clean.

5.    Rewards: J.Q.O. isn’t a huge bettor, but does get some nice perks out of his casino betting. He looks into the rebate rules of his ADW and finds he can get about $5 back a month and perhaps some free PPs once and awhile.

6.    Consistency: J.Q.O. places a wager and watches a race where he is holding a correctly structured ticket that will yield a $250 profit from a $5 bet. This is one of the many reasons why he is excited about horse racing – few other pursuits afford you the ability to invest a relatively small amount of money to win a relatively large amount (and unlike the lottery, have a realistic expectation to win)! However, the inquiry sign is flashed and his temporary excitement has evaporated as his horse has been taken down. This is perplexing to J.Q.O. as the same level of interference did not yield a disqualification in the exact same situation yesterday at the very same track. He looks into the rules used by the Stewards to formulate their decisions because with all this money at stake for the bettors and the connections, surely there are uniform rules for what happens within the field of play (you know, like in every other sport on the planet). He finds nothing but a tax write-off. Speaking of taxes….

7.    Central Governing Body: J.Q.O. wonders why the Commissioner hasn’t addressed a number of these items. Surely the head of this sport would be taking prudent measures to ensure the integrity of the game isn’t compromised. Goddell wouldn’t put up with this.

Some of the barriers to entry are legal and/or political in nature and out of the control of the industry. However, to the customer it’s irrelevant; the bottom line is they cannot access the product.  Imagine if Apple could only sell I-Pads in 43 states? This is precisely what the industry must deal with; not an easy task.

With respect to takeout, I often hear the counter argument that most patrons of a summer meet like Saratoga (and many OTB customers as well) have no idea what takeout is or how it impacts their wallet. This is entirely true. The yearly or even bi-weekly or weekly customer at Del Mar or Saratoga is unlikely to care. Regardless of the takeout, within reason, these folks will make Del Mar or the Spa a semi regular destination. However, this mindset is so inherently flawed and self-fulfilling that it boggles the mind. We need the customers who have good experiences at the track (like J.Q.O) to become regular customers in the ADW world, the future of betting. Given the laundry list of difficulties (only some of which are listed above), this is increasing unlikely and why the sport is in decline. Further, even if the typical OTB patron isn’t consciously aware of takeout, he or she will be keenly reminded of it when they are broke.

However well intended, any marketing strategy that isn’t centered on competitive pricing for the bettor is a losing long term proposition. This is pressing issue number 1 and 1A and is relatively simple to correct. This is of paramount importance and unlike many of the impenetrable factors that hamper growth - this is controllable (with any sort of leadership and pragmatic thinking). The concerts, food truck festivals, ostrich races, Weiner Dog Derbies, and the like are irrelevant if any new customer gained through these endeavors fails to become a regular betting customer; a goal which is unbearably difficult with an uncompetitive, usurious rake, in addition to some huge barriers to entry.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Downloaded Your FREE Copy of September's Horseplayer Monthly Yet?

The September edition of Horseplayer Monthly, HANA's free e-magazine with stats, articles, and insight you won't find anywhere else, is available for download at

In this issue:

We get you ready for Kentucky Downs with an interview with track president Corey Johnsen, and horseplayer extraordinaire Mike Maloney offers some tips and thoughts.  Building on the turf theme, we also have a column on Pace Figures and Turf Racing from TimeformUS's Craig Milkowski, a glance at what to do with off-the-turf races, and a number of turf stats throughout the issue.
Also in this issue:  
Melissa Nolan offers a guide on horsemanship for handicappers and looks back at the career of Tom Durkin, Mike Dorr analyzes payoffs, Jerod Dinkin takes a look at the state of summer meets, Rich Nilsen tells you how to identify a sucker horse, we give you the 411 on In-Race Betting, and Garnet Barnsdale invites a guest to the harness page!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Big Weekend For Horseplayers & Sneak Peek at the Horseplayer Monthly

Tomorrow morning our September issue will be released. As below:

Kentucky Downs - the lowest takeout track in North America, with large deep fields, and the highest handle growth track in racing - opens tomorrow afternoon.

We encourage all players - as we have since 2011 - to give this track a good long look.

The Horseplayer Monthly has Kentucky Downs handicapping thoughts from people like Mike Maloney, and the issue itself has a turf handicapping theme.

Also, a player alert that a track going the other way in terms of horseplayer and customer friendliness - Churchill Downs - opens tomorrow. HANA, and its members, are in a full boycott of all Churchill Downs properties, ADW's and data providers.  This is continuing for the fall meets.

For more information about Churchill Downs, their increase in takeout, the massive handle losses that occurred in the spring meet with your boycott, their executive compensation and horsemen complaints, please visit here.