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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Bulking Up Fields and Prices

It's no secret I love half mile track racing.  When you see that three-wide move down the backstretch, there is nothing more exciting.  However, as a gambler I realize the sport and half mile racing will not be relevant unless we offer decent payoffs.  Payoffs like Freehold yesterday will do nothing to attract any new fans; perhaps the opposite. 

Here are the payoffs from yesterday's dime superfectas: 1st - $17.07; 2nd - $9.70; 3rd - $2.65; 4th - $287.29; 5th - $26.69; 6th - $49.98; 7th - $7.18; 8th - $11.50; 9th - $7.05; 10th - $149.84; 11th - $71.48; 12th - $9.94; 13th - $36.16.  While there were several decent pay-offs, rest assured superfectas that pay $2.65, $7.05, $7.18, $9.70, $9.94, and $11.50 is not doing anything to help make harness racing more popular; quite honestly, it is doing the opposite.  Yes, I know these are payoffs on a dime wager, but many people will look at what it takes them to hit the wager, not the per wager denomination.  So, if a gambler boxes four horses to hit the superfecta, they are looking at investing $2.40 to win $2.65, $7.05, $7.18 and so on; another reason to wager on anything but harness racing.  

What can we do to avoid these insultingly small payoffs?  Several things.  First of all, in the case of the third race where there was only six horses, what was Freehold doing offering a superfecta wager?  The second thing to do is stop offering superfectas in each race.  Have five or six superfectas a day and arrange the races so the fields likely to produce ridiculously small payoffs don't end up being carded as superfecta races.  I know tracks want to get whatever handle they can from wherever, but offering wagers which results in small payoffs like this is a case of a short term gain for a long term loss. 

The other option is to add horses to the second tier.  What better way to increase payoffs (for all pools) by introducing a second tier of horses in our races?  People argue about the safety of having two tiers of horses yet there is no real proof of it being any more dangerous than a single tier; they race second tiers of horses in Europe all the time.  As for it being impossible for second tier horses to win, it no doubt will be hard to win from the back row if we race a mile distance but if we were to race longer, it is a different story.

Let's look at Georgian Downs, the site for last night's Xtreme Horsepower.  Out of the four races with a second tier of horses, two of the races were won by second tier horses and a total of six second tier horses finished in the top three spots.  As for owners who traditionally pick up checks for finishing in the top five, eleven second tier horses would have qualified for purse checks if purses were paid out only for the top five (each starter in Xtreme Horsepower received a check). 

With Georgian Downs being a 5/8 mile oval, they could add nine trailers.  Obviously on a half mile track, adding eight horses would be absurd but there is no reason why we couldn't have four or five trailers in races over the smaller oval.  By having twelve or thirteen horse fields and longer distance races, the days of seeing a dime superfecta paying under $50.00 would likely be a thing of the past.  With superfectas and all wagers paying better than they are now, people who have dismissed harness racing due to the paltry payoffs may give us a second look.   

Chicago's loss was Minnesota's gain.  Running Aces Harness Park concluded it's best meet ever thanks to the devestation which has been laid upon Balmoral and Maywood due to purse cuts.  Those horsemen with better racing stock headed east to seek greener pastures.  Those horsemen who had racing stock which couldn't cut it in the east, headed to Running Aces in search of better purses (where $2,500 claimers raced for $2,500 versus Balmoral's $1,800 purse for $4,000 claimers).  With the Illinois influx in addition to some California horsemen heading to Running Aces, there was an overflow of horses at Running Aces; so much that they needed to rent a nearby fairgrounds to house all the horses.  As a result, field sizes improved and horseplayers, local and from the simulcast world, responded.  A handle of $97,102 was wagered on the closing night's program with half being wagered on-track.  The average handle this year was $90,473 which was more than double last year's figure.  The amount of wagering from off-track sources increased more than triple when compared to last year.  Unless things improve in Illinois, expect another banner year in 2011 at Running Aces as their racing product continues to improve at the expense of the Illinois program. 

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