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Thursday, March 3, 2011

HANA Poll - Part 2; Marc St Louis Jr. Returns

Continuing the review of the HANA harness racing poll, there are other interesting tidbits.

Myth:  Fans hate the idea of classified racing.
Truth:  Make no mistake about it, of the two systems, conditioned racing is more accepted with 61% of the respondents liking the conditioned system versus 21.6% who opposed it.  However, when asked about classified racing, 36.8% liked classified racing and 38.6% did not like it.  As pollsters would say, it was a statistical dead heat.  A large number of respondents (24.6%) had no opinion; likely because a lot of them never experienced racing using the classified system.  The conclusion which can be made is there would be no mass revolt from the gamblers if classified racing was introduced; the revolt would be from horsemen.  Where fans are pretty much united is with regards to how classified races are reported in the past performance program.  NW3CD clearly doesn't do it with 71.9% of the respondents say the program is lacking with regards to not showing the expanded conditions.

Let's look at some other findings.

Gamblers are definitely not satisfied with the product being only 31% of the respondents are somewhat satisfied with the racing product.  10% are neutral in their feelings and 55.9% of the respondents are dissatisfied with the product (29.3% are very dissatisfied).  This was one question where people were given the opportunity to express specific reasons for their dissatisfaction.  Well, to no surprise takeout rates and small pools were a prime complaint for gamblers as are drugs.  From reading the responses received, rest assured trainers will not be receiving many dinner invitations from gamblers.  One respondent put it succinctly, when they said "trainers are cheating b**tards" as the use of drugs is considered quite prevalent.  Fans are troubled by the super trainers, and the frequency of reversal of forms.  Judges come in for some criticism for lack of consistency.  One surprising thing was there were few complaints, if any, regarding the whipping rules which being this survey was answered by Canadian and American fans.  Obviously, these respondents did not find too much objection to the Ontario Urging Rules (the whipping question will be specifically surveyed in a subsequent survey), the strictest rules in North America.

When asked about gamblers complaints regarding half mile track racing, the biggest problem identified was the post position bias followed by low payoff prices, no movement in a race, and small pools.  When asked what could make half mile track racing better, the staggered starting gate is the first recommendation, followed by handicapping all races to put the best horses on the outside.  After these two ideas, moving post seven and eight to the second tier was next, with the suggestions of moving the speed horses to the second tier to force movement and adding distance to the races falling flat on their face.

Fans were specifically asked about the biggest problems on the Meadowlands and WEG circuits individually.  The biggest problem gamblers felt about the Meadowlands was questionable trainers.  After the trainers, the biggest problem the respondents felt was buddy-buddy driving (letting your friends up the rail as an example).  After those two issues, the lack of flow/no movement came up, poor field quality and field size came up as issues three, four and five. 

At Woodbine and Mohawk, questionable trainers were considered the third biggest problem.  The reason questionable trainers are considered the biggest problem at the Meadowlands and the third biggest problem at WEG probably has something to do with the ability of WEG to exclude questionable trainers where the Meadowlands does not have that ability.  At WEG, the lack of flow and movement was the biggest problem with buddy buddy driving considered the second biggest problem.  Poor field quality is the fourth biggest problem at WEG with the field size being the fifth biggest problem.  I suspect next year poor field quality at WEG will become a non-issue with the ORC's new rules to ensure the best horses race at WEG tracks instead of at tracks like Georgian Downs and Western Fair.

When asked in general what they felt the biggest problems are with horse racing, respondents were most concerned with parimutuel takeout rates, the perception of the sport, the use of medication and illegal drugs, parimutuel pool integrity, declining field size, federal tax laws with regards to winnings, small pool size, late odd changes, and decreased television coverage.  What may be surprising to some people is the issue of uncoupling entries, most people were not concerned or only slightly concerned about the uncoupling of horses in races.

Other issues which came up are as follows:

Fair Start Rule
No doubt a contributor to the large dissatisfaction of the racing product is the lack of a fair start rule.  Remember how the NJRC voted down the fair start rule?  Well 76% of the respondents want the United States to adopt the Canadian Fair Start rule.  56.1% prefer the fair start pole being at 200 feet.  Clearly a lot of gamblers have been shafted by having horses go off stride well before the start.

Amount of Time Between Races
Here is an issue which may be hard to resolve.  The vast majority of  gamblers want fifteen minutes between races.  With the younger generation having a smaller attention span, the question becomes how do you resolve the issue of speeding races up?  Perhaps the answer may be intermingling of race programs at different tracks to allow those who focus on one track to get their fifteen minutes while those clamoring for more action can play another race track in between.  The other solution may be to offer alternate entertainment options between races.

What Would Make People Wager More?
About 47% of the people indicated they wager more money with lower takeout rates or bigger rebates.  So it is clear that Tioga Downs and others who are reducing their takeout rates are making the right moves.  40% of the people said lower takeout rates is the way to increase handle and get others interested in racing.

With Medication and Illegal Drugs being a big problem, what would Gamblers like to see?
It's a good thing the gamblers don't issue fines and suspensions as some trainers would be in real trouble.  Gamblers have no patience for the use of illegal drugs and medications and they are angry about it.  Here are some statistics from the survey:

  • 70.6% of respondents say the penalties need to be more severe than they are now
  • 40% of the respondents say the horse should be suspended with the trainer or owner
  • 51.2% of the people feel the vet needs to be fined or suspended along with the trainer.
  • 48.8% of the people feel the use of banned substances should be a criminal offense.
 Clearly racing needs to look at itself and decide if they are truly going to be serious about dealing with drug cheats or continue to play catch-up, slap trainers on the wrist, and plea bargain with drug cheats.   The gambler wants a clean and honest game.

News Item: Marc St Louis Jr Returns.  Pardon me if I don't welcome him back.  Speaking of individuals who deserved a stiffer penalty.  For those that don't know, Marc St Louis Jr was fined $5,000 and suspended more than a year by Michigan officials for making false and misleading statement regarding the death of the horse named Alex E Mel.  According to the original ruling, "...St Louis admitted to the death, burning and burial of the horse and in doing so he did attempt to conceal, tamper and destroy evidence in the case by improperly burning and burying the horse in violation of state law". and in a separate incident, he was penalized "...for possession of hypodermic needles, syringes and/or injectable and/or other drugs."  St Louis was "...observed by MORC personnel using a hypodermic syringe to inject a drug or foreign substance into the horse Rising Artist which was entered to race.".

 The USTA denied him membership when he applied but since Michigan doesn't require a driver or trainer to have USTA membership, he is about to make his return racing at Northville Downs this weekend, making his first start since 2009 as he is listed to drive on six horses Saturday night at Northville.  Yes, he served his time, but does this type of person install confidence in the sport?  And then people wonder why harness racing is losing relevancy.  One has to question the logic of Michigan allowing him back.

News Item: Christie Vetoes Online Gaming Bill.  While racing was hoping for this legislation as it was to funnel some money into purses, I have doubts the law would have survived the inevitable court challenges.  The arguement could have been successfully made that this would have been an expansion of gaming in New Jersey.  The state constitution allows casino gambling only in Atlantic City.  Even though the servers would have been in Atlantic City, I am sure someone would have made the case that a person making a wager from their computer in Paramus, NJ would be the same as having casino gaming in Paramus.  While racing would have benefited from this bill, I am reasonably certain the courts would have scuttled this bill if the Governor didn't.

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