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Saturday, December 24, 2016

VFTRG Classics - July 14, 2015

Admittedly not a title for Christmas time column, but while it a little less than a year and a half old (it would be unreasonable to expect many changes thus far), it is worth repeating.  I'll try to find a more suitable column for Christmas Day.

"Our Product Sucks"

"The ultimate problem is our product sucks" said Hanover Shoe Farms' Murray Brown at yesterdays USTA summit regarding the alarming decline of foals bred and the number of owners in the standardbred game.

Well, I don't think I would say the product 'sucks' but make no mistake, the product is severely boring, flawed, and quite honestly those who run the business abuse its customers, the gambler.  On second thought, 'sucks' may be an appropriate description.

Boring in it is the same thing every race, every week.  Same drivers, same horses, same basic race strategies, and long race meets where by the end of the season gamblers are thankful it is over for the year.  For an example, if you live in the market of Yonkers Raceway and are a patron of their product, you are thankful for the late Spring and Christmas breaks which are typically the only time you get to recharge your batteries.

The product is flawed.   Gamblers want larger fields, larger pools to wager into, variety in race distances, anything which makes the handicapping game tougher.  Not impossible, but tough enough so the rewards of selecting the winner is rewarded with more than an odds-on price.  Gamblers want larger pools to wager into so a $500 wager doesn't drop a 3-1 shot to 3-5.  The horseplayer wants to see something more (and less) than a mile race; anything to make the product less tedious.  In addition, odd distance races need to be properly reported in past performance pages so the data is more useful to the gambler.  How about a totally different style of racing, RUS?    I am sure RUS racing would be popular with punters if given a proper chance by track operators and horsemen with the approval of racing commissions to offer wagering.  Perhaps the ultimate in flawed is the infamous elimination races and post position preference to winners.  Racing just to qualify and giving preferential post position in the final, penalizing the horse who raced much harder out of an outside post to qualify?

The gambler is abused.  With the exception of a few wagers, the horseplayer is subjected to high take-out rates necessitating them to depend on ADWs which offer rebates to cut the real takeout rate, slowing their rate of burn (gambling money); and the industry wonders why you can't gamblers in front of their screen to the track?  If someone is a relative newbie unaware of ADWs, the burn rate is much higher, likely costing the industry a customer, and yes, possibly a new owner.  There is the refusal to offer free programs on websites as done in Canada.  No one is saying to provide 'enhanced' programs, provide the basic program patrons used to get in the 1970s.  Perhaps the ultimate abuse, nay insult is the playing with post times; the infamous post time drag with a race going off anywhere between 2 to 10 minutes after the listed post time.

Up to now, what has the industry done to solve these problems?  Too many tracks operate at the same time causing dilution of wagering pools thus guaranteeing small pools at all but a select few tracks.  Horsemen revolt at the idea of racing longer distance races (kudos to the horsemen at Yonkers for agreeing to this for those races being exported to France), owners revolting over the thought of racing with a second tier though harness racing was able to deal with it for many years.  Yes, it costs more to race these days but if racing at a slot track, horsemen are typically racing for far more money than they would have ever dreamed of years ago.  If willing to race at an added distance, the impact of the second tier is even less.  

Variety?  Forget about it.  Other than a rare odd distance race, it is vanilla as can be.  One mile, one mile, and you guess it, one mile.  The reaction to RUS, the one thing which has increased horse ownership both for RUS and traditional racing?  Some states show interest but many states look at it not as another form of racing for standardbreds, but a threat to their livelihood or are unwilling to invest the time needed to get racing commissions, and in some cases legislatures on board to approve that new style of racing.  

What ever happened to the heralded Exchange Wagering?  Cal Expo was supposed to debut it about a year ago; nothing.  In NJ, where it was approved by the legislature, it is still in the rule making process, a process taking so long, it is clear racetracks are not exactly clamoring for it.

Medication issues?  No easier way to get a newcomer playing the horses than having to figure out which trainers may be using 'the juice'.  When one track operator hires his own investigator and excludes trainers he feels doesn't deserve the privilege of racing at his tracks due to infractions, the mob is ready to draw and quarter him.  No, maybe the methodology isn't perfect but it needs to be asked why doesn't any other private track operator take similar actions.  

Cooperation between the states?  Forget about it; each state is an island to itself.  There's no coordination of race dates with a track 12 miles away in a different state.  Want to be an island is fine, that is if you want to be like trottingbreds with racing only in one state.  See how much wagering you will have then.

As Mark Loewe said, it begins with the gambler. Treating the gambler right is what makes him a horse owner which increases the demand for horses.  Racing has a lot to do in order to get racing into a desirable product for future owners and gamblers.  The time to act is now.

There were other great points brought up in the summit yesterday.  Read what was discussed.  If you love harness racing like me, you want to see this committee be successful.

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