Things That Make You Go Hmmm (5)

Not sure which is worse—those who believe horse racing’s sun rises when Saratoga opens and sets when it closes, or those who claim the meet and its product are deteriorating. … No one likes to see declines in handle and attendance, but we need to put things in perspective. This is a meet and a city that rely heavily on out-of-towners, and we all know there isn’t a whole lot of expendable cash these days. … And no matter your opinion on this year’s Monmouth Park meet, the bottom line is the Jersey track increased simulcast handle about $180 million at a time when the total pie is shrinking, so in effect it sucked that money from other tracks. For Saratoga to be off a couple percentage points in total handle is perfectly logical. No need for the New York Racing Association to apologize for it, because it doesn’t get much better than the Spa. … As for the elitists, we’ll see you Friday night at Turfway Park for claiming races and dollar beers.

Read some online commentary criticism of Delaware Park’s experimental exacta “bonus.” Three observations: 1. The promotion is strictly designed to generate some ontrack interest. 2. It’s not exactly a takeout reduction, but it gives money back at a time when takeout rates are static—or increasing in the case of California. 3. Last but not least, GIVE THEM CREDIT FOR DOING SOMETHING FOR THE HORSEPLAYER.

Several years ago I remember looking at some past-performances and seeing the track abbreviation “OSA.” I thought the horse had raced in Osaka, Japan, but found it stands for “Oak Tree at Santa Anita.” I found it odd the industry would confuse bettors so one racing association could identify its meet; reality is the races are all run on the same Santa Anita surface. … There is a long history of associations running meets at other tracks, but when Meadowlands ran part of its meet at Atlantic City, the track abbreviation in the PPs didn’t change to “MAt,” and when Atlantic City ran part of its meet at the new Garden State Park, it wasn’t changed to “AGS.” … OK, so what will we get when Oak Tree races at Hollywood Park? “OHo”? … Oh no.

On the topic of data, why is it the abbreviation appears as “OSA” in Daily Racing Form and “Osa” in Equibase programs? For an industry that constantly screams about uniformity, how about uniformity in data—that comes from the same source?

It’s pretty well-established simulcast programs are the bane of my handicapping existence, and here’s another update: During a recent visit to an Ohio harness track, I paid $5 for the Daily Racing Program (which still lacks key information we used to get in simulcast programs, by the way). It was marked $4 ontrack and $5 retail. … Was I ripped off again? Not sure. Maybe harness tracks charge more, which makes no sense given the fact much of their purse money comes from handle on Thoroughbred simulcasts. You would think they’d be handing the things out for free.

On a similar note, bettors at River Downs on Labor Day didn’t get their money’s worth. The DRP had about 15 tracks in it, but only two or three PP lines per horse and few jockey and trainer standings in an effort to conserve space. … When is the industry going to do something about this given the fact it’s the industry’s data? If I didn’t know any better, I’d suspect a conspiracy of sorts—and the customer is paying for it. ... As for River Downs, with little promotion and no Cradle VIP party, the place was very crowded, another sign racing has a lot of life to it.

Caught a glimpse on television monitors of a nice crowd at Parx Racing (the old Philly Park) on Labor Day, and got a photo of the interior of the renovated first floor of the grandstand sans slots. Have to give credit where it’s due, even if the renovations are way overdue. The joint looks comfortable enough again to plan a visit--after a two-year boycott.

Monmouth Park’s “Elite Summer Meet”—or 49 days of the 50—ended Labor Day, and no matter how many holes people try to poke in it, the bottom line is any track that can double total handle on its product (about $180 million despite 33 fewer racing days) did something very right. And before you believe the Jersey mantra that the meet lost more than $10 million, wait until you see a detailed breakdown—which you may never see. Was OTB revenue included? Is there still Breeders’ Cup reconstruction debt on the books? Was the casino purse supplement counted as expense even though it didn’t come from pari-mutuel sources? Was any track revenue used for other New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority expenditures? And the list goes on. … Who knows what the 2010 meet will mean for 2011 and beyond, but one thing is certain: Jersey got it right this time.

Unsettling but not unexpected: The Kentucky Department of Agriculture recently announced that chicken farming had taken over from the equine industry as the top agriculture-related producer by gross receipts in the state. … Something smells really bad, and we all know it isn’t horse crap.


Leave a Comment:

Jason Shandler

Tom: Do they have horse racing when the Saratoga, Keeneland, Churchill, and Gulfstream meets are over?

09 Sep 2010 12:29 PM

Ah, a comment from the elitist peanut gallery. ... You need a trip to Turfway Shandler to get more cultured.

09 Sep 2010 12:32 PM

I find it especially strange when works are designated as OSA. As if there is something magically different about it.

09 Sep 2010 1:07 PM

Can NYRA please replace the 20-year-old TV monitors at Saratoga?

09 Sep 2010 1:47 PM
The_Knight_Sky racing blog

Mr. LaMarra wrote:

For Saratoga to be off a couple percentage points in total handle is perfectly logical.


I usually agree with you but, when Saratoga has no major competition on Mondays (specifically Del Mar) and no competition from Monmouth Park on Mondays-Wednesdays and Thursdays, the NYRA all-sources figures clearly should have been on the plus side.

Perhaps it was a preponderance of inscrutable grass racing that turned the bettors off.

On the other hand Monmouth Park raised the bar extremely high.

Blessed with near flawless summer weather throughout the meet, it resulted in 99% of turf races being run as advertised on the Haskell-Lennox-Monmouth courses.  

Atlantic City casinos are one thing, but Mother Nature will be formidable rival for Monmouth Park to trump in 2011.

09 Sep 2010 2:04 PM

I'd like someone to explain what has happened to the racing in Sept. at Belmont? Doesn't the history or tradition mean anything anymore?

09 Sep 2010 2:09 PM

Really surprised the "braintrust" at DRF and Equibase don't use all the abbreviations for the old meets that are now held at Calder. Would TP be Tropical Park or Turfway Park? Geez, they missed another opportunity to confuse us.

09 Sep 2010 2:12 PM

Pardon the phrase, but you probably placed a few burrs under some well-deserved saddles. Personally, I am glad that Oak Tree will be at Hollywood Park before it gets turned into an "upscale" shopping center & parking lot. Also looking forward to TVG's exclusive coverage. The HRTV & Santa Anita thing has gotten a little old. I enjoyed watching a couple of horses we breed do well at Monmouth. Kudos to that track for an excellent meet. ope they can keep their momentum moving forward under the circumstances.  

09 Sep 2010 3:24 PM
Bill L


How about a discusssion of what Ellis closing of its simulcast parlor from 9/30/10-4/1/11 means to the KTDF fund, the general purse account at Ellis, and the effect on host tracks Keeneland Fall, Churchill Fall including the Breeders' Cup, and Turfway Holiday Meet.

Seems to me someone in Henderson would bet a sheckle or 2 on these races.

09 Sep 2010 3:42 PM

Sorry having keyboard issues, but did want to add one more thing. As for there being no racing other than Saratoga, Keeneland, Churchill, & Gulfstream according to a previous poster, how about Oaklawn Park? Hosting Zenyatta (her only ventures out of California) & 3 excellent triple crown preps not enough to warrant recognition?  How many Arkansas Derby winners have gone on to win triple crown races in recent years?

09 Sep 2010 3:48 PM

It does seem Delaware Park is trying to do something for horseplayer. FINALLY! I am an old-time horseplayer from Delaware and it is very obvious to me and many of the regular patrons here that horse racing is only a second thought to the current "racino" that is in place now. We see very little improvements to the horse racing side ... just the opposite ... they are currently taking more space for table games and slots from what once was a class facility. If it wasn't for state law ... racing in Delaware would be long gone ... I'm sure Mrs. Richard C. duPont is crying somewhere!

09 Sep 2010 3:58 PM

Background on comments from Bill L: Ellis Park plans to close for full-card simulcasts all fall and winter. Other Kentucky tracks with live meets during that time lose purse revenue, as does the Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund. Last year the move cost Turfway Park horsemen about $200,000. ... No indication the Kentucky Horse Racing Commmission plans to do anything about this.

09 Sep 2010 3:59 PM
Buster B Quick

Vespone, there is something magically different about Oak Tree. They got kicked out of Santa Anita!

At least Holly Park made the effort to repave the apron of the grandstand ... it was pretty embarrassing watching Zenyatta's "farewell" appearance while stepping around the potholes.

09 Sep 2010 4:04 PM


When you go to Parx, I advise you to avoid the bets with the 30% takeouts.

09 Sep 2010 4:36 PM
Virgil Fox


I was at “PARX” whatever its called on Monday.

Even bumped into Dick Jerardi for a quick chat.

The words "new grandstand" are not quite accurate.

They threw up some dry-wall, threw down some carpet and hung a bunch of small flat screens on a portion of the first floor. The third and fifth floors are unchanged; the fifth floor still gives the vibe of creepy subway platform at night.

Is it better than the yellow CAUTION tape that was there? Yes, but I find it difficult to give too many props considering the millions of dollars being collected in the new casino building across the parking lot.

Save your toll money. Hardly worth going out of your way to inspect.

- Peace

09 Sep 2010 4:43 PM

The real shame about the whole Parx argument is that if cooler heads had prevailed in the early 1970s, Liberty Bell Park would have kept thoroughbred and harness meets, and Neshaminy Park/Keystone/Philly Park/Parx would never have been built. Instead, the nicer track--which had more than enough room for a casino--is a shopping mall. Of course if we had our way, Atlantic City Race Course and Garden State Park would have had a better fate, too.

09 Sep 2010 5:12 PM
Ann in Lexington (aka Pedigree Ann)

Jersey Tom has it right - Liberty Bell management had established major graded races for the older divisions in the fall - the Cotillion (G1) for 3yo fillies, the Susquehanna (G2) for mares, the Minuteman (G2) for open 3yos, the Hobson (G2-10f) for the open division, and even a good open 2yo race, the Heritage (G3). And good horses came in to run in the races - the Cotillion winners at Liberty Bell (6 runnings) included Shuvee, Office Queen, Alma North, and Susan's Girl; Susquehanna winners in the same timeframe included Double Delta, Chou Croute, Twixt, and Susan's Girl.

Within a few years of the transfer to Keystone, all of these races were either killed or had their purses cut significantly and lost their ability to attract top horses, hence their grading. Keystone management had decided to be a third-tier track instead of a second-tier one.

09 Sep 2010 6:45 PM

I salute Monmouth Park - they had the guts to think out of the box and implement something that has worked very well for them this year. Detractors of their success are those who are fearful of the success spreading to other venues. That's my opinion for what it worth - not even two cents!

Somethingroyal - Unfortunately for New York racing fans and those of us who love Belmont the most - NYRA has shown the last couple of years it doesn't respect, or value Belmont or us! My speculation is that eventually Belmont will lose its prestige as the slots/videos, shopping malls and hotels are built on the site with racing just being a side show. Maybe the Belmont Stakes will survive there, because there is no other track in NY at 1.5 miles - LOL! As I read sometime ago on the NYS Gov site, NYRA will only have or manage Saratoga. Therefore, I would suspect, the gutting of major races from Belmont to Saratoga was due to the development plan for Belmont. Another entity will take on Belmont Park and what will happen at Aqueduct, I have no idea. With racing becoming so fractured in NY I don't see how meaningful racing can take place there, or Belmont in particular. Eventually, I'll just stop following racing, as I'm disgusted with the human connections!

12 Sep 2010 12:58 PM

And while the NYRA is making changes, could it get rid of those hideous screens in the infield and maybe put back more discrete displays which actually show the odds before a race and the prices afterward. (Sort of like Monmouth does.)

12 Sep 2010 5:02 PM

What happened to the racing at Belmont is something called the Breeders' Cup. So horses like Quality Road won't even show up. And races like the Hopeful (at Saratoga, I know) once targeted by the elite, are now little more than NW2X allowance fields.

12 Sep 2010 5:07 PM

delaware park is the best horseracing plant in the united states. millions have been spent, it is second to none.

12 Sep 2010 8:26 PM
Jim Davis

I agree 100% on the OSA thing. Really dumb. I'm surprised Steve Crist didn't put the kabash on that day 1.

As far as the DEL exacta rebate, it is in effect a lowered takeout for anyone betting on track. I think ALL tracks should adopt this experiment, as they would be surprised at how much cash came back in the building.

13 Sep 2010 1:13 AM

Meadowlands closes when there is a football game. No simulcast revenue on those dates.

Though betting is available for NYRA races at njbets, there is no live track feed. Why?

13 Sep 2010 9:23 AM
The_Knight_Sky racing

Alan wrote:

Meadowlands (racetrack) closes when there is a football game. No simulcast revenue on those dates.


Amazing ain't it?

Paving a small simple parking lot on Paterson Plank Road reserved for the Meadowlands simulcast patrons would have solved that problem.

Did the planners even think twice?

13 Sep 2010 11:25 AM

Agreed on Delaware Park being the best racing facility on the continent.

The paddock is far more impressive than any other in the land. The simulcast areas are extremely updated (if also bright and 'busy'-seeming to the eyes).

The place is big enough to hold a crowd, yet it looks quite well kept-up on a Tuesday afternoon when only a small smattering of people are lingering around.

Its remote-seeming locale is partly responsible, as Delaware Park is seldom overrun by society.

13 Sep 2010 3:48 PM

DelPark is a real gem many people not from that area don't know about and probably haven't been to.

13 Sep 2010 4:47 PM

Delaware Park is nice. The paddock is nice. But to compare it to Keeneland or Del Mar is sort of a bad joke. And paddocks are nice but they are hardly the only thing that counts  I don't remember anyone waxing ecstatic about Hialeah's paddock, but anyone who was ever there when they had a lock on the middle dates knows that Hialeah was among the most beautiful manmade places on earth.

13 Sep 2010 9:12 PM

No arrows please, but I am about to utter some heretical words.

I had always considered Saratoga a place to visit with "bucket list" status. I finally made it for four days this summer, and....I DON'T GET IT! The place is a dump. The picnic area is crowded and dusty on nice days, crowded and muddy when it's wet. Maneuvering the grounds and physical plant is akin to a rat's maze. The average patron can't get anywhere near the horses since the paddock area is so spread out. The apron is small and tight in hot full sunlight all afternoon. Accessing a betting machine in the picnic area is a pain, finding a live teller is a long walk from many areas. We could not find one single drinking fountain except that gross spring that spewed nasty brown water, forcing anyone who ran out of their own bottle to buy one for $4. The expansion of dates has led to an overabundance of NY state-bred turf sprints, yuck! That's about as classy as the six-furlong NJ bred maiden claimers.

But it's quaint and the kool aid drinkers who keep repeating over and over (without really thinking) that it is so awesome don't fool anyone with open eyes ... and quaint isn't going to cut it in attracting new, young, tech-obsessed fans. Especially when the so-called glamorous people are all sitting up in the inaccessible seats, the horses are a blip on the video screens and your brand new shoes are covered with dirt.

Monmouth has really cleaned up its act since BC! It is beautiful with greenery and flowers, parking is easy and plentiful, the horses parade up through a tunnel and around a paddock that is so close you feel you can touch the horses. The apron is in the shade and there is lots of room around the winner's circle. (The food is still terrible, but oh well.) The racing is much improved too.

Then there is Arlington. A group of us just attended a two-day handicapping event and were treated like royalty. Box seats, programs, a concierge and a race named for our group. I saw lots of families, groups of young friends, well-dressed patrons sprinkled with the usual colorful types that frequent all racetracks. It was so enjoyable. Plus, the venue is spotless! I can't say enough about how hard this track management works to make sure a good time is had by all. Plus, the paddock area is gorgeous and viewing areas are plentiful, multilevel and many with either shade or sunshine, patron-choice. Unfortunately, the racing quality is not like that of the East Coast circuit. (I'm not dissing the West Coast, I'm just not as familiar.) Again, IL bred maiden claimers are not my cup of tea.

As for poor Belmont, it is sad. he glamour and history of this once proud track has faded into distant memory. I think it is a great place to attend the races ... except that on an average day you feel surrounded by empty cavernous spaces. The emptiness makes it depressing for anyone but the most avid fan. As for Aqueduct, that place is soulless, gray and depressing! It should have been blown up years ago.

NYRA and the less-than-brainy NY politicians will probably find a way to completely ruin all three tracks and manage to save none of them.

14 Sep 2010 10:46 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

Hi Tom. Thanks for your observations. Do you ever go to Del Mar? It is one of the highlights of my racing year to attend the Pacific Classic. Del Mar is just a beautiful, beautiful place.

15 Sep 2010 1:19 PM

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