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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Another Black Eye for Harness Racing

Let me start right up front that I don't think the 7th race at Yonkers Raceway this past Friday night (November 29) was a 'fixed' race.  Many handicappers will tell you it is better to bet the horses moving up off a good effort rather than betting a horse dropping down off a poor effort.  The two horses in question, Fort Valley AS (the winner, 8-1 morning line) and Elin (second place, 5-1 morning line) were the only two horses that won their last race albeit moving up,  The race program had plenty of horses with higher morning lines in other races so it is clear the track handicapper thought the race was wide open and these horses would get some support at the window.  No doubt the gamblers figured the post position of death (#8) would doom Fort Valley AS and they let him go big time.  It turns out these two horses were the two that left so handicappers which follow the rule of playing the horses on the upswing would have and should have been handsomely rewarded as the following picture of the field heading into the stretch to start would indicate.

The problem is it would appear at the surface those who follow this rule were robbed of their just rewards. As you can see, the 8-3 Exacta should have paid $646 (the 3-8 would have paid $417).  Imagine how much jumping up and down you would be doing after the race congratulating yourself on your handicapping and then finding out your $646 payoff has been cut to $85, a payoff shaved roughly 86%?

You would be screaming for the Feds and I wouldn't blame you.

In fact, in the 'good old' days before there was anything called a racino, there is a good chance there would have been a riot at the track (well maybe in the 1970's; just before a racino opened at Yonkers I don't know if there would have been enough people to have a riot).  Before you get any ideas, I wouldn't suggest such an action.  Never coming back to the track, perhaps. 

The worst thing is what just happened may be perfectly legal; ethical may be a different question.

Could it have been past posting?  While some are claiming so the truth is right now we have no proof of that.  Could it have been people who had the ability to get bets in at the last minute punching tickets with the two leavers boxing the them?  Much more plausible.

And there lies the problem.  While betting the horses who leave first is not fool proof, the fact some people can do this cries out for reform in racing with regards to when the windows are shut.

With the takeout the way it is, racing is a hard way to make money.  First you have to deal with the high takeout rates.  As the seventh race on Friday night proves, it is that much tougher when people with preferential treatment are able to crush your payoff on a winning ticket by 86% with the tacit approval of management.  Not necessarily management at the racetrack where the race is taking place, but at any simulcast location which takes bets on a race.  The reason why is clear, the location taking the bet gets the largest share of the commission.

An 86% reduction in the payoff sticks out like a sore thumb.  How many times is the price shaved more 'reasonably', not sticking out like a sore thumb? 

Look, as a small time gambler, I can accept the fact larger gamblers get (larger) rebates which allow them to play longer, call if volume discount; the same way Walmart can buy widgets cheaper than Mom and Pa's hardware store.  However, while a whale may have the ability to stand in front of a teller waiting to see which two horses are leaving, you see how long you are allowed to stand in front of a teller trying to do the same thing with people in line behind you screaming, not only to get their bet in on the race you are wagering on but at one of the umpteen other tracks racing at the same time.  Can this be done via ADWs?  Perhaps, but with a delay in the signal reaching someone at home, I am not sure it is the best way to pull this strategy off.

Here is where my understanding nature has a problem and my sense of fair play steps in.  While I accept the fact volume discounts (rebates) exist, I have a problem when large players are given an advantage to wager unencumbered longer than anyone else with the assistance of racetrack management.  What makes it more infuriating is racing commissions seem to tolerate this type of behavior by allowing wagering to continue as long as it does.

We need tote integrity and the first place it needs to start is for wagering to stop the moment the starter calls the field. 

Thoroughbred and quarter horse racing have wagering stopped before the horses leave the gate.  Harness racing?  Keep on wagering as the starting gate is moving; even if tickets become virtually worthless as a horse refuses to go to the gate or jumps off just after the starter calls the field thanks to the lack of a fair start rule (Shame on the NJRC which could have done the right thing but voted the fair start down earlier this year).  If windows were shut the moment the starter called the field, while some people get an advantage on the effective takeout rate, at least no one gets the ability to bet after the average player is effectively shut out.

Let's address the arguments against stopping wagering so early:
  •  A recall can happen - A typical recall?  Tough luck.  A horse gets scratched?  I am sure the windows can be reopened for a few minutes to allow people to make changes to their wagers or make new wagers.  Establish a new post time.
  • The whales will stop wagering without that advantage - When the smaller gamblers stop playing your product. where will the dumb money come from for the whales to feast on?   Or the reverse may happen, when people don't see their payoffs slashed big time when prices go official, maybe the little guy will stick around or even come back once they realize the game is no longer stacked against the little guy.
  • The whales are used to wagering at the last minute - Well, if the stores can get the typical shopper to act like Pavlov's dog on Black Friday, I am sure the whales are intelligent enough to adapt to the 'new' last minute and wager accordingly.
  • The whales like betting at the last minute to avoid betting on breakers - About time they join us little fishes who get screwed when their horse refuses to go to the gate when the starter calls the field.  At least they can take solace in their reduced takeout rate.  Better yet, alleviate the problem by adopting the Fair Start Rule which is used in Canada.

Do I think anything will change soon?  ROFL LOL.  That is the saddest part about it.  Until racing commissions or the State/Federal Governments gets involved, things are not likely to change.  I hope I am proven wrong but I am not holding my breath. 

Post Script:  By the way, four days after the race in question, no word from Yonkers or the NYGC regarding where those late wagers were bet or on the betting patterns.  This doesn't help the situation either.