By: William G. Gotimer, Jr.
Most sports use numbers as their measuring stick but the analytic approach is a relatively new one for many sports. Horse racing has been about analytics for over two centuries with whole numbers, fractions and now decimals and one-hundredths used to measure each and every performance. With that in mind and to honor our new year, here are 17 numbers to keep in mind for horse racing in 2017:
• ONE is the number of $12 million races there are in the thoroughbred world and we are about to see the first in January. The Pegasus World Cup is a gaudy and bold attempt to glamorize racing and reach upscale viewers and fans. It seeks to capture the imagination of the Kentucky Derby attendees who are there for glamour and celebrity and to whom cost is of lesser consideration. That has led to a price of attendance that rivals and even exceeds the cost of attending the Kentucky Derby or Breeders’ Cup.
The entry fees are complex but all participants in the race share in the betting handle, concession, admission fees and television rights. It is show business on the highest level. While the race has yet to be run, there are already plans to move it from South Florida to Los Angeles’ Santa Anita for 2018 and possibly beyond. The race may be blessed in its inaugural running with a much-anticipated re-match between the two best horses in North America – California Chrome and Arrogate. The problem with marketing such a matchup is that thoroughbreds are fragile creatures and the actual participants can and often do change at the very last minute. The structure of the race also makes it likely that if both California Chrome and Arrogate run, there will be three separate races within the race – the first to win the race, the second to be in the money and the third to simply run to collect the minimum of $250,000 in purse money. Such a structure always increases the likelihood that overmatched horses will be entered and we can expect that from the Pegasus World cup. That is never good for the sport and the stewards and track officials must assure that all participants are fit and able to compete properly.
• TWO ideas could make this the exposure and betting bonanza that the sport desperately needs and they both involve football. The first is to lower the take-out on this race to ten (10%) percent which is the typical take out on football bets. The second is much more grandiose – negotiate with the National Football League to run and televise the race during halftime of The Super Bowl. There is no greater exposure in the world than being associated with the Super Bowl. Halftime is now dominated by musical acts that entertain those in actual attendance and those watching the game that care little about football. No one could expect to replace this truly American pop tradition but a four-minute window after the musical presentation is available and should be enough to cut to horses in the gate and the two-minute race. With the expected increase in handle and exposure, the entry fee to the race could be increased to even purchase the four-minute window. A notation as to who owns the spot in addition to who owns the horse may be enough to justify an increased fee that would fund the time purchase from the NFL.
• THREE other ideas to add to the mix, i) the NFL would assign even numbered horses to the NFC champ, odd numbers to the AFC champ. The winning city would get to hold the race trophy for the year; ii) pre-race discussion and analysis could be had on the Super Bowl pre-game show and iii) winner of the previous year’s race gets to toss the coin at the coin flip for the next year. The NFL would demand its pound of flesh but my guess is a payment of THREE percent of the handle on the race would make it work. The NFL has been masterful at tapping into all the revenue streams associated with The Super Bowl but still has not tapped into the billions bet that day, this would be a way to do that.
• FOUR jockeys have legitimate claims to jockey of the year. In alphabetical order, they are – Javier Castellano, Irad Ortiz, Jose Ortiz and Mike Smith.
• FIVE if you include Julien Leparoux.
• SIX furlongs should be the dominant sprint distance. Racing secretaries should do away with 6 ½ furlong races as a service to handicappers.
• SEVEN pound apprentices should be bet with caution.
• EIGHT should be the race number of the feature at every track every day. Moving the feature to an earlier spot on the card to help make the Pick-6 harder to hit is short sighted and causes both confusion and diminishes the value of the feature race.
• NINE DOLLARS should get you the most expensive beer at any racetrack on any day.
• Top TEN lists are good for the game and engender conversation which is always good. Fans should enjoy them but not take them too seriously.
• ELEVEN should always be played with seven in exactas and daily doubles – just because.
• TWELVE will be a horrible post to draw in a $12 million mile and one-eighth race at Gulfstream.
• THIRTEEN is the expected number of maiden winners Chad Brown will have at Saratoga.
• FOURTEEN is a number you should include in your bets in any off-the-turf race.
• FIFTEEN should be the maximum take-out on ANY bet.
• SIXTEEN furlongs on the grass is not the proper distance for a race named after The Giant Killer – H. Allen Jerkens. I agree with Jason Blewitt that the Ballerina at Saratoga should be renamed in honor of The Chief who stood for excellence, integrity and honesty.
Last but not least;
• SEVENTEEN is the number of nights I hope all racing fans get to spend in Saratoga in 2017. The mantra “17 in 17’” is a slogan I offer to the NYRA or the Saratoga Tourist Board free of charge.