Use the 2023 Whitney to Usher in an Innovative Approach

January 25, 2023

Saratoga on Whitney Day, 2022 (Chelsea Durand)

By William G. Gotimer, Jr.

This article revives an idea first put forth by this writer last August regarding the annual running of the Whitney Stakes. While Saratoga is mostly associated with tradition, its prominent place in the thoroughbred racing world would allow it to be impactful through innovation and the Whitney Stakes is a suitable vehicle to highlight it. The Whitney Stakes, which is among the most important races each year, marks the true August beginning of the Saratoga season. With domestic and international buyers in town for the high-priced sales – it has something for everyone – and with that in mind I put forth a proposal for consideration – something for the bettors – a seeded Win Pool.

“Seeding” is simple– the racetrack operator adds money to the betting pool to be split among winning bettors, thereby effectively increasing the winnings paid to bettors. This currently happens regularly, via Pick-6 carryovers, (although in those instances the “seeding” is done by losing bettors on previous days) and has resulted in huge increases in handle on carryover days.

The idea is not completely novel. Support for various betting pools, particularly Pick-5 and Pick 6 bets are relatively common, mostly in the form of guarantees on pool sizes, but actually adding money to a wagering pool in advance is rare. A form of pool seeding occurs when Advance Deposit Wagering (“ADM”) accounts on different betting platforms compete by offering rebate schemes to reward bettors for their loyalty, but such rebates are targeted to larger or consistent bettors. 

The New York Racing Association’s platform – NYRABETS – has been increasingly creative and inventive in its promotions providing bettors with financial incentives to make particular types of bets on particular races. These promotions are targeted, inventive and an effective way to direct new and existing customers to certain betting pools. One such promotion during the 2022 Saratoga Meet provided an extra $10,000 to be shared among the winners of the late Pick 5 on a certain day. Thus, the pool was “seeded” with house money to increase the payouts to winning bettors. 

Racing has an opportunity to build on this ingenuity by “seeding” the Win Pool of certain high-profile prestigious races beginning with the 2023 Whitney.  I propose the Win Pool be seeded as I have always thought the primary object of the sport is “winning the race”. This focus has been obscured over time with the proliferation of exacta, triple and superfecta wagers and too often the winner becomes secondary to the overall order of finish in the minds of bettors – even though posterity is reserved for the winner of prestigious races.

Seeding the Win Pool would provide a financial incentive for bettors to focus on Win betting and reward those that picked the actual winner of important races. 

In recent years the tendency of racetrack operators with marquee races is to increase the purse size to attract star performers. This approach has had limited success but has not necessarily resulted in increased betting handle on those races. In fact, devoting these funds to purse size has increasingly led to small non-competitive fields actually making them less attractive to bettors. My proposal is to forego or temper such purse increases and instead use funds to seed the Win Pool in these races. 

Were the New York Racing Association to seed the 2023 Whitney Stakes by adding $500,000 to the Win Pool for the race (representing a significant percentage increase of the expected Win Pool) interest in the race to bettors would dramatically increase. While this initially seems to be a dead cost borne by the New York Racing Association, it would represent a form of advertising expense since this novel approach would be widely discussed, dissected, and reviewed by both racing and mainstream media. 

If the addition of this “dead money” in the pool were to have the same effect in increasing handle as Pick 6 carryovers have had, the increased handle would fully or partially offset the cost. 

Running the “seeded” race earlier in the card would enhance the likelihood that the seeded money would eventually be bet back into other races thereby increasing the daily mutuel handle on the remaining races on the card through what is known as “churn.”  

This proposal will be met with initial skepticism and regulatory approval by the New York State Gaming Commission would be required, but effectively reducing the takeout (possibly below zero) for select races is likely to increase interest and handle on those races and surrounding card.  A novel approach that rewards bettors who handicap the winner of special races a few times a year could prove to be good publicity and good business. The New York Racing Association could lead the way with the race named after the stately Whitney family. Tradition and innovation meshed. Plant a seed and it may grow.

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