By Brian DiDonato
Much has been said and written about racing’s opportunity during the coronavirus pandemic to capture wagering dollars typically directed towards sports betting or spent in casinos, and I’m happy to report that two of my closest friends have done their part in contributing to handle over the past month or so.
Neither are complete rookies, but they don’t regularly bet races. We actually started betting horses at the same time–early in our college careers, but they never got hooked on the sport like I did. They’ve been to Saratoga, will ask me to bet the Derby or other big races for them, and I even roped them into buying into the first horse I ever syndicated, but they’ve always gravitated towards other gambling options when available. They love betting sports, take part in high-dollar fantasy leagues, enter March Madness and knockout pools and have logged plenty of hours at poker and blackjack tables. They’re the exact customers racing needs to be attracting–young professionals (early 30s) with disposable income; the types who become six-figure handle generators if they catch the racing bug.
I’ve been fielding their questions for the past month or so, and what has been particularly striking is how many of the little nuisances one runs into as a horseplayer–and that many of us have just accepted as the way it is at this point–have come up.
They haven’t even asked me about take-out, or the big doping scandal, and they haven’t come out on the wrong end of a controversial DQ (luckily, they didn’t play that Fonner pick five carryover that had twitter abuzz), but I’ve certainly seen their enthusiasm dwindle a bit–perhaps they’ve just had a bad coach giving them too many losers. Here’s a sampling of some of their questions and comments, edited for clarity and, of course, language.
3/13 – “Is horse racing canceled?”
This is how it all started. Once the major sports leagues started canceling and postponing, they were running out of options. “It’s either horse racing or Aussie rules football,” one of them lamented desperately.
3/19 – “What is with this next race only having five horses?”
I got a kick out of this one at the time. As more tracks have closed and connections have gotten more aggressive with their spotting, field size has been pretty good and the races have been super competitive and interesting. Is this what the game was like before my time?
3/20 – “Just watched an entire race rooting for our horses, clapping hands like an animal when it came in…then realized it was Golden Gate and not Santa Anita.”
Can’t help you there–that sounds like user error.
3/21 – “I appreciate Gulfstream having a live stream on their site. Or maybe that’s normal.”
It’s certainly not ubiquitous, but shouldn’t it be? Presumably the theory is that it’s better to funnel people to ADWs to watch races, but it seems like more is probably lost than gained there.
3/21 – “I sat around for 30 minutes waiting for it then had to leave for the 90 seconds when it happened.”
The time between races frequently comes up as a negative for attracting new, less patient fans. There are logistical hurdles to this, however, and plenty that needs to be done behind the scenes with moving horses and people around, etc. Maybe it’d be worthwhile for a track to shorten the time between races during the specator-less era, but what’s another 10 minutes when you can’t leave your house for the foreseeable future?
3/21 – “What’s going on with Sam Houston?… If we hit the first leg of the pick four and then they cancel do we get anything?… Is there a chat complaint option on this site?… They only gave us back part of our bet… How is that fair?”
This was a tricky one to talk them through–it was the night Sam Houston had to cancel after its second race (they ended up canceling the remainder of the meet too) when a transformer blew. They’d hit the first leg of their pick four, but only received a partial refund because they had used more than one horse in the first leg and had therefore already “missed” some of the combinations they bet. They were pretty upset, and I can’t really blame them.
3/22 – “These races are all happening so close together–gets confusing.”
This is among the more maddening and easily fixable issues in racing, but it’s been less of a problem now with fewer tracks running. You do get the sense, though, that with certain tracks it’s got nothing to do with how crowded the schedule is.
3/28 – “Wasn’t this race supposed to go off like 20 minutes ago?”
If you like 30 minutes between races, you’ll love post drag!
3/28 – [One friend to the other]: “Hope you had fun because you’ll never bet racing on my dime again.”
3/29 – [Same friend]: “Who we betting today?”
4/11 – “Can you send us the program?”
The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation has this beat covered, and they’ve been spot on. Racing, especially now, really needs to make handicapping data more accessible in every sense of the word.
4/11 – “If we’re using so many, don’t we have to include that horse? He’s 6-1.”
One thing I’ve noticed is how heavily the morning line comes into play for these guys since they don’t have the knowledge or experience to make their own judgment calls. That’s not necessarily a bad or good thing, I don’t think, but it does seem that an inaccurate morning line does a particular and serious disservice to novices. I insisted that we didn’t need to use the horse in question, but was overruled. He went off at 34-1 and finished ninth. Tracks and morning line makers shouldn’t treat the morning line like the afterthought that many seem to.
4/11 – “When did the 3 scratch? Can we sub in another horse?”
I’m not sure if I missed a scratch or it happened late, but two races into the pick five we realized one of our horses was out. I explained the post-time favorite rule, but everyone agreed–you should be able to select an alternate.
4/11 – “Just thinking back to when you called sports gambling ‘pedestrian’ or whatever because the odds aren’t good enough.”
This came after a chalky sequence but before back-to-back 46-1 and 37-1 winners that triggered a $2700 daily double for a buck and $297,000 pick five for 50 cents. Racing’s still the best gambling game if we could just fix the obvious stuff. Maybe now’s the time.