Archives for November 2014


The Keeneland autumn meet concluded with all-sources wagering of $122.9 million and on-track wagering of $17.6 million.  These represented year-over-year declines of 12% and 3%, respectively.

The main concern Keeneland management should have is that handle for their October meet was down by 12% (as compared to October 2013) while year-over-year pari-mutuel wagering in the United States for October was up by 2.72%.  Using this latter benchmark, Keeneland all-sources pari-mutuel wagering was 14.72% below the norm for all U. S. racetracks and ADW services.

Some observers suggested that the decreases in handle were largely due to Keeneland’s switch from a synthetic racetrack to a dirt racetrack.  (Ironically, Keeneland had offered that American bettors prefer dirt races as a reason for abandoning a synthetic racetrack surface.)  Bettors, particularly big bettors, did not know how the newly-installed dirt track at Keeneland would play and what its biases might be.  It is plausible, therefore, that some of them took a wait-and-see attitude and bet less than usual or not at all.

Keeneland’s management cited the often unseasonably cool and rainy weather as an explanation.  Lending some support to their contention is the fact that on the days when the weather was good–on the final six days of the meet–attendance figures exceeded those for the same days in 2013.

The forgoing reasons are not mutually exclusive, of course, and thus they all no doubt have an element of truth, and there may be other reasons as well, such as short fields that serve to depress handle or even competition from an improved University of Kentucky football team.

The main cause of the overall decrease in handle of 12% came from attrition in advance deposit wagering. The evidence for this assertion is threefold:  (1) while average daily attendance was down by 5.6% from the fall of 2013, on-track handle declined by only 3%; (2) advance deposit wagering accounted for nearly 86% of all-sources wagering; and (3) the vast majority of advance deposit wagering bettors were not affected by unseasonably cool and rainy weather.

Subsequent meets at Keeneland will reveal whether the disappointing autumn 2014 meet was an aberration.  What should focus the attention of Keeneland’s board of directors and top management is that wagering at a premier racetrack like Keeneland decreased by double digits in a month in which wagering at racetracks and ADW companies in the United States increased.

Copyright © 2014 Horse Racing Business


Handicapping horse racing is a barrier to attracting new players to the sport.  Esoteric past performances, with the fine print, voluminous footnotes, and cryptic abbreviations can be an intimidating turn-off to the neophyte, while learning to play slots or wagering on sports, for instance, is far less imposing.

Aside from interpreting the information, the exercise itself may be too ponderous and too slow for people raised in an age of video games and mobile communications devices.  Even the traditional advance-deposit wagering sites can be daunting for the beginner.

A unique start-up ADW company called Derby Jackpot is trying to make horse racing more accessible to the beginner by offering bets on live horse racing from around the globe with a more creative interface.  The founders are young entrepreneurs with a diversity of skill sets and different ways of thinking, and include the co-author of Freakonomics, a former game designer at Zynga, and people with engineering or operations experiences at an online casino, a digital messaging service, and a major racetrack company.

Derby Jackpot is billed as being easier to play than the lottery.  Bets like the Monkey, the Granny, the Gonzo, and the Fiddy are presented in either a table-game format or a slots-like configuration.  The Gonzo, for example, is an exacta box bet in which each race entry is represented by a playing card, whereas the Fiddy presents a Trifecta bet as an easily understandable slots-machine play.

The Derby Jackpot format will be too elementary for an experienced handicapper but horseplayers are not the game’s audience.   The casino-like presentation focuses on keeping the wagering simple.

Derby Jackpot is currently heavily advertised on sports-talk radio shows, where there is a huge potential for encouraging sports fans to try betting on horse racing for as little as a dime.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.


The Breeders’ Cup Classic was marred by the incident immediately after the start when Bayern bumped into the betting favorite Shared Belief and also impeded the path of Moreno.  Speaking on behalf of Santa Anita, track announcer Trevor Denman said the stewards determined that the collision did not affect the outcome of the race because it occurred so soon after the start.

The stewards’ explanation, of course, is illogical in that neither the stewards nor anyone else can divine what might have transpired if the start had been free of interference from Bayern.  A plausible alternate case can be made that, had the bumping not taken place, Moreno would have gone to the front, thereby wearing down Bayern, which would have set up the race for the second-place finisher Toast of New York or some other horse, including Shared Belief, who was obviously compromised by Bayern.

The stewards should have asked only one question:  Was Bayern’s bumping of Shared Belief severe enough to have markedly changed the result of the race?  If so, he should have been disqualified.

The view here is that the stewards erred in speculating on how the race would have turned out (absent the bumping) rather than basing their decision on what actually took place.  Using a fact-based approach, Bayern disqualified himself at the outset of the race, regardless of where he ended up finishing, because the bumping was very significant.   The stewards went beyond their role of judges of the facts and concocted a hypothetical race scenario to justify their decision.

To paraphrase New England Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick, “I can only go by what I see out there.”  That’s sound advice for racetrack stewards.

Copyright © 2014 Horse Racing Business