Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we congratulate Golden Gate on picking up an entry to the Preakness and a successful fall meeting.
The opening of Santa Anita is a day short of two weeks away, and one of the new innovations it is adding is a wager called roulette. Depending on how you view the racing world, this bet is either exceedingly brilliant or incredibly stupid. And guess who gets to decide? You do by how or if you bet it.
Well, let me backtrack. If you are reading this newsletter, you probably are not the target audience for this wager. This seems completely aimed at the casual fans who are searching for a simple way to engage in the often confusing wagering world.
Here’s how it works. Horses in races with at least six runners will be in three groups — red, black and green. The favorite will likely be in the red group. The green group will mostly be longshots. And the black group, by process of elimination, will likely be the middle. There will probably not be an equal number of horses in each grouping. It’s a $2 bet with 15.43% takeout.
Let’s go back to the days when horses were routinely coupled because of common ownership or trainers. I don’t know about you, but I would often include coupled entries in my wagers, because you just can’t resist getting two horses for the price of one. It’s human nature.
Now, I’m thinking that for a betting neophyte, the idea of getting more than one horse is sort of good. The idea that, in proportional theory (but not reality), you have a 1 in 3 chance of winning as opposed to 1 in 8, 9 or 10, is much more appealing.
Now, I really see this as a low-handle bet compared to some of the traditional wagers. But, that’s just a guess. If you are a medium to big player, you’re not going to be very happy if you bet red and the longer shot wins instead of the favorite and you get favorite-like prices. Or, maybe, just maybe, you will get a better price on the favorite because the other entries will drag the bet down. If the latter happens, you can expect that trend to last only a day as experienced bettors will see it, hammer the wager, and drive down the price because of the low handle and that play will be gone.
Listen, this is a fun bet and not for people paying their grocery bills off their wagering. So, here’s my advice to Santa Anita (not that they ask or care), if you’re going to go all in on this, then go all in. All the way. Fun. Own it. Get some good publicity.
Here’s how you do it. Lower the takeout from 15.43% to 5.26%, which is the house edge in U.S. casinos for double-green roulette. Then it’s a true roulette bet. Great idea, right?
Well, for that to happen, the track, TOC and CHRB would have to agree on it, and we know that’s about as likely as Santa stealing packages from your front porch instead of leaving them. And then, there is that mettlesome Business and Professional Code 19601.01 which says that takeout can never be less than 10%.
So, let’s fix this. Well, not that easy. It would have to go through committees, the Legislature and be signed by the governor. Yeah, not sure how do-able that is.
One of racing’s many problems is that the government gets to set the market prices on betting, and that’s based on a structure that dates back many decades. Think about it, the market demands of 40 years ago are still in place. Better go out and buy up all the Blockbuster and eight-track stock that you can find. That inter-web thingy will never work; people want their news only on newsprint.
There is currently no place for flexibility and significant experimentation. The different factions in racing seem loath to come together and undergo what would be a painful process of undertaking the rewriting of all the legislation to bring it into this century. And, then we would be counting on them to get it right. Oh, boy.
So, how is it that my idea of casino-like takeout has created so much angst in me? Simple, that’s racing.
Your holiday wishes to racing
We tried this last year and it went well, so let’s do it again. Please send along your holiday gift suggestions for people in racing, the tracks, the stewards, the CHRB, anybody that we normally write about. It should be no more than a sentence, hopefully funny, not too mean-spirited. Send to email@example.com with holiday gift in the subject field. And include your real name, not some email handle that makes no sense to anybody but you.
Here are a couple examples from last year, so you know where we are going:
-- “To Santa Anita, new fireproof barns for the safety of the horses and workers that live back there.”
-- “To the racing fans of the Los Angeles area, our beloved Hollywood Park back.”
If I get enough replies, we’ll run them on Monday, the last newsletter before Dec. 26.
Odds and ends
-- We don’t have Matt Dinerman’s report on Golden Gate this week because the track is dark until Dec. 26, but Matt did check in with this bit of good news. The winner of the El Camino Real Derby on Feb. 16 at Golden Gate will get an all-expenses-paid non-vacation to the Preakness in Baltimore on May 18. This deal can be done because the Stronach Group owns both Golden Gate and the Preakness is, for now, at its Pimlico track.
Lest you think the winner of that race would be overmatched, here’s what David Duggan, the big guy at Golden Gate, had to say.
“We’ve had 27 horses run in the Kentucky Derby after competing in the El Camino Real Derby,” Duggan said. “Charismatic used the El Camino Real Derby as a prep for the Kentucky Derby in 1999 and he won the Preakness too. Tabasco Cat won the El Camino Real Derby in 1994 and he ended up winning both the Preakness and the Belmont, so we know it can be done.”
-- And more good news from up north. Golden Gate showed a 19% increase in all sources handle this last meet from $83.6 million in 2017 to $99.7 million this year. Almost all those gains were in out-of-state and off-track betting, which likely means the on-track increases were not as big as the track hoped. But those details were not given. In the next meet, the track will increase its purses for maiden special weight and allowances. And, the bottom level claimers will now have a purse floor of $10,000.
-- And we get this bit of more good holiday news from Elizabeth Neil, who is in the process of buying 95 acres near Temecula where she will be forming “Old Friends Farm West.” Modeled after the Kentucky facility of almost the same name, the farm will be both a retirement and retraining facility. It’s all still in the planning stages and there is plenty of fundraising left to do, but it’s certainly a good start to an under-served need.
Who goofed, I’ve got to know?
Hey, it’s not me. But one reader fessed up in our best mudder contributions that they were wrong when they said: “I'm not an old-timer, so only Arrogate comes to mind.” Well, come to find the reader really meant Exaggerator, the horse that brought Nyquist’s win streak to an end on an extremely wet Pimlico track in the Preakness.
All of which reminds me of one of my favorite (and possibly true) journalism stories. A veteran sportswriter covering the Army-Navy game files his story to the office. A copy editor calls back questioning if the reporter has his facts straight in the story. “Don’t question me, I’ve been doing this longer than you’ve been alive,” the reporter said. “I’ll have your job. Don’t you ever doubt me when I write something. And, by the way, change all the Army’s to Navy and all the Navy’s to Army.”
Los Alamitos preview
The final week of the two-week meeting gets underway at 1 p.m. with eight races. The feature has to be the second race, a maiden special weight for fillies and mares 3 and up going six furlongs for a $40,000 purse. Given Bob Baffert’s absolute magic with maidens this year, it should be no surprise he has the first and second favorites.
Now, these fillies are slow developing and are already 3 years old, so they need to pick it up, win some stakes and ponder a career as a broodmare. A Little Unruly, at 2-1, is the favorite with Drayden Van Dyke as the rider. She was second in her only start, at Los Alamitos on July 4. Sher was a $130,000 purchase for one of Baffert’s bigger clients, Michael Lund Petersen.
Withhold Info, at 5-2, is the second favorite with Joe Talamo in the saddle. She is making her first start with five bullet workouts since Oct. 17. Now, her works were not against a lot of horses, but she was first against workout tabs of 9, 4, 5, 6, 16. Her last three works have been from the gate. This filly is also from one of Baffert’s big client groups, Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman, who also bred the filly.
Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 6, 7, 7, 8, 7, 9, 11.
Jose Contreras LRC play of the day
SIXTH RACE: No. 1 Bay Area (7-2)
He found himself toward the back of the back and he found himself with too much to do after they slowed down the pace up front. He didn’t have the extra kick down the stretch over the good turf and finished an even fifth in a field of seven. He now returns to the dirt and takes a drop in class to conditional claimers. The inside post position should allow him to save ground going into the first turn and he should be able to use the long stretch for his late closing kick.
Sunday’s result: Malibu Bay (4-1) was scratched from the sixth race.
Jose Contreras is an excellent handicapper and well known on social media and familiar to racing fans watching on TVG. You can follow him on Twitter at @losponies or check him out at his website.
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And now the star of the show, Thursday’s entries.