February 23, 2001

February 23, 2001

Not Exactly Kucha Versus Ogakor
In a stunning bicoastal announcement today from FrontRunner Restaurant at Santa Anita Park and broadcast to the press box at Gulfstream Park, Magna Entertainment Corp. Vice President Andy Stronach (great last name!) announced plans for racing at the MEC tracks to imitate the success of the runaway television hit "Survivor."

Thoroughbred horse racing, which since its inception has been characterized by an overarching emphasis on individual efforts of triumph--as demonstrated by an owner having unique silks, one horse being declared the winner, a single name engraved on a race trophy--will no longer reward those who go it alone to prevail over everyone else.

Teams will now take over the racing landscape, and it will indeed be the team effort that counts the most. Victory in a race will not mean much in itself, so long as the overall performance of the team overcomes that minor shortcoming of failing to finish first.

Additionally, an individual race will now be but one segment of a larger competition, will become an inning or a quarter in a horse race game. Fans will be thrilled and delighted to have their runners finish second, third and fourth, because that gives their team nearly twice as many points as the team whose horse won.

And in perhaps the most startling revelation of all, wagering on the teams will not be strictly a heads-or-tails proposition, but a point-spread concept intended to measure the collective superiority of a team, and not its singular performances.

Stronach was said to be making the moves to increase field size, boost wagering handle and provide a team aspect to racing.

OK, so maybe the first four 'graphs are a little satirical. But that fifth one pretty much sums up the reality of racetrack management in these competitive times. And you can't blame the guy for trying.

Yes, MEC has introduced this concept dubbed Super Track Wagering. Yes, it will involve horses and jockeys shipping in to Santa Anita from Gulfstream Park on Saturday, March 3. Yes, it will involve horses and jockeys shipping in to Gulfstream Park from Santa Anita on March 10. Yes, it will provide six stakes races each worth $100,000 on each of those days.

But will it set out to accomplish those three goals: increase field size, boost wagering handle and provide a team aspect to racing? Yes, yes and--eh.

The idea of shuttling horses between the two tracks can only boost field size. In his media conference this morning, Stronach pointed out that the horses who would be shipping are those allowance-caliber horses who have more or less run out of conditions and who can wait a long, long time for a nonwinners-three-other-than or -four-other-than allowance to fill, or when it does fill, run in a blah six-horse lineup. Yet they don't want to get knackered in a stakes field or have to ship somewhere else to try easier stakes company.

By shuttling back and forth, these horses will run in full, competitive fields at whatever track, and that easily eases Stronach's concerns about field size, which he currently describes at both tracks as "having two restaurants half-full."

And the handle benefits in kind from the increased field size. Stronach says that six-horse fields average $700,000 in handle, mainly because show betting on such races is a dim prospect and there is no "triactor or superfecta" on the race. With 12 horses entered, that won't be a problem.

On the other hand, a 12-horse field can balloon the handle to close to $2 million. That alone would be worth the trip. And not just for Stronach and MEC, but for bettors and value-seekers nationwide.

But the team concept? Maybe not, but Stronach is flying first-class. STR logos were plastered all over the monitors at the media conference, and even towered in the infield on the Jumbotron. The teams, known as the Los Angeles Blaze and the Miami Cruisers, also have professional-league-quality logos. Stronach is betting heavily on this assimilation of individual horses and riders into teams, saying that the average fan will be more likely to associate with a team than some rich billionaire horse owner--like his own father, for instance.

The concept of wagering on a team and not a horse will be hard to take, unless forgiven by something like juicy mutuel prices. That remains to be seen.

Nonetheless, whatever the reaction to the concept--good, bad or indifferent--it definitely is something new, and when was the last time racing was so inventive?

If you build it they will come, or so it was said in some Hollywood tearjerker, and the corollary to racing could very well be if you build field size, they will come, and bets lots of money, to boot.

Nothing wrong with that.

Insert Self-Promotion Here
That whole spiel is a good time to remind you that the 2001 par times and PARS PLUS supplemental materials are nearing delivery.

With Super Track Racing, Santa Anita will see more shippers than usual. How do the Gulfstream allowance types compare with their Santa Anita brethren? Those intertrack class levels in the PARS PLUS supplemental material will give you an at-a-glance idea.

But that's enough of that. You can get the whole lowdown, including technical discussions, on the Cynthia Publishing Company Web site at www.cynthiapublishing.com

Also, don't forget about that great Big-Prize Handicapping Contest, available for your participation this very moment.

OK. That's all on that score.

Practical Pointer #8 (in a continuing series)
You see layoff horses and second-off-a-layoff horses? They're odds-on. What next?

The popular media are quick to point out the return of a champion, or at least a highly regarded runner. Tiznow came back a winner following the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Bienamado also won his comebacker. However, last weekend's loss of the highly regarded returnee Gaviola stimulated talk of taking shots against stakes types who've been gone a while.

The second race back needs no explanation. You don't have to be an NBA fan to know what bounce is all about, and some say it was that very bounce that led to Tiznow's dribbling out in his second race back. What do you think?

A quick scan of some odds-on favorites in January tells a mixed story. (Odds-on horses are a good barometer in that, as a whole, their win percentage shouldn't be subject to too much fluctuation.) Here are the findings:

First off, the public seems to be wary to put too much faith in a comebacker such that it is prohibitively favored. There were 300 odds-on horses in the sample overall, but only 65 of them were returnees.

The numbers are even scarcer for the second-off-a-layoff strong favorites--only 55 of them could be found. Is the public steering clear of these types, too?

Which leaves the lion's share of the odds-on faves to those horses who should (that's a very qualified "should," by the way) be immune to the most obvious of form-cycle bugaboos, the comeback and the bounce. With an established form cycle already underway, it's these guys you figure should perform best.

Back to the stats. Of the 65 comebacking odds-on horses, 27 won, or 41.5 percent. They returned $97.80 on a $2 flat bet, a loss of almost a quarter on the invested dollar.

The second-offs? They got home 26 times in their 55 races--47.3 percent. A little better, though there's no comfort in the smallness of the sample. But their return was only $96.40 on the total $110 investment (or a loss of just under 13 cents on the dollar), an improvement over the comebackers' ROI.

Finally, the majority of the odds-on runners, 180 of them, were in the middle of an established form cycle. Eighty-one won, a pretty good 45.8 percent.

However (and please do feel free to stretch that word out to eight or nine syllables), they were severely overbet. They returned just $285 on the $354 investment, losing almost 20 cents on the dollar.

Where does that leave us? Short odds, comebacker? It could be worth playing against, since they performed the worst and returned the least. Short odds, bounce candidate? Not so fast, perhaps. While the sample could have something to do with it, maybe the got more out of their comeback race than just a case of muscle soreness.

As for the ones who should be free and clear from any post-vacation blues or regression, yes, that certainly seems to be the case. But they just don't pay enough. Taking a stand against them might be a little bold, but betting with them and their high probabilities, while "safer," just isn't a safe strategy in and of itself.

Three-Year-Olds, More Big Races
Songandaprayer went unanswered in last Saturday's Fountain of Youth, and just maintained position from the top of the lane in, to win that race.

However, a final sixteenth in seven seconds is just asking for trouble, as is basing a spring campaign on the off chance you'll get a clear, uncontested lead every time.

But the public is not dumb, and they'll likely discount the performance as a frontrunning fluke, particularly in light of Outofthebox's poor start and (perhaps) deceptively brave attempt to chase the winner home late.

Now, if they somehow prefer Songandaprayer down the road some, it will be good news for the value-seekers, since these races are not dominated by one horse, nor are the strategies likely to remain the same.

In New Orleans last Sunday, Dollar Bill came back and won 4-5 (natch!), stepping clear of a woefully overmatched group, though he did have to do some quality running late to wear down a freerunning longshot at the end. If he continues on with that sort of style, he doesn't seem like a bad chance at all.

Of course, the public isn't too sure, either, if the final odds in Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager are any indication. Even well-hyped horses like Millennium Wind and Outofthebox are 14-1 and 25-1, respectively, with the mutuel field (of all three-year-olds other than the 23 listed by name) at a sick 3-1.

So even if you are a ladies man, this was one field definitely not worth playing.

Loose Ends
You always remember the last thing you read, so join us next time for a Big 'Cap blowout, and don't forget to check out the 2001 PARS PLUS and enter the Big-Prize Handicapping Contest. And if you're just joining us, catch up with the archived past issues of On-Line at the Short Line. Go to the Short Line link and click on the Archives link on that page.

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