By John Piassek
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
Any bettor looking for a preponderance of betting opportunities should look no further than Gulfstream Park. On the last week of January, the south Florida track conducted eleven races every day—even on weekdays, when there were no stakes races doing on. On Donn Handicap day, Gulfstream plans on running thirteen races, creating an absolute marathon of a racing day.
Does it sound like a good thing? It really isn’t.
Back in the supposed “glory days” of racing, race days longer than nine or ten races were uncommon. Until the 1950s, in fact, a mere eight races per day were the norm, even on major race days like the Kentucky Derby and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. As recently as 2000, Travers Stakes day was only ten races long, and Kentucky Derby day only had ten in 2001. In 2015, those days offered fourteen and thirteen races, respectively. Gulfstream Park, as previously noted, never has a race day with fewer than ten races during their championship meet. In the summer, Monmouth Park offers twelve races almost every Saturday and Sunday. Saratoga had at least eleven races every Saturday last summer. During daylight savings time, when there’s more sunlight, any track with a big race will inevitably make it a long day.
This, in my opinion, is overkill. It may be fun to have a really long race day once in a while, but having so many races per day makes for a ridiculously long day. During an eleven-race card at Gulfstream, for example, the first race is scheduled for 12:35 PM, with the finale going off at 5:35 PM. That’s a five-hour day. During the summer at Monmouth, the twelve-race programs can stretch past the 5 ½ hour mark. At Saratoga last summer, a Saturday card that started at 1:00 PM often went past 7:00 at night. For the casual racing fan, that’s no fun. A sports fan in Miami can go to a Miami Heat basketball game or a Florida Panthers hockey game and have the action be over in 2 ½ hours, maximum. At Gulfstream, 2 ½ hours is a small fraction of a day.
And it’s not like these cards are full of great races, either. On January 27, eight out of the eleven races at Gulfstream were either claiming or maiden claiming races. The next day, it was the same deal. Having giant cards full of cheap races just dilutes the product, and makes for a cheaper product. United Nations Day 2015 at Monmouth Park, for example, included a non-winners-of-two claiming field with seven horses, and another one of the same condition with six horses. If those two unappetizing races had been expunged from the program, and there were ten races that day, would anyone have cared? Probably not.
Having shorter race days would be advantageous for a few reasons. For one, as noted, it makes for a faster race day. Compared to other sporting options, racing drags on for way too long. Reducing the number of races per day would help with that. Secondly, having fewer races would lead to bigger fields. If the same number of horses are compressed into fewer races, it serves to reason that those races will have more horses. Oaklawn Park, for example, runs nine races every day, even on weekends, and it’s rare to see a race with a small field. Sunland Park, before their racing was shut down due to a virus, cut the number of races per day to nine, and saw increases in both field size and handle.
Thirdly, it’s what most of the players want. A poll that I conducted amongst bettors on the “Homeless Handicappers” facebook group and on paceadvantage.com revealed this about their preferred race day length:
|Races Per Day||Votes||Percentage|
|8 or fewer||16||12.8%|
|12 or more||7||5.6%|
The numbers speak for themselves. A whopping 78.4% of bettors prefer only nine or ten races per day, with only 8.8% liking days with eleven or more races.
That should be the idea for racetracks. Quality in fewer races, not eight maiden claiming races a day.
John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.