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Thursday Thoughts: Only Beneficial Change Matters

by Al Cimaglia

December 21, 2017

There were some substantial changes announced recently having to do with racing at Yonkers and the Meadowlands. To be clear harness racing has been in a state of stagnation for far too long. Basically I applaud any substantive changes made by race track management to grow the fan base. The ultimate question with changes is if they will be meaningful, if not there's no sense sticking with a losing strategy.

Yonkers has decided to do away with the passing lane and it could happen in early 2018. The apparent motive to make the change is to create more exciting racing. There's an argument to be made that could happen but...Does more exciting racing lead to a larger handle?

Eliminating the passing lane won't influence betting to result in a larger handle unless it decreases the regularity of the inside post positions hitting the board. Right now, the key to handicapping races on a half mile track is to grasp who will get on the engine or in the two hole. The ultimate detriment in betting half mile racing is you don't get a bang for your dollar in most races. Thus, the handles don't compare to larger ovals.

If a 25-1 shot has the two hole and comes second to an-odds on favorite the exacta pays a smaller price because of the inside post position. If the 25-1 shot had the 7 or 8 post position, it's different. But the chances of a 25-1 shot with the 2-hole hitting the board is much greater than one with an outside post draw. In my view, that's what keeps the handle down at half-mile tracks, the risk reward isn't attractive and overall the field sizes are smaller.

Most likely eliminating the passing lane isn't going to appreciably grow the handle. Unless the elimination of the passing lane changes the dynamic of how races are run. If so, and the result is outside post positions have a better chance for success, there could be an increase in handle, otherwise it won't matter much. For now it's a safer bet to think outside post positions will still be at a disadvantage, and horses with inside posts will be over bet in gimmicks.

What will be most interesting is if the movement of eliminating the passing lane spreads to a 5/8 track. On a track where outside post positions have more success than on a half mile track, it might make a significant difference. The best chance to get large handle at Yonkers is to move to the Belmont Park development and construct a 7/8's or one mile oval.

The changes at the Meadowlands are coming this weekend and the Pick 10 Survivor bet no longer has a $10,000 guarantee. The Meadowlands should be credited with trying something different, but it made me wince when they announced the Survivor wager was 0.20 bet rather than 0.10. It may still work at 0.20, and I heard there was a problem with currency valuations for Canadian bettors which didn't allow for a 0.10 bet. Not sure if that was so, but the wager has had some success. Unfortunately, there have also been some unintended consequences and the Meadowlands didn't wait long to change course.

Those wagering on the Survivor have not continued to bet the card, there isn't the same money being churned. The Survivor money is tied up, so there has been a negative effect on other horizontal bets. As a result, the Big M has eliminated the Early 0.50 Pick 4. Having only one larger Pick 4 pool isn't so bad. There isn't a harness track besides Woodbine-Mohawk that can consistently manage to have three large pools in all their horizontal sequences.

The final change was to move the Jackpot High-5 to the second leg of the Pick 4. Now that's a move which makes all the sense in the world. Why would you want to end the night on a race with potentially larger payouts? That money needs to be in the system and churned if possible to grow the handle.

So, kudos to the Big M to move the Jackpot race up in the line-up and to also not end the night with the last leg of the Pick 4. This weekend there are 14 races on the card and the Pick 4 sequence is in races 8-11. Woodbine-Mohawk gets away with the Jackpot being in the last race but they are firing on all cylinders and not really a comparable situation.

Tomorrow, I will handicap the Big M Pick 4. Woodbine will have a mandatory payout on the Jackpot Hi-5 on Saturday night and that will capture my attention. My next day to write will not be Sunday, it will be Tuesday. That's when the Woodbine Boxing Day card rolls at mid-day, and the Cal Expo Pick 4 that night will also be handicapped.

Check me out on Twitter, @AlCimaglia.