Do the 2021 handle numbers tell the whole story?

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The week in review, by Bill Finley

The announcement of Equibase which runs races in the United States in 2021 set a nine-year high with a bet of more than $ 12 billion was understandably well received. In a year when a lot has gone wrong for the sport, at least the betting numbers were healthy.

But, and sorry for raining on the parade, we need more information before we can celebrate.

How much was bet is only part of the story. We need to know where the bets were made and by whom. If the increase was the result of things like additional TV exposure for NYRA races on Fox Sports or sports bettors drawn to racing or an overall increase in the popularity of the sport, then this is a very positive story. But if the added handle was the result of high volume players using computer programs to place their bets by increasing their betting level in 2021, then the situation is totally different. We just don’t know.

“It’s better for the numbers to go up rather than go down, but what’s the real world context? Said Pat Cummings, executive director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, which estimates that computer-assisted betting (CAW) players account for 35% of total transactions in the United States. is. So whoever wants to do a lap of honor on them can do a lap of honor on them. But they totally lack understanding of the larger detail of the business. It would be like saying you lost 20 pounds over the course of the year, but ignoring the fact that your cholesterol increased by 100 points. It’s impossible to quantify how good it is or, potentially, how bad it is.

It is pari-mutuel, where successful bettors feast on those who fail. It is their money that they earn, not the money from the house. With the TCA phenomenon, betting on horses has become a matter of whales against minnows or TCA punters against everyone else. The whales have engulfed the minnows, and after a while, all the minnows will be gone. This is a serious threat to the long term viability of the sport. If CAW players are betting more than ever in 2021, well, that’s a big deal.

In a perfect world there would be transparency and we would know exactly where the handle is coming from. How much was bet on the track or in physical OTBs or simultaneous outlets, with ADWs like NYRA Bets and TwinSpires, and how much was bet by CAW players?

We’ll never know. Based on the estimate that 35% of all bets made in the United States were made by CAW players, this means that computer players bet at least $ 4 billion per year. With a few exceptions, tours and other betting spots will never turn down their business and disclose any relevant information. It’s understandable. CAW customers want to preserve their privacy and the leads and betting spots don’t want competitors to know about their business.

Perhaps the gains made in betting in 2021 had nothing to do with CAW players. We just don’t know. It would be nice if we did.

Field size decreases again

Equibase’s year-end post of race economics also included the nugget that the average field size in 2021 was 7.3 starters per race. This was a decrease of 7.2% from 2020 and 2.08% from 2019. While these drops alone are not alarming, this was the smallest average size field since the Jockey Club began keeping records in 1950. As of 2011, the average pitch size was 8.04. This is not good and there is no indication that it will improve anytime soon.

Peruvian coaches pass 10,000 milestone

Coach Juan Suarez won five races on Saturday at the Hipodromo de Monterrico in Lima, Peru, becoming the first coach in the world to have 10,000 career winners. Entering Sunday, Steve Asmussen had 9,592 winners.

Over the past five years, Suarez has averaged 315 wins per year, while Asmussen has averaged 390. This means Asmussen is likely to narrow Suarez’s lead but could spend years trying to catch up with him. The main advantage of Asmussen is its age. He is 16 years younger than Suarez and will surely survive him.

The Flightline watch

Coach John Sadler has yet to decide where the aspiring superstar Flight line (Tapit) will then run after his ultra-impressive victory in the GI Runhappy Malibu at Santa Anita. But he ruled out a start in the Saudi G1 Cup or the G1 World Cup in Dubai. Sadler mentioned the GI Metropolitan H. and the GI Pacific Classic as possible departures for Flightline.

Kristian Rhein and the “Assloads” of SGF-1000

Kristian Rhein, a suspended veterinarian formerly based at Belmont Park, was sentenced last week to three years in prison for his role in the conspiracy to dope horses also involving Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro. Rhein was caught wiretapping and bragging about selling “massloads” of the banned drug SGF-1000 not only to Servis but to other trainers.

Rhein is not the first drug distributor or manufacturer to plead guilty, and surely each of them was selling their drugs to far more than Servis and Navarro and the other coaches who were charged. A check of Rhein’s records alone could reveal dozens of names of trainers who used the SGF-1000 and, as a result, cheated.

Will there be more indictments, possibly many more, to come? I’m starting to think that won’t happen, that the FBI and the Department of Justice are ready to move on to matters more important to them than horse racing. But that shouldn’t mean the story ends there. Will state racing commissions investigate, ask the FBI to share their information, question Rhein and the rest? It’s horse racing. Probably not.


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