They're off at Saratoga

How to Grow Our Sport–Multi Track Wager

We are excited to have the opportunity to moderate the panel on Race Track Marketing at Equestricon. The panel , scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Monday, August 14, 2017, will feature marketing executives from top race tracks across the country– Christa Marilla (Keeneland), Alyssa Ali (Arlington), C.J. Johnsen (Kentucky Downs), Kelly O’Hara (Remington) and Darran Miner (NYRA). Everyone agrees there is a need to grow our sport, but the “how” is subject to much debate.  In advance of Equestricon, we will discuss a few of the ideas and concepts that will be raised during our panel discussion.  Following the Panel, we hope to analyze some of the key concepts and takeaways discussed.

All horseplayers have that story. It is the story of their first near miss on a big hit during his or her early days of navigating pari-mutuel options.  It is the wager that converted them from a causal fan to a true handicapper.  It’s that taste of dreaming big, the belief that a huge score is possible, which keeps many coming back.

 For me, it was the 2004 NTRA National Pick 4.  As a poor college student, my current Thorobro colleague and I each picked one horse in the four legs, which included two stakes from Arlington (The Beverly D and The Arlington Million) and two from Saratoga (the Vanderbilt and the Sword Dancer).  A “steep” $16 bet, split two ways.  I recall being torn between Balto Star and Better Talk Now in the Sword Dancer.  I picked Balto Star in the end because speed had been good that day.  We won the first two legs which included $21.00 Crimson Palace in the Beverly D.  Unfortunately, Better Talk Now won for fun.   But when Kickin Kris, a horse we had on our ticket, won the Million, paying $21.00, we were immediately sick seeing the $2,700 payout for a dollar. We missed by leaving a superstar off our ticket.   That would have been a nice chunk of change for us low budget players at the time.  Soon, however, that feeling of disappointment  transformed into hope.  We were hooked on the pick 4 wager—a bet we still split (although with deeper spread) on every big racing day.


So it is with that story in mind, that I have always had a fondness for the multi-track multi-race wagers. And when they are offered, I usually go out of my way to play them.   No matter how ridiculous—the Power Hour Pick 6  (six races across the country in less than hour), the Santa Anita/ NYRA daily double scratch ticket (which often featured two maiden claimer turf races), I even tried the NYRA/ Penn National double a time or two.  When sequenced and structured correctly, these wagers have been very popular and successful.

While wagering has declined in general, the one wager which has grown is multi-race wagering. Lower take out rates, lower minimum wager amounts, and big payouts all appeal to today’s bettor.  By reducing the time between races, and combining wagering on top stakes action across the country, it is easy to see the appeal of a multi-racetrack/ multi-race wager.

For example, the NTRA National Pick 4’s discussed above were very popular. $400,000 guarantees which often approached $1 million in 2004 and 2005.  They features top stakes action, from multiple tracks, in a condensed period of time.  The payouts were large.  The minimums were still a dollar and the take out rate was higher, but they were still popular.  In 2015, Stronach offered a similar Pick 4 featuring the Donn and San Antonio (California Chrome v. Shared Belief).  Again, the sequence included top horses, this time for a lower .$50 minimum, but a very high, almost 24%, take out rate.   The NYRA/ Santa Anita double did not succeed because it failed at addressing all the appeal of multi-race wagers—$2 minimums, often featuring maiden claiming races, low payouts and a 20% take out.

It is clear over the past decade that race tracks see the value in offering multi-race wagers. They provide something new and different to a sport which can benefit from change.  Despite the lack of unity in racing, tracks have demonstrated a willingness to partner up for some wagers.  Yet very few have been able to combine all of the key elements to make the bet a success—low minimums,  large payouts, low take outs, and top racing.  Although easier said than done, we believe that is the key to success for these wagers.  If done correctly, multi-track wagers can be used to unite and grow racing.


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