The field for Keeneland’s sixth race on Friday jumped from the stalls and #3 Early Mischief was 10-1. While it doesn’t happen often, the odds for the race were still on the screen as the field broke away. The next time the odds appeared on the screen, after the race was finished and Keeneland was showing a head-on replay of the start of the race, Early Mischief was listed at 5-1.

Here is an image as the race started:

20200711 - kee r6.JPG

Here is the next time odds were shown on the Keeneland feed:

20200711 - KEE R6 POST.JPG

Those who bet the race, bet racing in general or simply observed the incident, commented negatively on the situation via social media in its aftermath. Incidents such as these occur with regularity across the sport, often leading to substantial frustration from customers and, in general, silence from racetracks and bet-takers.

Needless to say, concerned customers could have a variety of questions.

Was the bet entered after the race started and Early Mischief ended up on the lead?

Why does it take the tote system so long to update?

Is there anything nefarious involved here?

These are all fair questions. Customers ask these questions because incidents like the one at Keeneland occur with regularity across North American racing. Day in and day out.

A few hours after the Keeneland incident, another late odds shift seemed to occur after the sixth race at Del Mar. As the horses were galloping out past the finish, the odds display showed one set of prices and then updated quickly to another. Notably, the odds of the winning horse, #9 Righteously, were initially shown as 30-1 and dropped to 20-1 on the updated graphic, though displays during the race showed 20-1 throughout.

Here is the first image of odds after the race (horses galloping out):

20200710 - DMR R6.JPG

Below is the image of the second show of odds, a few seconds later:

20200710 - DMR R6 Odds 2nd.JPG

On the surface, this looked like a technical glitch.

But after years (yes, years) of these same incidents and frustrations from customers who both feel and actually ARE aggrieved, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference.

Paul Matties Jr., a professional horseplayer and a Thoroughbred Idea Foundation board member, chimed-in about the frequency and the impact of these incidents.

“It happens a bunch of times every day, now. The legality or the fairness of the last flash batch betting is no longer the point. You're taking a good experience & turning it bad. If the wins are bad experiences, horseplayers are going to quit at some point. It's just inevitable.”

Matties is a professional horseplayer whose handle has generated potentially millions in commissions taken by tracks and which go to owners, trainers, jockeys and the entire ecosystem which supports racing.

So how does racing respond to these incidents? Very often, they don’t.

Much to their credit, Keeneland did publish a statement on Saturday morning following the Early Mischief odds shift.

20200710 - KEE Statement.JPGTracks, tote companies and ADWs are usually silent on these matters. The long-term silence introduces doubt and nefarious considerations. More tracks should be transparent like Keeneland was in this incident.

Pari-mutuel betting, the hallmark system of American wagering on horse racing, is benign to preference. Essentially anyone can bet as much as they want and the odds are recalculated. The house takes a standard cut from the entire pool. If Early Mischief had lost, the odds change may have benefited others, who thought they might receive 2-1 when the race started and the odds disappeared, only to see 5-2 or 3-1 after the finish.

It’s entirely possible no one is upset, or even notices the changes, if Early Mischief loses. 


Leave it to some in racing to think that there isn’t a problem if no one notices it.

The same could be said for the Breeders’ Cup "Fix Six" scandal in 2002, where a tote employee with knowledge of the technology manipulated bets and claimed the only winning tickets in the pick six. If the longest priced runner in that year's Classic – Volponi at 43-1 – doesn’t win, or if the educated fools who perpetrated the scam hadn’t fat-fingered their manipulated tickets to a $12 stake instead of $2, the scam could still be ongoing (5-2 favorite Medaglia d’Oro ran second).

Remarkably, the Equibase chart for the race STILL shows the pick six having been hit that day for more than $428,000 on over $4.5 million wagered.

20200711 - BC F6.JPG

No legitimate ticket had all six winners that day, but racing’s official record of the race still shows that it did, 18 years later, even after tax records were used to properly reward those registered ticket holders who cashed substantial consolation payouts with an additional $39,000 for five-of-six winners, to which they were rightfully entitled.

Attention on American racing has declined, substantially, in the years since. The proof is in the numbers as it relates to wagering.

In 2000, wagering on American racing was $14.32 billion, according to the Jockey Club Fact Book. When adjusting for inflation to 2019 dollars, that is the modern equivalent of $21.58 billion. Total actual handle in 2019 was just $11.03 billion, an inflation-adjusted decline of 49 percent.

The metrics suggest that the industry has not exactly done all that is needed to retain customers, let alone grow them. Every horseperson in North America, beneficiaries of wagering commissions via takeout, should be concerned by this. 

But the situation may be worse than the numbers even suggest.

Because of a lack of transparency and reporting, there is no insight as to how many customers actually wager. Insiders with knowledge of the situation suggest to the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation that one professional betting syndicate could be responsible for approximately five percent, and potentially more, of total American thoroughbred racing wagering. Several other syndicates are believed to be responsible for “low single-digit percentages” of total wagering.

While these entities are very likely to receive preferred access to enter their bets direct to pools and earn substantial rebates, a concentration of such a significant percentage of wagering from so few customers presents a series of sustainability concerns. As all of these bets are channeled through ADWs, they are simulatenously the most valuable bets to those same ADWs while simultaneously, the least valuable bets to horsepeople and purses, which receive smaller cuts of such wagers due to years of horrendous negotiating.

It should concern all horsepeople that tens of thousands of ordinary wagering customers have degraded wagering experiences due to the legitimate acts of a few preferred customers. Should the masses continue to take hits such as these, mainstream customers will continue to abandon horse racing. 

There are a plethora of problems and conflicts of interest as it relates to this matter and few solutions, in practice today, to fix them. The greater industry has wasted almost two decades since it commissioned its own intricate analysis in 2003 via the Wagering Systems Task Force, an interest launched by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

The well-credentialed members of the Task Force presented a host of recommendations. Among them (underline added for emphasis):

"The industry must make improving the tote infrastructure its top priority to fully address current inefficiencies and satisfy ongoing integrity requirements. The improved system should include [among other things]: Technological advances to eliminate or substantially reduce late odds changes"

Some of the major ADWs and tote companies are owned by track operators, who earn sizable commissions from bets placed through their platforms. The only entity designed to investigate odd behavior in wagering (the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau) is wholly owned by a consortium of racetracks…which own the largest ADWs and two of the three tote companies which continue to maintain an antiquated wagering system in desperate need of innovation to improve the customer experience and enhance wagering security and integrity.

Keeneland did the right, and very rare, thing by addressing the late change. There is every reason to believe that other tracks, if they noticed it, looked on with disdain that Keeneland spoke up.

It's a start in a process that needs to go much farther.


Popular Posts