Weekend Classics a missed opportunity for international simulcasting

Saturday, May 3 is a special day of racing in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The Kentucky Derby, first leg of the American Triple Crown, will be run at 1 ¼ miles on dirt at Churchill Downs, while the 2000 Guineas, the first of five British Classic races and the first leg of the British Triple Crown, will be contested over a mile on turf at Newmarket Racecourse.

Both races boast strong fields of 3-year-olds and are guaranteed to be competitive and good betting races. However, the lack of any material wagering on either race across the Atlantic is a missed opportunity that demonstrates the limitations of international simulcasting.

While a limited number of account wagering and simulcast outlets will stream the 2000 Guineas live and take wagers through the good efforts of GBI Racing, the race will not be broadcast on television in the U.S. The Kentucky Derby will be broadcast into some homes in the U.K. by Racing UK – a subscription-only channel – which will feature the NBC coverage with Angus McNae and James Willoughby in the studio. The timing of these races also bears mentioning – the 2000 Guineas will go off at 3:50 p.m. GMT (10:50 a.m. EDT in the U.S.) while the 6:24 p.m. post time of the Kentucky Derby means an 11:24 pm start in Great Britain.

The 2000 Guineas promises to be a brilliant race with three of the top breeding and racing companies in the world represented – Coolmore, Godolphin, and Juddmonte. The favorite will be Kingman, very impressive winner of the recent Greenham Stakes at Newbury, trained by John Gosden and owned by Juddmonte. The likely second choice will be the regally bred Coolmore colt, Australia (Galileo out of Ouija Board) trained by Aidan O’Brien and making his first start of the year. Godolphin will be represented by Outstrip, winner of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf held at Santa Anita Park and trained by Charlie Appleby. The field also includes three horses trained by Richard Hannon, including Toormore, recent winner of the Craven Stakes and Europe’s champion 2-year-old.

The 5-2 morning line favorite for the Kentucky Derby is California Chrome, winner of the Santa Anita Derby in his last start, undefeated as a 3-year-old, and trained by 77-year old Art Sherman. The second choice, at 6-1, is Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong, owned by Centennial Farms, trained by Jimmy Jerkens. Todd Pletcher trainee Danza, recent winner of the Arkansas Derby, is the morning line third choice at 8-1.

Interestingly, the would-be favorites in the Kentucky Derby have all made between two and five starts in 2014. This is in sharp contrast to the 2000 Guineas favorites where Kingman and Toormore have made one start in 2014, and Australia has yet to run this year.

Speaking of works, in the two to three week run up to the Kentucky Derby, there is a tremendous amount of media coverage of public workouts for potential Derby participants. Many Derby bettors will be strongly influenced by the opinions of clockers for the workouts of their selections coming up to the race. 

Conversely, horses running in the 2000 Guineas will be getting their final race preparations out of the trainers’ private yards, and workout times generally are not available to the British punter.

Handicapping and ultimate betting decisions on the Kentucky Derby will be strongly influenced by the pace and final times of the horses in their previous races leading up to the Derby. Early speed numbers and finishing times based on the internal fractions timed and publicly available will be carefully scrutinized by the bettors. Each bettor will try to estimate the early pace scenario and the probable position of each horse during the race. These numbers can be easily gleaned from the past performance lines of the horse because of the widely available sectional timing data or by investing in pace figures made by handicapping experts that also use sectional timing to derive their numbers. 

When it comes to wagering on the 2000 Guineas, none of this analysis applies. This is because there are virtually no sectional times broadly available for U.K. and Irish racecourses, so pace and closing times are simply not available. As Simon Rowlands recently noted, some very preliminary work is being undertaken on sectional timing in the U.K. and rankings exist to aid punters in assessing equine talent.

Kingman made a visually impressive move in the final two furlongs in his victory in the Greenham Stakes. Punters will have to assess what type of pace Toormore will set in the early stages of the 2000 Guineas, and what type of finish one can expect from Australia and Kingman. Without sectional times, estimating pace and finishing times is truly guesswork.  The most popular numeric ratings for thoroughbreds in the U.K. are the Timeformratings. Timeform ratings can be very helpful in predicting how fast a horse will run, but provide no insight into the projected pace of the race.

The handicapping data (form) that U.S. bettors use is very different than the form that U.K. punters rely on to make their selections. The past performance lines in the U.S. Daily Racing Form display sectional times, a Beyer Speed Figure for each race, as well as other numeric data. The U.K. Racing Post relies more on data such as a handicap rating for the horse, the surface that the horse has run on (soft, good, firm, etc.), the performance of the horse against other horses in this race, the post position (i.e. the draw), and a summary of the races that the horse has won in its career. Computer programs exist to convert U.S. past performance data into U.K. form and vice versa, but these past performance hybrids do not inspire confidence in bettors/punters making wagers. Some serious improvement in producing form for U.K. punters on U.S. races and vice versa would give these customers a better understanding of the potential performance of the horse. This would generate more confident betting and wagering activity. The current attempts to get U.S. past performances to look like U.K. form simply are not credible and helpful to the punter.

Finally, the betting menu for U.S. races and U.K. races is markedly different. The pari-mutuel system in the U.S. allows the bet taker to carve a percentage off each bet and then pay the balance to the winning bettors. As a result, the U.S. tracks that control the betting can offer a much broader menu of betting options.

In the U.S., the amount wagered on straight bets is approximately one-third of all bets, and exotic bets (doubles, exactas, triples, superfectas, and multi-race wagers) comprise two-thirds of the total wagering activity. In the U.K., the pari-mutuel system or the Tote accounts for less than 10 percent of all bets on horseracing while bookmakers control more than 90 percent of the wagering volume. As a result, wagering on straight bets is more than 75 percent of the total wagering activity because of the limited menu of exotic wagers that the bookmaker offers. 

International simulcasting represents a significant growth opportunity for the Thoroughbred racing industry. However, that growth will never be achieved without collaboration and work among racing jurisdictions around the world – a little more effort for the Classics would be a start.

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