There’s a fact about parimutuel wagering that I like to remind my fellow horseplayers of from time to time: We vote with our wallets.
I’m referring to “takeout,” the amount of each dollar wagered that the track keeps for purses, operations, profit and taxes before paying those holding winning tickets.
Try leaning slightly closer – but not too close in this time of social distancing— to your best horse racing buddy or buddette and ask them if they know the takeout rates at their favorite racetrack. I can almost guarantee that they will sputter helplessly for a few moments before acknowledging that they have no idea.
It’s only partly their fault.
As the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation noted last year when it attempted to compile a comprehensive chart showing takeout rates at North American racetracks, the information is often difficult or impossible to find. In fact, it could only track down takeout rates for 16 tracks.
The track with the lowest takeout on win, place and show wagers – or straight bets – in the limited sample was the Century Mile in Ontario, Canada, at 14.9 percent, The highest takeout on such bets was at Turfway Park, which skimmed 17 percent off the top.
Exotic wagering is even more varied.
Most tracks penalize bettors who prefer single-race “vertical” wagers like exactas and trifectas, withholding 20 percent or more while offering rates as low as 12 percent on multirace wagers, as Sam Houston Racetrack in Texas does on its Daily Double, Pick 3, Pick 4, Pick 5 and Houston Hi-5 — the lowest takeout in North America, as far as I can tell.
But watch out if you want to play a trifecta or superfecta there, as the takeout on that particular bet is 25 percent.
Obviously it pays to shop around, but do yourself a favor and ask at your favorite wagering establishment next time you visit if they list takeouts for various tracks and, if not, why not?
As the TIF noted in its study, “It shouldn’t be that difficult” for a customer to know what he or she is being charged.
Weekend stops on road to Triple Crown
Two early prep races for the Kentucky Derby and ensuing Triple Crown races will be run on Saturday. The weather could be a factor in both.
The forecast for Aqueduct Racetrack in the New York borough of Queens calls for a high of 31 degrees that day after likely rain and/or snow on Friday. That means the $250,000 Withers Stakes, a Grade 3 race run at 1⅛-mile, will likely be run over something resembling mushy tundra.
Risk Taking, a recent maiden special weight winner for trainer Chad Brown, is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite, but Capo Kane (3-1) or Donegal Bay (7-2) also may vie for favoritism.
At Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Florida, meanwhile, the $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes could be contested over an off track, with a 44 percent chance of rain forecast the day before the Super Bowl will be played a few miles to the southeast. The 1 1/16th mile Grade 3 race drew a full field of 12, with one also-eligible. The Dale Romans-trained Smiley Sobotka, the 3-1 morning line favorite, Nova Rags (4-1) and Known Agenda (6-1) are likely to take the most action.
Both races will be broadcast on “America’s Day at the Races” on Fox Sports 2 from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. PT.
Ellis Starr’s Tampa Bay Derby analysis
Candy Man Rocket gets slight preference among three main win contenders in this year’s Sam F. Davis Stakes, although he has never raced around two turns and has only a maiden win to his credit. I think this colt has tremendous upside based on earning a field high 98 Equibase Speed Figure in his nine length maiden win last month sprinting at Gulfstream Park. Considering this will be only his third career start, Candy Man Rocket has every right to continue to improve and that means his opponents would have to improve doubly in order to beat him even if he simply repeats the effort. There is little doubt Candy Man Rocket can do just that around two-turns as a son of Candy Ride, whose has had 12 of his 34 foals win stakes races for 3-year-olds over the last five years. Some of those are big names such as Vekoma and Gun Runner. Then there’s the prowess his Hall-of-Fame trainer has in recognizing talent. Over the last five years, when trainer Bill Mott raises a horse off a maiden win to a stakes race his charges have finished first or second in 10 of 20 tries. All those factors lead me to believe Candy Man Rocket can pull off the upset in this race.
Mott also saddles Nova Rags, one of just two stakes winners in the field. Nova Rags returned from two months off last month and won the Pasco Stakes at seven furlongs. Although the 85 is well behind the 98 figure his stablemate earned one week earlier, Nova Rags has every right to improve second off the layoff and around two turns. Sired by 2012 Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags, Nova Rags is out of the Smart Strike mare Wishful Splendor, whose sons and daughters have won 17 of 73 dirt route races, including 2011 Indiana Oaks winner Juanita. To be ridden by Tampa Bay Downs leading jockey Sammy Camacho, Nova Rags can take a big step forward in the Sam F. Davis Stakes and toss his name into the ring as a top three year old on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.
Ricochet is a two-turn winner at Tampa, a claim none of the other 12 horses in this race can make. Stretched out to two-turns for the first time at the end of November, Ricochet opened up by two and one-half lengths in the stretch only to be nailed right on the wire by a head. Improving to a career-best 94 figure which is the second best in the field by far, Ricochet made short work of the field in December when winning by eight lengths. On a pattern for another step forward, if Candy Man Rocket does not improve as expected, Ricochet would be no surprise winning this race.
After that group of three, there are four more which deserve honorable mention – Hidden Stash, Known Agenda, Lucky Law and Smiley Sobotka, each having good reasons to consider them as contenders but each also with slight question marks. Hidden Stash improved to a career best 89 figure when last seen at the end of November, bringing his record around two-turns to a perfect two-for-two. However, coming back from two months off he would need to be in tip-top shape to pick up where he left off. Known Agenda won a 9-furlong race in November, the second start of his career, earning an 86 figure in the process. He improved to 88 although a well-beaten third in the Remsen Stakes in December and if this was his second start off a layoff, not his first, I think he would be a top contender. Similarly, Smiley Sobotka improved nicely in his first route and second career start in October to win, then finished second of nine in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (with a 90 figure) after opening up by a couple of lengths with an eighth of a mile to go. He’s been working fast but there is always the concern about needing a race before running well enough to win around two turns off a layoff. Lucky Law stretched out to two turns off a runner-up effort and won nicely last month. Both races were on turf so he would need to transfer that form to dirt and improve off the 83 figure earned in that last start. However, trainer Patrick Biancone successfully transitioned horses to dirt on the Road to the Derby last year with both Ete Indien and Sole Volante.
The rest of the field, all who have the ability to compete effectively in this race, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Boca Boy (78), Joe Man Joe (89), Millean (84), Last Investment (81), Tiz Tact Toe (78) and Runway Magic (92).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.