Monday, July 23, 2018
The Triple Crown Pick 3: Not Particularly Silly?

An idea for a new type of Kentucky Derby wager popped into my head and I can't decide if it's very silly, kind of silly, not particularly silly, or not silly at all. I'm tenuously leaning towards "not particularly silly". The idea is definitely outside the box. Actually it's not even near the box. It's in the next town over, inside an old abandoned bus down by the river. Of course, with government backing I could make this wager idea very silly.

Oh bloody hell get on with it will you? Fine, I will. Submitted for your approval (or derision), the Triple Crown Pick 3.

The Triple Crown Pick 3 requires the bettor to select the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. The first leg is the Kentucky Derby and is business as usual from a handicapping perspective. The bettor must select, by any methods they wish, the horse or horses that they believe can win the Kentucky Derby. The fields for the second and third legs of the Triple Crown Pick 3, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, are completely unknown at the the time of the Kentucky Derby. The bettor will make selections for the second and third legs of the wager based on nothing more than post position number.

Post position is assigned randomly and impartially in Thoroughbred racing. This wager exploits that randomness.

To those of you who have stopped reading... no hard feelings. Maybe my next post will be more palatable to you. To the rest of you, let's turn to the details of this hybrid wager, its potential impacts, and who might find it appealing.

First off, the Triple Crown Pick 3 will return a generous payout. We can expect a field of 20 in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and Belmont permit maximum fields of 14 and 16 respectively, though in practice the Preakness and Belmont commonly attract fewer. The record number of Belmont Stakes entries is 15 set in 1983, a record that may be tied this year. The maximum number of combinations is 4,480 (20 x 14 x 16).

The Triple Crown Pick 3 will pay nicely to anyone with the smarts and luck to hit it. Just about any wager linked to the Kentucky Derby and its crowded field of 20 entries turns to gold from a pari-mutuel perspective. The random nature of the second and third legs of the wager, with what should approximate uniform selections, ensures that the payoff will always be quite lucrative. There can't be heavy favorites or crazy longshots, though the outside posts should see far less play. Plenty of bettors will win, not just a few, and that's good.

Despite the lure of a fat payoff, few self-respecting horseplayers would admit to sinking any serious scratch into this pool. Don't expect Andy Serling to suggest a combination. I can envision Randy Moss describing how the wager works while sporting a wry smile.

Nevertheless, some players will hide in a closet and build a ticket. And a whole bunch will take a flyer. That's ok, horseplayers aren't the target market for the Triple Crown Pick 3. There's little chance this wager would cannibalize handle from any of the traditional Kentucky Derby pools. Who then would we want to see take a shot at this bet?

There is one day every year when the millions of gamblers who prefer chance-based games like slot machines and the lottery might be found sniffing around horse racing pari-mutuel pools... Kentucky Derby Day. And there is one day every year when people who don't usually gamble as a form of entertainment might make a wager or three... Kentucky Derby Day. This is the target market for the Triple Crown Pick 3.

red_diceIt's often stated and widely believed that all the slots players and lottery players who once gambled on horse racing have left the pari-mutuel pools and are never coming back. I'm not convinced this is true. Nothing lasts forever. Their infatuation with dimly lit casinos and convenience store lottery lines need not be permanent.

One thing is certain, the children of this cohort that has abandoned racing -- basically an entire generation -- has been weaned on slots and lottery, not horse racing. These folks may just need the right exposure and a compelling reason to give racing a look.

It's easy enough to imagine reasons why slots and lottery players favor their games over handicapping. But I'll guess that their typical reasons center on the perception that betting on horse racing is too hard, that the races are somehow fixed, and that it's just plain not fun. They probably feel intimidated and at a great disadvantage compared with knowledgable horseplayers and do not even bother. Anyone can get lucky with the even playing fields of slots and the lottery. Maybe today is their day.

The Triple Crown Pick 3 meets these gamblers more than halfway on their own turf. Yes, you'll have to pick the Derby winner. But after that it's lady luck and a little bit of common sense.

Betting on horse racing is a game of skill, not luck. There's plenty of time for a newcomer to make this realization. And then to further realize that this game of skill can be very fun. For now, maybe just a simple, fun wager can be an effective teaser.

But why do we even care if these people throw some money into this wager in addition to their annual $20-$30 Kentucky Derby handle?

Here's why.

If they survive the first leg, then they're walking around for two weeks with a live ticket, anticipating the payoff. They will most certainly watch the Preakness. Not only will they watch the Preakness, but the Preakness post-position draw is suddenly an event of high suspense suitable for a 30-minute show on the NBC Sports Network. These folks may even seek out Preakness content to satisfy their suddenly vested interest. They used to be done with horse racing after the Kentucky Derby. Not this year.

And if they are still alive in the Tripe Crown Pick 3 after the Preakness, well, they can smell the money. They get to walk around for an additional three weeks with a live ticket. They know the will-pay, and it's a big number. It's the same drill as before but now more intense. Plenty of nervous anticipation surrounding which horse will be matched with their live number(s) in the Belmont Stakes post-position draw. Probably seeking out Belmont Stakes content. And... maybe telling friends, family and co-workers about their impending score. How many of them will tune in and watch the Belmont to see if number 7 can trigger a windfall for Aunt Margaret?

In short, someone whose interest in Thoroughbred racing has been superficial at best may learn a great deal about the game by virtue of owning a live Pick 3 ticket. Or even just knowing someone who does.

It's all about generating exposure to Thoroughbred racing. It's all about generating TV exposure and maximizing the reach of that exposure. And it's not going to cost a dime.

But the fact that the majority of the Triple Crown Pick 3 is based on randomness and luck will make many in racing cringe. A little open-mindedness will help. None of us hit the ground running with speed figures and form cycles. We all started with the simple feeling that there is something interesting and compelling going on here, and we fed that interest.

When you think about it, trying to correctly pick the Kentucky Derby winner in February in the future wager is pretty silly. And even earlier than that at a Vegas sports book is even sillier. But doing so is considered a noble and honorable gambling pursuit.

And then there's "instant racing", that silly slot-machine-disguised-as-pari-mutuel-horse-racing game that so many industry folks are supporting. Sure, a lot of people like to play instant racing. It has nothing to do with horse racing. It does not make people become interested in horse racing.

There you have it, the Triple Crown Pick 3. Simple and fun. Figure out the best minimum wagering increment and set the takeout rate very low. Maybe it can boost interest in Thoroughbred racing and be a welcoming bridge to new fans and new horseplayers. Can "instant racing" make that claim?