ON BETTING AT THE GATE! With horse racing taking its turn in the sun, an interesting story crossed my path. It came from the desk of Stanley Bergstein. If the name’s not familiar, shame on you - especially if horse racing is your cup of tea.
Bergstein - for my money - is the superhero of harness racing. He’s a beacon - perhaps a little weathered - but nonetheless a bright light who leads the way for the trotters and pacers.
The story I refer to was published in Harness Tracks of America’s newsletter, Track Topics. A newcomer? Maybe so. He’s only been doing it for 38 years. There’s no doubt that harness racing has had more than its share of famous horses and drivers. But without Bergstein beating the drums it would have gone unnoticed in many areas.
Bergstein is executive vice president of Harness Tracks of America. In the current issue of Track Topics he prints a presentation by Jim Mango, senior vice president of the Maryland Jockey Club and one of hundreds of protégés Bergstein brought along across the years and across the board.
"Does anyone bet early on the races anymore?" Mango wrote.
"The simple answer is no. The sophisticated, discriminatory, large bettor would be very, very unwise to do so."
Mango told about a study he made of a week’s worth of racing at Laurel Race Course. The final five betting cycles represent 80 percent of the total race handle. The five cycles begin when the horses are walking to the starting gate, which is about five minutes before the race is finished. He said 23 percent of the handle comes in while the race is being run. The tote cycle just seconds before off-time accounts for another 25 percent. The time while the horses are loading is good for about 17 percent of the handle. Those three cycles alone account for 65 percent of the total handle.
"Bet the best horse at the best price no longer has a practical foundation," Mango explained. "And board players - those who handicap the odds rather than the horses - are playing a virtual lottery. There is little wonder that suspicion exists and bettor confidence is down. What further complicates matters is there is no uniformity among tracks around the country on when they close their pools. Perhaps we should publish this information for the sophisticated bettor. It is not surprising that a bettor will question late odds movements when he gets shut out betting on a track in a specific state at one minute before post and not shut out betting at a different state at off-time."
Mango: "Late money is not necessarily smart money. It’s just late, very late. In the case of North Dakota, very, very late."
I’ve been betting horses since Ike was in the White House - actually, even before that. Betting late has always been in my bag of tricks. I always figured that a solid horse at 3-1 in the early betting would have no value for me if it fell down to 4-5 before post time.
Years later, when I twisted enough arms to allow live simulcasts to be beamed to Nevada race books, one of my many arguments had to do with the ability to bet as close to post time as possible. I failed to convince the gaming regulators. They mandated that no betting be permitted after the first horse loaded into the gate. If it took minutes before the gate was ready to spring, Nevada bettors were out of luck. But as we all know, might is right, and that’s how it went for years.
Alas, things have changed. Now horse players in the Silver State can bet up until the last horse loads into the gate.
It reminds me of a funny story. Many years ago the general manager of a racetrack wanted me to find out if a certain character who came to the races every day was booking the action himself. When my study was complete, I told the GM that the bookie was only handling the action of a couple of big players. And to attract their action he allowed them to bet as the horses were on the final turn. By the way, the butcher ate the lambs.