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28 May 2013
By Vin Narayanan
Yes, we're a week late with this. But still, there are lessons to be learned from the Preakness as you look forward to the Belmont. The tricky thing about horse racing is you don't want to be racing the last race. But you do want to learn the appropriate lessons and apply them to the next one. So with that in mind here are 10 lessons railbirds can take away from the Preakness.
10. Fans want a Triple Crown winner
Ratings for the Preakness were up 9 percent. Wagers were up 1.8 percent. Everyone at the bar -- that's not exactly scientific, but still -- was watching the race. And Orb started as an even money favorite before being bet down to 3/5. Fans want a Triple Crown winner. Take that into account before you make any wagering decisions in the future (see No. 7 for more on that).
9. Football players like a good horse race
A couple of Baltimore Ravens look like they had fun with the Preakness. Ray Rice posted on Facebook a Photoshopped image of him running away (or trying to) from the Preakness field. And Torrey Smith gave the riders up call. But as he admits in this interview (check out the tie!), he didn't know what the riders up call was when the Preakness first asked him to do it.
8. 50 is the new 30
One of the reasons I thought Oxbow had no chance of winning is Gary Stevens was riding him. Stevens is 50 years old. Fifty! He went from calling races on NBC and "acting" on "Luck" to winning a Triple Crown race. Stevens is the oldest jockey to win the Preakness. Racing horses is hard work. And it is generally a young person's game. Joel Rosario, who rode Orb to victory at the Kentucky Derby, is 28. Stevens is proving he can ride with the youngsters. So don't bet against him in the future.
7. Don't bet a 3/5 favorite
Come on people. Can we all just agree on this? Don't bet 3/5 favorites. There are no sure things in horse racing -- especially when three-year-olds are running. So don't bet the 3/5 favorite. There's no value at 3/5. There's no upside. And at that price, you're going to get burned. Yes, Orb was the best horse in the race. But only bad things can happen when you bet the 3/5 favorite. Just ask everyone that bet on Orb.
6. Tracking a race isn't easy
I ended up watching the Preakness at a bar with a friend, which is a pretty good way to watch the race. But it's the first time I've watched a race without listening to a track announcer. Fortunately, I knew most of the names and numbers of the horses. But unlike baseball or basketball, it's tough to keep up with all of the action without an announcer's help -- especially if you haven't done it before. In baseball and basketball, the action is right in front of you. It's easy to follow the game. You can see all of the action and you don’t need the accompanying audio to keep up with play. But in a horse race, there's too much going on -- especially if you have a complicated stake in the outcome (like a trifecta box). A good announcer stays on top of the entire field, and let's you know who is caught in traffic, who is tiring and who is making a move. And the right announcer takes a dramatic event and makes it even better. That only happens in football and basketball when Gus Johnson calls the game.
5. It's still hard to bet on the race
When I realized I was visiting Atlantic City during Preakness weekend, I was pretty pleased. I thought I'd be able to place a bet on the race pretty easily. But on race day, I discovered the Golden Nugget Atlantic City, where I was staying, didn't have a racebook. How can a casino not have a racebook, or at least the option to bet on one of the biggest horse races of the year? I was stunned. Betting on the horses shouldn't be this tough. If you're in a casino, you should be able to bet on a major horse race. And if you're a casino operator without racebook, at least open up temporary betting windows somewhere on the property during the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races. Sheesh. You're practically inviting your customers to leave the building. And if you don't want to open up temporary betting windows, set up a mobile sports betting app then. Or partner with twinspires.com. Do something. Betting on the ponies in a casino town shouldn't be that tough.
4. Pace matters
The early fractions at the Kentucky Derby were run at a blistering pace, while the early parts of the Preakness were run at what appeared to be a leisurely stroll. As a result, the late charging horses fared well at Churchill Downs, and the front-running Oxbow, who was never pressed in the early-going (48.6 for the first half-mile, 1:13 for the first three-quarters of a mile) -- had plenty of energy in the tank to hold onto the lead and win. Right now every jockey in the race is (still) wondering why they gave Oxbow such an easy ride.
3. Position matters
Orb drew the rail for his starting position, and he never looked comfortable on the inside. When the field started to crowd up around Orb, the horse looked like he stopped running. And it wasn't until all of the traffic had cleared that he found his "on switch." Unfortunately, he flipped the switch too late for him to win. But he did finish a distant fourth, which makes you wonder how well he would have done if he'd drawn an outside starting position.
2. It's a dog's world
A friend of mine is posting his puppy's picks in the Triple Crown races to Facebook. And so far, the puppy is doing well. On race day, my friend heads to the story and buys a copy of the Washington Post. He lays the page with post positions on the ground for his puppy. And the first horse that the puppy "sniffs" becomes his pick. He correctly picked Oxbow as the Preakness winner. He picked Normandy Invasion to win the Kentucky Derby. Normandy Invasion finished fourth. Those two picks make him better than many of the humans betting on the two races. Let's see how he does in the Belmont.
1. Orb should be the Belmont favorite
The final result of the Preakness doesn't change the fact that Orb was the best horse in the field. Orb just didn't win. That happens in horse racing. And Orb should be the favorite again at the Belmont. Orb didn't look comfortable at the Preakness until the tail end of the race, and as a result, he finished a distant fourth. At 1.5 miles, the Belmont plays to Orb's strengths. He's one of the few horses that looks like he can close strong in a race of that length. As long as he doesn't draw an inside post, he should be the horse to beat.
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