If you don’t want to read any farther, the answer is, hell yes.
I remember just a few years ago taking my laptop to Saratoga. There was one spot in the clubhouse where you could snag the wi-fi signal that they were using in the offices upstairs. Last year I went and there was wi-fi pretty much anywhere in the racing plant. Why is that a big deal? Because there is a lot of on-line information available to handicappers, including the relatively new Timeformus.com.
One of the big selling points of Timeform was that unlike the “unwieldy” Daily Racing Form, all you would need to bring to the track was your tablet. It was supposed to represent the 21st Century of data and was especially meant to appeal to younger people who weren’t stuck on the idea that you had to walk into the track with a hard copy of the Daily Racing Form. You could circumnavigate the Timeform version of past performances right there on your tablet.
Permit me a quick tangent. Craig Milkowski, the chief figure-maker for Timeform, got into the figure-making business by starting a site called PaceFigures.com. Once Craig perfected his pace/speed algorithm, he offered membership in the site. My recollection was that the first offering was to have the site limited to 100 members who would each pay $100 A YEAR to have access to his figures. Pretty much every race at every track. The amounts went up each year, but most people stuck with the site. It was especially fortuitous for lifelong pace handicappers like me. I’ve pretty much bought into the idea of energy distribution determining a horse’s ability to run a specific speed number for my entire handicapping career, and with PaceFigures I was able to save myself a lot of work.
Anyway, one year I didn’t get a renewal notice for the site. The reason was that Craig had decided to move the operation to Timeform, which was looking to expand into the U.S. market. The rollout sputtered a bit, and frankly it was a number of months after the rollout before the site had some of the capabilities Craig had on PaceFigures, but eventually they got things smoothed out. Of course those of us who had been with PaceFigures since the beginning went through a bit of depression once we realized the whole world would have access to the El Dorado of figures.
The same thing happened after the Racing Times took its ill-fated run at the Daily Racing Form. The innovative elements in the Racing Times eventually found their way to the Racing Form, and people then had access to information previously only available at a price. It just gets harder and harder to stay one step ahead of the crowd.
I give people like Craig Milkowski and Andy Beyer all the credit in the world. The worked hard to develop an innovation, and they deserved to cash in.
Most serious horseplayers I know use both the Racing Form and Timeform. It isn’t just habit. Most of us have learned to read the Racing Form in a particular way and it is comfortable to zero in on the information that is most important to you. Oh, the same information is in Timeform, but it is in different formats or different places. Like the first time you use an Apple computer the minimize button is on the left instead of the right. The Racing Form has the Moss pace figures, although they are calculated differently than the Timeform numbers. The final Timeform number is supposed to represent more of an ability time. I don’t know how well Timeform is doing, but the Racing Form is a pretty muscular when it comes to selling past performances. I hope both publications prosper.
So last year it was great to have the Racing Form in my hand and all the Timeform information right there on my tablet. Unfortunately, not every track has wi-fi. It definitely is a disadvantage for me. I have my way of handicapping, and if I am live at the track and I can’t follow my patterns, it is disconcerting.
I keep harping on a lot of the same themes.
* Tracks are currently in competition with low overhead betting sites.
* Figure out what will get people to the track and offer it.
If I am betting at home in front of my computer, I have access to any piece of information I might use in my handicapping. If you want people to come to a live meet, you have to make it just as comfortable as betting at home. Offering wi-fi is not some luxury. It is a necessity, whether you are trying to accommodate the Timeform users or cater to younger patrons. It is an incredibly small investment to keep at least part of the fan base happy.
That’s the problem at a lot of tracks. They are slow to adopt any modern innovations for handicappers or bettors. Of course, other than the very successful PlayersBoycott.com, it’s rare to see fans band together to wake track management up.
NYRA had some limitations. You could access Timeform, but not most online betting sites, except for their own betting site. That meant if you wanted to bet something using an online account because your on-track bankroll was dwindling you were out of luck. Frankly, that was fine for me. Usually if I go to the track, I bring plenty of money and focus on that track, checking out horses in the paddock, watching the exotic pools.
The on track experience can be wonderful, especially at places with character like Del Mar or Saratoga. But when you have to sacrifice your handicapping requirements, you’re going to stay away.