by Greg Reinhart, HANA member
Sitting on the east side of San Antonio, Texas, is Retama Park, which checks in at number seven on HANA’s ratings of the 65 tracks in North America. Retama features a one-mile dirt oval and a seven furlong turf course, and usually races in the late summer to early fall, although they are currently hosting extra dates due to the cancellation of Sam Houston’s meet due to Hurricane Ike.
When one sits down to wager on Retama Park, the first thing that should jump off the page is the 12% takeout on the pick-3 and daily doubles, which is not available anywhere else in North America.
"Retama Park reduced its takeout on pick-3 and daily doubles wagers to 12% maybe four or five years ago," Retama Park’s simulcast director Steve Ross said. "It was done to draw the attention of knowledgeable horseplayers to Retama Park’s races.
"Retama Park and its outlets make almost nothing off these wagers, with about two-thirds of the takeout (8% of handle) going to a horsemen’s purse account and maybe another 1% of handle to state taxes. The thought is that if a person handicaps a card to play doubles or pick-3s, they will almost certainly play the horses they like in other pools as well."
Ross also understands that getting the word out about the track’s low take-out is vital.
"We mention it in the wagering header at the top of all program pages. We also run a TV spot highlighting the low takeout which goes out to all outlets during live cards. We will start running it more often, as your questions suggests maybe we are not doing it enough," he said.
Aside from those two wagers, take-outs at Retama Park sit at 21% for exactas, quinellas, pick-4s and pick-6s, and 25% for superfectas and trifectas. The track also offers 10-cent trifectas and superfectas. The rates are why the overall take-out rating for Retama was a "C " from HANA despite the attractive pick-3s and daily doubles. It should also be noted that Retama does not offer 50-cent pick-3s, pick-4s, or trifectas.
Another strong feature of Retama Park is its high field size of 9.4, which is near the top of the ratings.
"Like all tracks, Retama Park wants to card races with full fields," Ross said. "Nobody wants to bet on a five-horse race, even a major stake, where the longest shot in the race is 5-1.
"Historically Retama Park has been fortunate to have a full barn area, and with the support of trainers like Danny Pish, Steve Asmussen, Bob Shultz, and Bret Calhoun, has been able to average a field size around 9 to 10 per race. Field size is vital, to most horseplayers ranked higher than quality. A 14-horse open $5,000 claimer with a competitive field is much preferable to a five-horse grade-I with a 2-5 favorite and no trifecta or superfecta wagering."
Retama Park does not receive a slot subsidy, so track management has come up with other ways to draw bettors and fans to the track aside from the low takeouts on the pick-3 and daily double.
"Access to race replays is also something I think is very important. Retama Park was one of the first tracks to make its replays available at RaceReplays.com. They do an excellent job, providing pan shots and head-ons," Ross said. "Handicapping contests are very well received by players, and in addition to the online contest we are currently conducting we have in-house contests each week that attract an enthusiastic group.
"We are very aware that a quality TV presentation is critical, with paddock and post parade shots, and frequent display of exotic probables and will-pays. We try to present an informative crawl, with scratches, rider changes and overweights up as soon as they are known."
These features led to an overall rating of "C " for Retama Park and the seventh spot in HANA’s ratings.
(Editor’s note: The views and rating system are expressly those of the bettors’ advocacy group Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), and not affiliated with Blood-Horse Publications.)