Big M, WEG join forces to reduce drag, launch cross-border Pick 4

WEG, Big M join forces to launch cross-border Pick 4, reduce drag

March 10, 2019

The new Can-Am Pick 4, and accompanying reduction in post time drag, is an attempt by the New Jersey and Ontario tracks to derive mutual — and mutuel — benefit.

by Dave Briggs

Jason Settlemoir said the most exciting part of the announcement that the Meadowlands and Woodbine are launching a joint-track, cross-border Pick 4 is the accompanying promise to drastically reduce the drag time after post time to no more than five minutes.

The chief operating officer and general manager of the Meadowlands Racetrack has been on a campaign for a few years to reduce the time after the “minutes to post” clock hits zero before horses actually go to the gate (full story here).

“I’m very excited about trying to move the drag back,” Settlemoir said Saturday, a day after it was announced the Can-Am Pick 4 will debut on March 22 at the East Rutherford, NJ track and Woodbine Mohawk Park in Milton, ON. “I’m hopeful that you’ll see that our customers realize that we’re trying to do something positive with both of these, especially with the drag initiative.

“Both of our properties tend to be somewhere between six and 10 minutes past zero for every race, so we’re going to put the countdown clocks in at three minutes past zero and when those run out the horses will be called to the gate and then we’ll be off somewhere between 4:45 and five minutes. For us, we’re going to be reducing the drag by almost half. We’re going to try it and I’m excited about it. I’m hoping we can move the needle in the other direction.

“At the same time, I’m a little nervous because I want to make sure the word is out there so people that are accustomed to that six, eight or 10 minutes past zero are not waiting… they are aware that this is going to start happening.”

Mohawk will play host to the Can-Am Pick-4. It will start with the second last race on the Mohawk card, then alternate between the two tracks and end at the Meadowlands.

“If you imagine yourself at a self-bet machine, you’ll have the Meadowlands races one through 13, like you normally do, and then you’ll have the Woodbine Entertainment Group races, one through 10 or 11, and then there will be a third path there called the ‘Can-Am’ that will include that Pick 4,” Settlemoir said.

Likely more interesting to bettors is the 15 per cent takeout rate on the bet, which will also offer 20-cent minimums.

“I think bettors will like the takeout and it’s fun to have something new and some new products and new wagers available,” said Woodbine Mohawk Park president Jessica Buckley, adding it will be a great opportunity for the two tracks’ stellar broadcast teams to promote each other.

“I think the handicappers at both sites are going to have some fun putting bets together and working together with the Meadowlands makes so much sense for us,” Buckley said. “We’re trying to partner the two top tracks in North America and have a successful Pick 4… We’ve done similar things on the thoroughbred side, but nothing that was going to be an ongoing wager like this.”

Settlemoir said the regulatory bodies in both jurisdictions were very receptive to the idea. “We got approval from them fairly quickly,” he said.

Beginning March 22, the two tracks will both add the Cam-Am Pick 4 and try the reduced post-time drag on Friday nights to start. If both go well, they hope to expand both the wager and the reduced drag to their Saturday night cards.

Buckley said with Mohawk and the Meadowlands consistently drawing the highest handle in the standardbred game, a reduced drag time will hopefully force other tracks to send their races off faster in order to stay off the Big M and Mohawk signals.

“I think that if we’re able to make a success of it, and everyone is staying off one another, then (other tracks will) play between (Mohawk and the Meadowlands) and it should work much better,” Buckley said.

Settlemoir has long lamented that post-time drag is a necessary evil to drive handle – because it works – and the only way to reduce it is if most major tracks are working in tandem to do so. He said the initiative has been in the works for more than two years, going back to conference calls he organized with other tracks to try and get everyone to work better together for mutual — and mutuel — benefit.

“It really came up when we were having those calls with the other racetrack operators when we were trying to come up with something collaborative when we were trying to improve the drag. We started talking more about the wager together with other racetracks and nothing really ever materialized after those meetings,” Settlemoir said.

Yet, the seed was planted with the Meadowlands’ Canadian friends. Settlemoir said Woodbine chair Clay Horner ran with it from there.

“It’s something we’ve talked about a few times and we met with (Meadowlands owner) Jeff (Gural) and Jason this summer and had a great discussion about how we could do a cross-border wager and work together and try something and that’s how the Can-Am Pick 4 was born,” Buckley said.

“Having two guys like Jeff Gural and Clay Horner that are willing to try just about anything that, to me, is super exciting because they get it, they understand that it’s the customer’s view, too,” said Settlemoir, adding that if customers truly want reduced drag time, hopefully they will support the new initiative and, “continue to wager the same amount, if not more, and we’ll continue to move.”

If that happens, Settlemoir said the plan is to decrease post-time drag even more.

“Hopefully, one day, during this initiative, we’ll actually get to zero,” he said. “I’ve said it right from the beginning, I don’t enjoy it. I’ve always said it needed to be an industry-wide initiative.”

Settlemoir said the new Can-Am Pick 4 wasn’t necessary to launch the reduced drag-time strategy, but the two can complement each other.

“I think it just sets the tone and gives us something additional to say, ‘Hey, we’re doing this Can-Am wager and we’re also going to reduce the drag,’” Settlemoir said. “We needed to make people aware of this so they are aware of the wager and they are also aware of reducing the drag, so it doesn’t hurt the handle at either place.”

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