Jason Beem's Thursday Column Dec. 7, 2023
A good Thursday morning to you all! Today I wanted to write about post times and when tracks run. I had a back and forth with a buddy yesterday on Twitter about when tracks run races, and I thought I’d expound on some general thoughts about post times here.
Obviously, there are certain times and days of the year when you almost can’t help but go off at the same time as another track. Saturdays in the summer are a pretty crowded space in the simulcast market, and positioning your card can be tricky — especially when every middle- and smaller-level track is trying to stay away from the behemoths like Saratoga.
Setting the right post times can make a pretty big difference in total handle, especially when in most cases, more than 90% of total handle for most tracks comes from players who are not at the track.
One of the most common frustrations I see players talk about is when tracks run on top of each other. Obviously, it’s not a problem as far as getting a bet in, but it’s remarkably unsatisfying to make a bet and not watch the race, which if you’re playing two tracks that go off at the same time you’re battling with. I feel like almost everyone can agree that this is the worst-case scenario. I used to always marvel in disbelief when for consecutive years the Woodward S. (G2) at Saratoga and the West Virginia Derby (G3) would go off at the same time. I was always told it was because of a local TV deal for Mountaineer, but it was simply astonishing to me that the track would run its signature race at the same time as a much bigger race.
Wednesday we had a situation where we at Tampa along with Parx were the two biggest signals of the day during the daytime with Mahoning Valley also running. To me, during a lighter simulcast day like this, the main key is to stay off Parx, who would be our chief rival, and avoid Mahoning if possible. At some point, you might get close to Mahoning but Parx is the main one to stay away from. But how far is "staying away?"
I think, in general, the best place to be is 7 to 10 minutes ahead of your primary competition. Then you have room to move up or move back if you need to and adjust off of them. When you’re the track running behind your primary signal rival, you end up being at their whim a little bit because they’ll set their next post time before your race is run. So to stay off them if they adjust in some way, you then have to hang a low post time like 18 or 19 minutes or a high one closer to 30.
The worst place to be on a slow day, in my opinion, is one to five minutes after your primary rival. If they post drag or have a loose horse or delay at the gate, they back right up into you. Plus you need to account the time it takes to run the race and the race to go official. All that money that people play at Parx, literally a few hundred thousand dollars, is tied up until it’s paid back out. So if you go off before that happens, that’s so much money that might not get churned back into your pools.
The situation my buddy objected to was that we had a race where we (we is Tampa, I work there) hung up a 29 minutes to post for the fourth race. If we’d have hung the traditional 23 minutes, we’d have been right on top of Parx, which in my opinion, is the worst thing we could have done. Parx also generally runs a little less time between races than we do, so if we hang a really low post time and try to rush in front of them, we’re just gonna run into them again the next race. By hanging the 29, we were now eight minutes behind Parx and the next race would be 10 or 12 behind them, thus allowing a good spread.
To me, it was perfect execution of post-time setting. But my buddy’s objection was that he was only playing Tampa. He didn’t care about Parx at all, so he was simply affected by having to wait 29 minutes for our next race. His point is very well taken, and I think it is a justified gripe. I realize in business there are almost no decisions that please everyone. Even when the McRib comes back, some people are upset.
I suppose tracks have to do what caters the most to customers, and I personally believe that staying off our chief rival is in the best interest of the track and I think most appreciated. But maybe it’s not? I don’t work in post-time setting, and I don’t see the numbers beyond what handle is, but I’ve certainly paid attention a lot over the last 15 years to post-time setting and pools. I’d be really curious to hear from some racetrack execs on what the true best spots have proven to be.
Have a good weekend, everyone!