Changes to harness handicapping expected to provide a tougher challenge to punters.
TAB bosses are hoping changes to the harness racing handicapping system will go some way to stem the demise of the code's Pick6 pools.
Harness racing used to be the dream vehicle for Pick6, with its unchallenged Thursday and Friday night spots and regular $100,000 guaranteed pools.
But those guarantees have shrunk to a standard $25,000 most Thursdays and just $40,000 on Friday nights.
They have been affected to a small degree by the largely novelty Place6 but TAB spokesman Michael Dore says the lack of jackpots in harness racing is the real problem.
And pressure on the code won't ease with the news the TAB will hold a special $500,000 turbo Pick6 on the Taumarunui Cup-Ryder Stakes meetings on Saturday week, July 27.
That will get close to the $750,000 guaranteed Pick6s which have occurred four times in thoroughbred racing in the past 18 months, a figure harness racing punters can only dream of.
Dore says the prevalence of short-priced favourites in harness racing is an issue.
"To get decent Pick6 pools you need jackpots and we don't get enough of those in harness racing," said Dore.
"How it works is when we have a new pool starting, we guarantee it at what we know will probably be a loss to us.
"But we then under-guarantee it the next week if it jackpots, to secure some money for our reserve fund.
"But when it keeps getting struck our reserve fund gets lower and lower."
The ideal scenario is two or three weeks of Pick6 not being struck and reaching $250,000-$300,000 guaranteed, which creates interest in the entire meeting and often momentum for the following week.
"That is why we hope the handicapping changes in harness racing help a little bit," says Dore, who used to work in harness racing before joining the TAB. "If the changes to the concessions for young horses mean less of those $1.10 favourite 3-year-olds that will be a good thing.
"And we have found that Pick6 is a very good indicator of overall betting health in a code and I don't think the redhot favourites help."
That is why winter thoroughbred racing, while it can be a minefield for punters, actually lends itself to huge Pick6 jackpots.
The TAB regularly boosts Pick6 pools in all three codes in winter to try and drive interest at a time when racing struggles but Dore says they simply can't artificially boost pools to their old levels permanently.
"Sure, we would love to guarantee Pick6 every Friday night to $75,000 but pretty soon we wouldn't have any money left in the reserve fund."
Dore says that while the Place6 has its fans he does not see it is a major contributor to the dwindling Pick6 pools.
"I don't think anybody expects to get rich off Place6 like they can get a huge collect off Pick6 and it probably doesn't get that exciting until the last couple of legs.
"But it is a really good novelty product."
Courtesy of Michael Guerin and the New Zealand Herald