Day At The Track

Yonkers has projects in the works

09:50 AM 29 Feb 2020 NZDT
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Alex Dadoyan, harness racing
Alex Dadoyan
Photo courtesy Daily Racing Form

YONKERS, N.Y. – At around 6:30 p.m. Tuesday night, the door to Alex Dadoyan’s office opened and an employee provided an update: the main camera still didn’t have power, but the electrician was on the way. With about a half-hour to first post and an electrical issue threatening to sabotage the nightly simulcast, Dadoyan remained level and calm. Dealing with such urgent issues is part of the job for the Director of Racing at Yonkers Raceway.

“Otherwise it’s going to be hard to show the races,” Dadoyan said with a laugh.

Since taking on the role of Director of Racing in Sept. 2019, Dadoyan has made several changes: published post times are now more accurate and there was a shakeup to the betting menu. The nightly pick fours now start in race one and race seven, the sequences no longer overlapping. The pick five moved to race five each night, whereas in the past, its starting point varied depending on the number of races offered. Superfectas are now offered on even races only and there are seven pick threes on a 12-race program.

“The biggest thing that I couldn’t stand was overlapping pick fours. It just made all the sense in the world to have an early and a later pick four,” Dadoyan said. “We’ve done really well on the early pick four. It’s averaging around $10,000 a night. The late one is not as strong, but they’re both stronger than they were last year. It just makes sense to split them up and give people different races to look at.

“I just made a wagering format I liked and wherever there was nothing else, I put a pick three. I lowered the frequency of supers. That was another thing I felt strongly about,” Dadoyan continued. “I just wanted to build up the pools as best as I could. I think you see it in some races where there’s no super, the tri and exacta pools are really strong. If you can get a $35,000 tri pool at Yonkers, that’s pretty good. I was happy to see that.”

If Dadoyan gets his way, another change to the betting menu could be coming soon. The track submitted a proposal to add a nightly pick six wager to the offerings and Dadoyan feels the New York Gaming Commission is close to approving the bet.
“We had a traditional pick six at the Meadowlands when I was there and I was a huge fan of it. Everyone wanted to get rid of it and I was the one trying to fight to keep it,” Dadoyan said. “It stayed there until I left and then they replaced it with a jackpot bet. But now years later, they brought it back, but they’re at 20 cents.”

The proposal Dadoyan submitted would see the pick six at Yonkers offer a $1 minimum stake, which will boost payoffs to those who hit it and boost the frequency of carryovers. The wager was proposed with a 20-percent takeout rate, the lowest the NYGC will allow on exotic harness wagers. If approved as proposed, the bet would include a 25-percent consolation payoff and 75-percent carryover provision on nights when it is not hit.

“I had been trying for a little while to get a pick six in at Yonkers. We had some slight delays but I’m hoping that in the next month we could offer it,” Dadoyan said. “There’s no doubt that any time there’s a carryover, there’s going to be far more eyes on your product. Especially if you’re not the top signal out there, you need to try to get more eyes on your product and a carryover is one of the best ways to do that.

“We’re not allowed to offer carryovers in the pick four, we’re not allowed to offer carryovers in the superfecta, so all we’ve got is the pick five, and that’s great, but it’s one race a night. And there’s plenty of nights where you’re not going to get a carryover. A slightly harder bet has the ability to produce more carryovers.

Dadoyan sees the $1 minimum as the key to success for the pick six at Yonkers, a half-mile track with eight-horse fields.

“Other tracks go for the lower minimums and that’s fine, but Yonkers being smaller fields and more winning favorites, I think the dollar makes more sense,” Dadoyan said. “The drawback is the pools may be smaller at a dollar minimum, but I think the potential for having carryovers is better than having slightly bigger pools each night with a lower minimum.”

Dadoyan also hopes the $1 minimum fuels more carryovers, which produce value for horseplayers by reducing the effective takeout of the wager. He cited Tuesday’s $8,300 pick five carryover, which attracted over $46,000 in new money wagered and returned $331.50 for a 50-cent bet, to explain how the pick six may behave differently.

“If you have what we have tonight, an $8,000 carryover in the pick five, it’s getting hit tonight. Whatever comes in, it’s getting hit with a 50-cent minimum and a five-race sequence,” Dadoyan said. “If it’s a dollar bet in a six-race sequence, it might not get hit and now your carryover is really big. That’s the goal.

“The more carryovers you can create and provide value, you can get more eyes on the product and the better you’re going to do,” Dadoyan continued. “Whether it’s just that night or hopefully in the future too if people follow horses, or want to bet back a horse, whatever it might be. That’s the way horseplayers operate.”

One of the most visible and polarizing changes to take place since MGM acquired Yonkers Raceway is the rebranding of many stakes races this season. Notable examples are starting soon: The Petticoat and Sagamore Pacing Series are now the M Life Rewards Ladies and Gents Series and begin Monday (March 2) and Tuesday (March 3), respectively. The George Morton Levy Memorial Pacing Series is now the Borgata Pacing Series and begins March 14.

The changes are more than just new names. Dadoyan revealed they are part of a broader marketing strategy by MGM that is designed to cross-promote its properties. Complete details will be announced by the track soon, but Dadoyan teased some of the promotions to come.

“We renamed a bunch of the stakes races to incorporate the MGM name. Part of the reason for that is because there is going to be marketing support for the new events,” he explained. “Those events are now upon us. The M Life Rewards Series starts next week and the Borgata Series starts the week after that. We have a bunch of promotions for those events. I don’t think anything like that has been done at Yonkers around racing.”

Each night of the series, horseplayers making a racing bet at Yonkers will receive a coupon to enter in a drawing. There will be six drawings nightly and prizes include cash and trips to the MGM Borgata in Atlantic City.

“That’s the whole point of it, they can leverage their properties to support each other. Hopefully racing fans can participate and take advantage of it,” Dadoyan said. “MGM is an entertainment company and racing can be a form of entertainment in their properties and they’re going to try to support it.”

The most astute viewers of racing at Yonkers will have noted small tags adorning the horses’ saddle pads over the last few weeks. The tags are part of the Trakus system and are part of another initiative in the works at the Hilltop.

Trakus is a tracking system which determines the exact location of each horse throughout the entire race via tags carried by the horses. The system can provide real-team graphics showing the exact location of each horse throughout the race, along with handicapping information, such as sectional times for each horse throughout the race and ground loss.

“I was a Trakus fan from day one. I was trying to get it at the Meadowlands back in the day and it was really expensive. When the tracks got privatized, I was trying to work out a deal to get it at Meadowlands and Monmouth together, but we couldn’t work it out,” Dadoyan said.

“Trakus has a new version of the product that they wanted to demo at a smaller track, so they asked us. That’s all we’re doing right now, you don’t see it on the graphics or anything,” he continued. “It remains to be seen whether we would pursue it because there would be a cost involved, but I’m a big fan of the product, so hopefully assuming everything works out OK with the testing, maybe there’s a way we could implement it.”

Although Trakus hasn’t been used extensively on a half-mile track to this point, Dadoyan takes the stance that any additional data that can be provided to horseplayers is a positive.

“The data it provides is so much more than what we have in harness racing now. I think it would be a great addition,” he said.

“I understand that everyone watches races differently and things like ground covered or top speed, or speed at a point in the race, those are all factors that people might or might not see value in,” Dadoyan continued. “The data for all that stuff just doesn’t really exist right now. On a smaller track, you don’t have as much going on, but still, people might be interested in how much ground is covered. On a half-mile track, some horses are outside a lot longer than others. There is probably a lot of variation in the distance covered.

“I’ll be excited to see some of the test results and see how it turned out. I saw a couple the first week, but I think they’ll be more to see before we’re done.”

The changes that have been implemented and those still to come are part of Dadoyan’s strategy of incremental improvements and the philosophy that a series of small changes can make a big difference in handle.

“There’s so many different things to address and try to take care of. You have to pick your spots and pick your battles, you can’t do everything at once.” Dadoyan said. “I try to tell people it’s small, incremental, gradual changes to make it overall better. You can’t come in and change everything at any racetrack, but especially one that’s been around a long time. Hopefully we can continue to make gradual improvements.”

Yonkers Raceway features live harness racing Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. First post time is 7:05 p.m. 

By Brandon Valvo, for the SOA of NY


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