Category Archives: University of Arizona

Favorable Conditions

Once again, I have left my dear readers hanging for another unforgivably long span.  It’s hard to keep up a blog as well-written as this one (ha!) in the middle of a stressful semester of school.  But since people have been begging for an update (yeah right!), why not explain a little bit about what I’ve been learning this year?  I mean, I’ve talked up the generalities of the RTIP, but the specifics are really cool, and have increased my enjoyment of (and irritation with) the sport tremendously.

First off, let me tell you what I have been working on this past week: creating a matrix to write a condition book.

YIKES. Sounds like a bunch of words just stuck together, like, “beating parabolas to edit a banana tree”.  But in reality, the matrix and the condition book are two crucial elements to putting on the racing show each day.  Those readers who are experts on racing, or who are RTIP alums, forgive me for delving into this ultra-basic concept.  I find that explaining stuff out loud helps me learn the material, too.  And hey, if you’ve never written a condition book you may find this blog entry enlightening.

“Conditions” are the requirements for entry in a race, such as claiming price, age, sex, number of wins, distance and

The Condition Book, or horseman's Bible at the track.

surface.  The condition book is a listing of all the races a track has to offer for a period of time.  Most condition books come out a few weeks in advance of the race meet and only cover a few weeks of the meet.  This allows the racing secretary to make adjustments to the offerings based on the number and class of horses at the track. There is an art to writing a condition book, and this semester I’ve been learning the basic strokes to create my own masterpiece.

Figuring out the amount of purse money a track can offer is the first step in making a condition book.  Purses are determined from the percentage of takeout from the handle wagered through the track.  I could write pages on how the takeout is divvied up between the tracks, horsemen, states, and account wagering facilities, so let’s save that for another blog.  In the end, the total amount for purses I have to work with is about $10.2 million.  I take 22% of that for the stakes races and the rest must be spread out among the rest of the races, or overnights.

The big question I had before I started this project was, how do you know how many races to run?  The track and racing secretary decide the total number to be run each day, and on my calendar the track runs between 9 and 12 races.  Another step in determining how many races to offer is figuring out what kinds of horses you will have on the backside.  Of course, they’re all going to be thoroughbreds (or QH or STB or both if it’s a mixed meet), but the number of horses in each class category determines how many races of a type you can offer.  The vast majority of race horses are older, mid-to-low-level claimers.  My track has a pretty good mix of horses, though, so I can write some pretty juicy allowance races, too.

The next part is actually scheduling the races.  My track has a 33-day meet spread over 2 months. I scheduled my stakes races first, placing my big-money events on closing weekend.  Then working backward, I scheduled allowance preps about 30 days prior. This was the easy part of matrix creation.  Claiming is on a whole ‘nother level of complexity.

Scheduling claiming races begins with determining the claiming prices.  Many jurisdictions have a “jail rule”, where a claimed horse cannot run back within 30 days unless it races at a 25% higher price.  Therefore, the racing secretary sets up claiming prices in 25% intervals, for example,

$8,000 -> $10,000 -> $12,500 ->$16,000 -> $20,000 ->$25,000 ->$32,000

…and then there’s the “ladder” of claiming.  This is so much easier to explain in pictures, but since I don’t have a whiteboard, here’s the best I can do in words:

On the first day of the meet, you schedule the lowest-level claiming race.

On day 2, you schedule the next highest level claiming race.

Day three, the next highest, and so on.

On the matrix grid, the group of races would look like this:  /

Then you count out about 25-30 days later to start your ladder again.  The concept of “authentic anticipation” is important when making the matrix — trainers know how long between races so they can point their horses for the right ones.  Racing secretaries who go along with the authentic anticipation concept write condition books that make trainers happy and also allow bettors to become familiar with the horses racing at a track.

There may be some modifications to the ladders depending on if the day the race should be run is a dark day, or if the race conflicts with another, similar race. Sometimes tracks have a truncated claiming ladder, where the claiming prices are offered every other time.  The distances of races are “flip-flopped” to give horses a fair chance at their best distance at their claiming price.

Even though the card you play only has 9 races, the racing secretary most likely wrote between 12-15 races for the day.  The final card is determined by the entries taken a few days before the race.  Since not all races fill, and some overfill, the racing secretary keeps this in mind as the meet goes on, and can offer extra races that fit the conditions of those overfilled ones later in the meet.

A good condition book is one that covers everything well so there is no need to write many extra races.  It takes experience and a good relationship with horsemen to create such a successful condition book.  In the past, it took years of working under a racing secretary, catching bits of expertise as it trickled down, for people to learn how to write these things.  But this weekend, I will be doing it after only half a semester of classes!  YIKES!  Whatever unholy set of conditions comes out of this project, I will have gained a totally new appreciation for the racing officials who do all this work before my silly self goes to the track to play.


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Filed under career track, Handicapping, Race Track Industry Program, RTIP classwork, University of Arizona

Bullring — Love & Racing @ Rillito Park

Historic Rillito Park in Tucson,in the shadow of the Catalinas

At the turn of the last century (that’s 1900), Memphis was home to a lively race track called Montgomery Park.  The little oval was situated on what was then the outskirts of town, with a small but well-used grandstand.  The races were part of the larger Mid-South Fair, which attracted spectators from all walks of life, from all the surrounding states.  The upper-crust people from the “Victorian Village” neighborhood stood shoulder to shoulder with the country folks from Arkansas.   A quick search of the archives (oh mighty Google, what would I do without you?) turned up among the entries and results a story about a gunfight that broke out in the crowd during one afternoon’s races.  The shooting “in the presence of a crowd of five thousand created a sensation.”

(Oh yes, some things never change)

Horse en route to the paddock.

I’ve often wondered what it was like to be there at my hometown’s meet, nothing fancy, just local racing and the cross-section of society having a good time.

Rillito Park is probably the closest I’ll get to the days of the Memphis Jockey Club.

The tiny oval located less than ten minutes from campus is where I’ve spent my weekends since the meet began Jan. 16.  Parking is free, admission to the grandstand is free, programs are cheap, the crowds are friendly and you really can get close-up to the action.

I went opening day with my boyfriend, a native Tucsonan who had never been to the track.  We spent all afternoon running from the paddock to the windows to the rail for the races, with some exciting moments in-between.

At the chain-link paddock fence before the first race, I pointed out details about the horses and explained a little about what the data was all about in the program.  Many of the horses looked like they had come from colder climates and had fuzzy coats but all of them were well-groomed and on their toes.

RTIP classmate Ernesto Avalos leads Divalicious from the paddock to the track at Rillito.

By far, the best-looking horse in the field of 8 was a chestnut named Southern Irish: he was taller, more muscled and had a sleeker coat than any of his rivals.  Boyfriend also being Irish, that sealed the deal.

I made a couple of notes on the program and decided what sort of wager to place, then went up to the window and boyfriend watched in awe as I told the teller my bet.  I assured him he’d be as good at it by the end of the day, and we headed to the rail.

The track is situated in the foothills of the Catalinas, with grandstand views dominated by their jagged peaks.  In the afternoons, the shadows shift and colors change, creating a majestic backdrop for the equine drama on the track.  At the very least, it takes your attention away from the soccer fields in the infield.

Only eight horses make up a full field at Rillito because the oval is so narrow.  To give a little perspective, the Kentucky Derby can have a full field of 20, or 2.5 times wider than Rillito.  Another thing I found delightfully quirky was the 2-turn 6furlong sprint!

6furlongs!  TWO TURNS!  AMAZING!

Horses spring from the gate at Rillito

But that’s Rillito.  Boyfriend and I watched the horses parade to the gate, confident in Southern Irish’s chances: he still looked like a horse among ponies.

The race itself was a 300-yard dash for quarter horse maidens with a purse of a whole $2000.  We stood about halfway between the gate and the finish line, a great spot to experience the thundering hooves.

It was over quicker than the post parade.

Southern Irish sprang from the gate like a jack-in-a-box and never looked back.

Jockey waits for "Riders Up!"

Only a dumb pick for place in the exacta kept me from cashing the ticket.  Back to the paddock we went to observe for the next race.  The jockeys ranged in size from pocket to tall drink of water (well, at least as tall as me, and I ain’t no jockey;-)  and they wore house silks in the post position colors.

As the afternoon wore on, the crowd picked up; I ran into most of my RTIP classmates; boyfriend and I watched races from vantage points all around the stretch, from behind the winner’s circle to the far end of the chute, picked a few winners and had to wait for the schoolbell to ring before I could cash the ticket (hehe!).

Drama before the third race: two horses flipped in the gate as the others were loading, a scary situation that took over 15 minutes to sort out.  Thankfully, both horses were extricated from the gate unharmed.  The tense situation spilled over into the race itself when the inside horse, a first-time starter, dumped her jockey at the break and then jumped over the inside rail!

The jockey walked away with bruised pride, and the horse got to romp around the soccer fields.  I don’t remember which horse won the race!

Proud winners!

Around the 6th race, boyfriend decided to place a few wagers, one based on a tip we’d gotten from a classmate.  There was an Irish-bred who must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque and ended up in Tucson.

We went up to the window & I placed mine first, then he made a shaky first attempt.  I kissed his tickets for luck.  Tickets in hand, we found a great spot near the finish line.  (Boyfriend also said it was sexy that I knew how to place a bet.  Yes, he’s a keeper.)

As the sun slipped lower in the western horizon, the capacity crowd pressed against the rail and watched the sorrel Irish-bred sprint first across the wire.   Our cheers echoed through the grandstand and up into the purple shadows of the mountains.   Rillito may just be a little bullring out in the desert, but at that moment I could have been at Churchill or Oaklawn or even old Montgomery Park, among the electric crowds who love racing.

The end of another great day of racing at Rillito

(Photos taken 1/30/2010 by Candice C. Curtis)

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Filed under career track, Infield Trips, Love Life, photos, Race Track Industry Program, Rillito Park, University of Arizona

From the Infield to the Boardroom

So it’s been a while, blogland.  Nearly 5 months since my last post?  For shame.  Especially since I was churning out such enlightening posts.  Expert commentary. (whatever, chief) 

What have I been up to, you ask? 

Being the glutton for punishment I am, I’ve gone back to school.  But there is so much more to it than that.  In August, I quit my job (the one I had loved for 5 years!) and picked up and moved 1500 miles away to Tucson, Arizona, to attend The University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program (RTIP). 

I’m moving up in the world.

Every single day, I learn something new and interesting about racing — stuff I never even thought about before in the areas of regulation and track management.  I’ve learned more about quarter horse racing, too, and harness racing.  Greyhounds are still fuzzy. 

My professors are awesome.  They come from the industry, have seen the way things work first-hand, have dealt with the problems and lived to tell about them.  They’re always sharing their stories with students, and I’ve heard some doozies in the past few months. 

The guest speakers this semester have been amazing, too: Rob Terry, of RGS, Inc.; Roxy Roxborough, the legendary linesmaker from Vegas and Lou Raffetto, CEO of the National Steeplechase Association.  I’ve met the man in charge of bringing foreign horses to the BC, Nick Clarke, who did a great presentation on international racing.  Every day, every class, is like a dream.  I have exams about horses! 

I also work for the program.  I’ve been updating the RTIP Facebook & Twitter pages, as well as writing and editing press releases and working on the program’s newsletter, the Update.  I’m trying to learn everyone’s name and have made some great friends already.  The students come from all over the country, and have as varied experiences in the industry as one could imagine.  There are total civillians like me, who came into the sport as fans and horse lovers, and then there are students who grew up on the farms I’ve toured and who have been around racing, hands-on, all their lives.

The main event for the fall is the Symposium on Racing and Gaming, which will be Dec. 7-10.  The list of attendees grows by day, and it is shaping up to be a great event.  There will be many panels on marketing and promotion of racing.  That is where I hope to find my place.  I think racing is the greatest sport on the planet and have some ideas to help convince others that I’m right.  After all, if they can keep Elvis popular for 32 years after his death, then surely a sport that renews itself each spring can grab some attention.

So that is what I’ve been up to since June.  I’m moving up, from the Infield, where it’s been fun, to the Boardroom, where it’ll be real.

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Filed under career track, Infield Trips, promoting racing, Race Track Industry Program, Uncategorized, University of Arizona