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Yesterday’s Hero – Or Phoenix Rising?

Is racing really a game of skill?

The recent well supported article about couplings in the Pick 6 has highlighted the need for our tote operators to reassess the current product offering, especially exotics as there appear to be considerable unhappiness among the punting population.

What makes it challenging for them is the large disagreement from players on the issue of couplings and many other matters.

Most of the current complaints can be easily addressed, but as the opinions seem to often be divided almost down the middle would mean more unhappiness, and hence, we end up with a change being difficult and a continuing undercurrent that remain negative and not conducive to much needed growth.


Leon Smuts writes in the Sporting Post Mailbag that he sympathises with the operator as it is impossible to satisfy everyone’s needs and wants in a single format and with systems that are ill-suited to cope with ever changing ideas and more modern innovations.

On top of this they also need to restore trust in the tote and show that they are placing racing first after many years of neglect and damage from the previous regime. This is no easy matter and given financial constraints will take time, time that they probably don’t have, given the severity of the challenge.

What should never be lost in any discussion on turning things around is the need to make racing fun again for everyone.

Participants happiness and enjoyment is paramount for success and this should be the starting point for any new ideas or changes to existing products.

For starters, why not provide both options in the Pick 6 as a commentator suggested, one with couplings and one without and measure turnover on the combined offering over time?

The success and long-term viability of any product is reflected in its support and it would be interesting to see which of the two pools will end up with the biggest support and potential. My feeling is that the coupling P6 will grow more over time and the non-coupling one struggle after a while in its current format (R1 unit with fractional betting).

Smaller punters are currently cattle fodder for more affluent and better-informed players, and they prop up the pools for others to benefit.

I could be completely wrong, and the two pools might both grow exponentially which would be a big win for the operator and racing. Either way, these issues should be tested and put to bed and alternatives provided to the smaller player. What we cannot be sure of is if the system is able to do this without adding huge work and costs, and this is often the real problem that the operator could be facing. I have seen with software technology that a perceived small tweak could have big implications and the change is often easier spoken than done. Technology changes can also be extremely expensive, especially on older platforms that require a lot more workaround to deliver the functionality required. That is the current reality that our tote operators face.

My own feelings aside, I believe that the P6 has long fulfilled the function of racings super bet and the pools reflect superior support over all other formats on offer. This is important to consider as it shows the continued need for a dream bet that could make a major financial difference to a successful punter.

Realistically I don’t like the odds of winning a P6, and seldom play it, as you need the sky to fall to collect big and inevitably the smaller punter, like me, will be missing a leg or two in such instances.

I have researched this phenomenon for a few years now and have concluded that racing would be better served by a bet type with lots of carry overs but simultaneously paying back money to players all the while. Guaranteeing a good payout is essential in my estimate if the intention is for a dream style bet with growing support, but the methodology (pick x number of winners) available at present, falls short of being able to achieve this.

Smaller players need to have a more realistic chance of also sharing in life changing payouts and I see this as an incredibly important mission.

We are told that racing is a game of skill which is supposed to be a reason to support it rather than many other forms of gambling that are often pure games of chance.

This is hard to sell when the so called wrong one in the coupling regularly comes and wins or when form is often tossed out of the window because there is little transparency about the horse’s wellbeing or mission in the race.

If the industry wants to sell racing as a game of skill, it needs to prove that that is what it is, and that skill will be beneficial to anyone willing to put in the mileage. Transparency is the one side of the coin, the other is that new exotic games should be less punitive on the client in the absence of information and should be much more entertaining.

It is essential to introduce games that will promote skills development and demonstrate and reward skill appropriately. My research suggests that skilled players almost never leave the game and are more likely to utilise a wider spectrum of products than new or non-skilled players. Attracting people to the game, and then getting them skilled are critical to growth, and this process will be greatly aided by games specifically designed to fulfil this function rather than something slapped together from another era in racing.

It should thus be a priority for operators not only to draw attention to racing and create a novelty interest, but to ensure that players stay the course towards becoming skilled. Skill can unfortunately not be bought, it is obtainable only through time spent in the game and a willingness to learn.

The way that new games can help accomplish this difficult task is to ensure that players are having fun and entertainment, that skill is demonstrable and rewarded appropriately. Longer formats without in-game elimination is required to allow for maximum time in the game each time when participating, and to promote repeat involvement which large and growing pools and guaranteed pay outs will go a long way towards accomplishing.

I understand and support most arguments in the coupling, fractional and unit of betting debate and all have considerable merit. I would do away with couplings and fractional betting but have a much lower unit of betting to provide every person with the chance to win a big full dividend. We should however accept that each product has a different goal and cannot be everything for everyone. At the same time the wishes of customers are so important, and their grievances should be acknowledged and addressed where possible. Most of what are wanted are difficult to provide in a single product and the division among punters are unlikely to see a quick solution and introduction.

The tote can get the ball rolling by introducing one or two completely new products designed from a marketing and player friendly perspective which will make the promotion of racing and growth in pools much easier.

Most tote products are very old and a lot less desirable now than when they were first launched to a less demanding audience, but still serve the game well within many regrettable limitations.

Racing must do everything possible to make the offering current again and able to compete with all the other alternatives in sport, casino and e-gaming but will struggle to achieve this with what is on offer.

There is a great need among people to be competitive and the means must be provided to make this a reality in a racing setting as well. Add competitive aspects into the mix with players competing against each other rather than only against the system and we will see racing taking on a whole new life and character.

In the end it’s about whether racing would like to be seen as yesterday’s hero (its current position as a virtual unknown among the younger generation) or Phoenix rising.

A substantial investment is required in new technology and products but without it will surely see racing lagging along far below its considerable potential. With new owners with a proven passion for racing who knows what we could be in for locally if we just remain patient under trying times. Hoping to see the Phoenix rising yet again.

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10 comments on “Yesterday’s Hero – Or Phoenix Rising?

  1. Couldn’t agree more.On the coupon there should be an option where the punter tick P6 couplings or P6 straight.


    For the reading pleasure of Sp bloggers or the displeasure thereof :-

    The statistical result of the application of the couplings for today’s Pick 6 @ Fabulous Fairview

    Payout was R 39 122 to 14.36 tickets

    With couplings applied, the payout would have been a minimum of R 4 457 to at least 126 tickets.

    Race 4 Smith coupling

    Race 5 Laing coupling

    Race 6 Smith coupling

    Race 7 Greeff couplings

    Stats don’t lie, like hips don’t lie.

  3. hilton witz says:

    Why not take things a lot further by introducing couplings for all the tote bets where you have to find the winner namely pick 6 jackpot double pick 3 and all win bets …Maybe horses should also be coupled if they have the same owner although they have different trainers …why do first timers only apply in the jackpots and not the first home with a run under its belt but in the pick 6 if an unraced horse wins then the horse that has had a run also qualifies….Leave the pick 6 as it is as racing needs a bet that can try compete with lotto type bets and yes why the hell should somebody who can just put one of a trainers coupling be entitled to all that trainers other entrants meanwhile other punters have used their skill to find the winner …leon i asked you before and you did not answer how is this messiah type idea of yours going in australia seeing that you told all on here they had accepted your proposal ?

  4. PL.NEL says:

    Couplings made PE an attractive betting venue years ago. Couplings for pick six I could still agree wirh, but products like the PA and jackpot would have very unattractive dividends. I still however like the idea of winning big for small money and the current pick six offers this with numerous payouts over a million. Yes the odds are difficult, but you need not catch them all. A cost of no more than 100 rand at 33% can have a combination of 1 x 2 x 2 x 3 x 5 x 5 and if you base your selection on a combination like this instead of the fields, it might not be a winner everytime, but it will keep the cost in place. Got to have those round things ye know.

  5. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

    A four and a half K payout with 4 legs coupled ( 1% gives you get your bet back ?? )A hundred and twenty six winning tickets. That will save racing, but that is not what is happening…..Turnover, increased awareness so increased participation, winning tickets, not losing……the big pots will come, they always did, they always will, but no more of this. Look around you, if you think this is ok then dig the hole deeper. The P6 with couplings was fine for a many years with no hassles. Please do not patronise punters when you say we cant read form just because the P6 suits you personally and you prefer the carry over as opposed to winners every day, you don’t like that ? You got to have some serious inside info to work out the form on some of the winners recently or fields and 1%, that’s not skill, thats guesswork, throw in the handicapping weirdness….

  6. Leon Smuts says:

    Dear Mr Witz, I would like to set the record straight. I respect you as a person, and have a high regard for your racing knowledge and opinions, but would like to draw your attention to repeated misquotes by you regarding my racing product and racing involvement. The product is not being used in Australia or anywhere else at present and I have not made such a claim. What is true is that I have an Australian technology partner that initially built a demo model for me and we are now around 85% into production.

    I would like nothing better than to be afforded the opportunity of a launch as I have high expectations about what the design will be able to achieve. The enjoyment and excitement of the racing experience, the best and fair treatment of punters and the development of skill are the core aims of the involvement. These elements are foundational in reestablishing racing as a prominent entertainment offering, able to compete with the many alternatives on offer.

    Racing needs some major changes if it is to be successful again. Creating awareness and providing a platform and products that will make participation memorable and desirable are requirements that the sport is struggling to provide at present. I hope for this to change and all efforts are directed at creating successful new opportunities for the industry.

    would love to meet you post Covid and have a meaningful discussion about racing and its future over a nice cold beverage.

    Kind regards

  7. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

    Polite reply Mr Smuts to an obviously patronising and condescending stance ( for what reason I cannot understand but there is a pattern with certain reply’s over the years, I call it the NHRA response, that look down your nose type )…..Tell us more Leon ? Everything is a good idea right now, except to Neanderthals of course, they want more of the same because it’s about them, not the industry.

  8. Graham Hurlstone-Jones says:

    I think you will find the referral to the PA and JPOt etc having couplings was being sarcastic ( no meaningful input ) you will learn to spot this from certain posts…..I agree with you about the PE P6…you still had to catch it…..

  9. Leon Smuts says:

    Hi Mr Hurlstone-Jones. I have previously been accused by Rod Mattheyse of being vague on detail and he is one hundred percent right on that and I apologise to all concerned. You will no doubt appreciate that discussions with prospective users of our product takes place under a NDA and revealing any unique details will compromise this.
    Without going into specific unique aspects of our Scoreline product I will share the broad framework of the project for the benefit of our readers.
    It is planned as a Pick 8 starting in Race 1 of a meeting in most instances. The pool will be divided into different divisions. Two of these divisions will be standard and two optional, planned as future add-ons.
    The standard divisions are a Jackpot division that will use conventional methodology found in the current P6 (choose all the winners) but with a suggested 10c unit of betting, no fractional betting and no couplings. This is intended as a regular carry over division which will give racing substantially more attractive pools to generate growing interest. The main daily division will be a guaranteed pay out pool that will take the form of a contest that will be decided using a unique points scoring method. This guarantees that this portion of the pool will be paid out each day to the highest scoring player or players.
    My suggestion is a 30/70 split of the daily net pool with 30% going to the Jackpot and 70% going to the guaranteed pool. This is configurable so the percentages could end up looking different. Carry overs of the Jackpot division will go to the very next event offered so that pools can grow quickly with complete transparency of where carry overs are going. This will make week day pools much more attractive than at present and motivate regular involvement.
    Players can have the confidence of going after the Jackpot knowing that there will be winners each game and no matter the difficulty of results on the day.
    The other two optional divisions will add real excitement but I cannot divulge right now.
    The idea is that racing needs bigger pools but regular winners and this product will facilitate this objective. It will also allow smaller players to be more competitive as there is no elimination in the contest division which will provide a better chance of winning. There will also only be full dividends which should ensure substantial pay outs in either division.
    You will notice that this differs from products that pay consolation dividends as this format has a consolation pool that is the greater part of the daily pool and with the potential to pay a very large dividend on a guaranteed basis.
    Hope this provides a peak at what we are proposing.

  10. Roderick Mattheyse says:

    i think this could have potential, please pay careful attention to take out% – as that is along with no customer service the biggest areas where the tote remains uncompetitive

    I hope your unique points system factors in some skill

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