Apr 13, 2021
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Between The Hedges: Where do purses come from?

by NYRA Press Office

The following is the sixth edition of a bi-weekly series entitled Between The Hedges, a column penned by Joe Longo, NYRA General Manager of Content Services. The series will revolve around the business of betting focusing on trending wagering topics and statistics. Send your questions for Between The Hedges to [email protected]

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) recently released its stakes schedule for the Belmont Spring/Summer meet featuring 59 stakes races worth $16.95 million in purse money. 

Pari-mutuel wagering funds the majority of the NYRA purse account. In addition to pari-mutuel wagering, the remainder of the NYRA purse account is funded through VLT revenues generated by casinos located in downstate New York, most notably at Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct.

Both avenues were negatively impacted by COVID-19, but did you know that racetracks and their horsemen earn more from a wager placed on track or via NYRA Bets?

For example, if a customer is at Aqueduct and bets on a race from Aqueduct, approximately six percent of that wager goes to the purse account. If that on-track/NYRA Bets customer decides to wager on non-NYRA content, approximately five percent goes to the purse account.

With racing being conducted without spectators and off-track betting facilities closed during the pandemic, the high margin on-track wagering channel was significantly hampered.

By contrast, the shift from traditional bricks and mortar wagering to an online wagering platform or account deposit wagering (ADW) format has been expedited by the pandemic. Most horseplayers have multiple ADW accounts, so let’s revisit the above example and demonstrate what happens when a customer wagers using an ADW that is not named NYRA Bets. 

When this customer places a wager on Aqueduct, instead of the horsemen getting six percent to their purse account, they now get half of the host fee charged for the NYRA content. If that ADW is contractually obligated to pay 8 percent for the NYRA content, that means half or 4 percent goes to the purse account.

There is an additional tax or source market fee that an out of state ADW provider must pay for doing business in New York, but the amount that actually goes to NYRA’s purses is about 0.5 percent. The same wager on the same content but different channel results in our horsemen earning 25 percent less in purse money.

If that same customer now wagers on content from a non-NYRA track, our horsemen earn the 0.5 percent from the source market fee instead of the 5 percent that would be made on track or via NYRA Bets. That is a reduction of 90 percent to the purse account.

The NYRA content is the best in the country so we can command a higher host fee than most. But what happens when you are a smaller track with less of a demand for their product? 

Recent articles have brought to light that several smaller tracks, who realized a windfall in handle during the pandemic when other tracks were shut down, saw only marginal increases to their bottom line along with their purse accounts.

One such track has gone on record saying they were only getting a host fee of 3 percent. Splitting that with horsemen, 1.5 percent goes to their purse account. To maintain a daily purse level of $100,000 assuming all of it is funded through handle, they would have to average about $7 million in handle per day. How many small tracks do you know of that average $7 million per day?

As a steward of the industry, NYRA’s mission is to ensure racing prospers in the state of New York and across our industry as a whole. So, support your local track. 

Available in 30 states, NYRA Bets is a legal, US-based, regulated, and licensed provider of horse race wagering. Every wager on the NYRA Bets platform is an investment in New York racing and will ensure that we can continue to put on the best show in the country. 

Send your questions for Between The Hedges to [email protected].


Zhou earns Belmont Stakes Challenge berth with Wood Memorial Challenge win

 Tony Zhou bested a field of 35 horseplayers by building his bankroll to $9,262.50 to secure victory in the NYRA Bets $3,000 Wood Memorial Challenge, earning $9,800 in prize money and a berth at the lucrative 2021 Belmont Stakes Challenge.

The Wood Memorial Challenge, held on April 3, was the second of six NYRA Bets live-money handicapping challenges for 2021, featuring a $3,000 buy-in [$2,000 bankroll / $1,000 prize pool], offering an array of prizes, including: a cash prize pool, one seeded $10,000 Belmont Stakes Challenge Seat, and two seats to the 2022 National Handicapping Championship [NHC] slated for January 28-30 at Bally’s in Las Vegas.

Runner-up Nicholas Tammaro compiled a bankroll of $7,800 to secure $4,900 in prize money and a seat in the 2022 NHC, while Andrew Osborne of Rochester, New York, finished third with $6,861, good for $4,165 in prize money and a 2022 NHC seat.

Zhou, a 37-year-old New York City resident, works for a Manhattan-based hedge fund providing quantitative analysis.

His professional skill set is one he relies on heavily as a horseplayer; an endeavor that started with a day out at the 2010 Belmont Stakes, won by 13-1 longshot Drosselmeyer.

“I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t know how to read the past performances, so I did what all people do which is go online and read up on what other people like,” said Zhou. “I fell in love with the story of Uptowncharlybrown and I bet him. That whole day, I couldn’t pick a winner.

“Most people have the story of hitting big the first day,” he continued. “But I got completely humbled and it made me want to figure it out. One way to approach it was in a data-oriented way.”

Zhou returned to his quant roots and began the years long process of building and perfecting a database that provides a customized set of odds from which he can assess wagering value.

“The output is a number that is my probability of the horse winning and if the tote board is giving overlays, I will bet it,” Zhou said.

Zhou started out playing the traditional mythical $2 win/place tournament format but said he has come to prefer and excel at the live bankroll format used in NYRA tournaments which allows for Win, Place, Show, Exacta, Trifecta, Quinella, and Daily Double wagers.

“The live bank format plays to my strengths,” Zhou said. “I like to hone in on one opinion and then bet it all. During a card, I may only like one or two races and I’m willing to almost always go for the win.

“I enjoy the thrill, the strategy the ability to impress your opinion and the smoother payoffs of live bank,” he added. “You can concentrate\ on one or two opinions and have a great day and you can go home with a lot of money.”

Zhou’s words are backed up with a record of two wins and two seconds in NYRA’s $300 weekly tournaments this year ahead of his Wood Memorial Challenge score.

Zhou said making the transition from the $2 win/place tournament format to a live-money challenge requires a different mindset and that NYRA’s weekly challenge events provide great opportunities for new players to gain experience.

“This game isn’t about being right it’s about making money,” said Zhou, who has qualified for the NHC every year since 2016. “When you have an opinion, you have to be bold and go for the kill. These live-bank tournaments put very good habits into horseplayers. If anything, it’s an education. It teaches you to have an opinion and be bold.”

The Wood Memorial Day card saw favorites prevail in 9-of-11 races, which is normally a nightmare scenario for traditional tournament players. For Zhou, the card provided opportunities to be leveraged.

“A short-priced horse does not mean it’s a terrible bet,” said Zhou, who capitalized on two winning favorites.

In the third race on the Wood Memorial Day card, a six-furlong state-bred maiden special weight sprint for 3-year-olds and up, Zhou’s computer model identified One Whirlwind Ride [No. 2] as a low probability winner at his 2-1 morning-line assessment.

The value was identified as 8-1 morning-line call Nemo’s Fortune [No. 3]. Great Workout [No. 5], a first-time starter for Todd Pletcher was the 9-5 morning-line favorite.

“Having an opinion that’s different from the betting public can make you money,” explained Zhou. “I loved the 3-horse and I bet $1,600 to win and it might have been too much. But I also thought if he didn’t win, he would likely finish second to the chalk so I played a $300 straight exacta. I had a very clear opinion that my price play would either win or finish second to the chalk.”

Great Workout, sent to post as the 4-5 chalk, prevailed by a head over Bar Fourteen [No. 6, 11-1] with Nemo’s Fortune, off at an overlaid 11-1, a neck back in third.

But the inquiry sign flashed and Bar Fourteen was disqualified and placed third for interfering with Nemo’s Fortune. With Nemo’s Fortune elevated to second, the $1 exacta returned $15.70.

Zhou said he can’t provide a specific reason for liking Nemo’s Fortune.

“The handicapping part is all machine. I don’t actually know why I like the horse,” said Zhou. “I just know it’s an overlay and I’ll bet it. The human part of it is the wagering and strategy part.”

Zhou has faith in the numbers being right over a period of time. By way of illustration he references 2015 Triple Crown-winner American Pharoah, who exited the starting gate a prohibitive favorite in that year’s Travers at Saratoga only to finish second to 16-1 longshot Keen Ice.

“You might look at a race and see American Pharoah and be afraid of betting a longshot where the computer doesn’t care,” said Zhou. “The computer just looks at numbers and says the horse is 16-1 but has this percentage chance of winning and it’s a great bet.”

Zhou said he has come to rely on the computer model for handicapping.

“The handicapping is computerized because it’s emotionless,” said Zhou. “The problem with human handicapping is you have to be very experienced to be unbiased.”

And although he needed the stewards’ assistance to capitalize on his first opinion, he said the wager set up the rest of his day.

“It was a justified DQ. If it didn’t go my way, I’m on life support,” said Zhou. “But that’s the way you have to play. It was the main play of my day to try and get myself into a position to win in the last race, either by exactas with the chalk on top or a straight win bet.”

The Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino provided longshot players with an incredible opportunity when a Pletcher-trained exacta of 72-1 Bourbonic over 15-1 Dynamic One resulted in a $1 payout of $453.

Zhou demonstrated great discipline by listening to his computer model.

“I passed on the race,” said Zhou. “I’m a fan, but I’m a gambler first. Winning $100 in a Grade 2 is the same as winning $100 in a maiden race.”

Zhou was within striking range heading into the last race on the Big A card, a 1 1/16-mile outer turf test for state-breds 3-years-old and up.

“The leaderboard developed in a way where I could win the tournament with a win bet. That’s the dream scenario,” said Zhou. “You have a 45 percent chance of winning the tournament, the cash and the Belmont seat and that’s a great proposition.”

Zhou’s system suggested Michael’s Bad Boy [No. 8], the 7-5 morning line favorite, was the most likely winner. Moreover, the system suggested odds as low as 3-5 were reasonable. The main competition was the class-dropping Voliero at 9-5 on the morning line.

Michael’s Bad Boy’s trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr. had won with both his starters on the card when Mischevious Alex took the Grade 1 Carter Handicap and Drain the Clock captured the Grade 3 Bay Shore.

In addition, the colt’s jockey, Irad Ortiz, Jr., was in the midst of a banner day with five wins. Not that any of the above mattered to Zhou’s model.

“I always handicap the last race first at a tournament because it’s the most important race,” said Zhou. “I remember thinking the 8 and 7 would vie for favoritism. The 7 had good numbers for strength of field last time and ran a really good number last out. It was dropping in class. But the horse was dead on the board.”

The “sharp” win money poured in early on Michael’s Bad Boy while Voliero drifted in price. When the gates opened, Michael’s Bad Boy was the favorite [0.95] with Voliero [1.90] the clear second choice.

“Noise money came in and Voliero took money at the worst possible time. That made it easy for me,” said Zhou. “The tote told me the 7 was a toss and made it easy to go all in on the 8.”

Zhou bet his entire bankroll, just shy of $5,000, to win on Michael’s Bad Boy, who drew clear to a 3 ½-length win. Wicked Grinch [No. 5], a 62-1 shot piloted by Heman Harkie, completed an exacta that returned $76 for a $1 wager.

“Originally, I wanted to bet an exacta. I figured the leader would have $11,000 or $12,000 and I’d need to hit an exacta to win,” said Zhou. “Ironically, if I had to bet an exacta, I would have had an even better total as I would have bet the exacta that came in with the chalk with the bomb.”

The result clarified Zhou’s belief that a short price does not mean underlay.

“He closed at almost even money,” said Zhou. “It paid $3.90. Paying $3.90 versus $3.60 is a huge difference in the long run. I was going to take this horse down at 3-5 anyway so it didn’t matter.”

Zhou said he credits NYRA for their continued efforts in promoting and hosting tournament play.

“It’s a vibrant community that’s passionate about the game,” said Zhou. “I have to applaud NYRA for making a concerted effort to host tournaments weekly and the prizes make for contest overlays.”

In victory, Zhou selected a seat in the two-day Belmont Stakes Challenge in June, where prizes will include one seat to the 2022 Belmont Stakes Challenge, four seats to the 2022 NHC and two seats to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge (BCBC).

The 2021 Belmont Stakes Challenge has an entry fee of $10,000, of which $2,500 will go directly to the prize pool, with the remaining $7,500 comprising each participants’ bankroll. Online registration for the Belmont Stakes Challenge will open in May.

“The Belmont Stakes Challenge is worth $10,000 and for me those two racing days rival the Breeders’ Cup card,” said Zhou. “The BCBC has a long history and the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes are becoming the tournaments every live bank player wants to win. Belmont is a great betting product and I love going to the track, it’s wide and expansive and it was the first track I went to. Plus, I seem to have had a lot of luck there.”

Zhou is hopeful that more players will sign up and participate in upcoming contests and noted there are many ways to find success.

“There’s no one way to skin the cat. There’s many ways to beat the game,” said Zhou. “For me, my background is math and programming, so I took a data driven approach.

“But you don’t need a computer,” he added. “The human brain is the best computer there is. I use a computer because I don’t have time to read the form. Give me a set of overlays I can play and let me figure out how I can extract money from that idea.”

And for Zhou, letting the computer do the handicapping leaves him ample time to find recreational value in his lucrative hobby.

“Some people love waking up at five in the morning and reading the form and studying horses and following the scene. For them, it’s a pleasure opening up the form, but for me it’s not,” said Zhou. “I don’t want to be reading a form. I want to have a whiskey and a cigar and watch races with my friends. That’s a great Saturday and if you can win a tournament, even better.”

* * *

NYRA Bets Handicapping Challenge entrants may register and compete online in all contests via NYRA Bets. The leaderboard for all contests is posted throughout the day on America’s Day at the Races, the acclaimed national telecast produced by NYRA in partnership with FOX Sports.

To enter and play online, contestants must be registered NYRA Bets account holders. To learn more, visit


Bi-weekly stat pack

The bi-weekly stat pack provides a snapshot of who's hot over the past two weeks at the Big A versus year-to-date, including Top Trainer by ROI; Top Jockey by ROI; and Top Jockey and Trainer Combination by wins.

Also featured in this report is listing of the highest mutuel payouts of the past two weeks versus year-to-date, as well as a look at NYRA's bi-weekly handle, including average field size; number of race days; and daily average handle.

Trainer Todd Pletcher led all conditioners with an ROI of $10.99 from a record of six wins from 16 starters over the relevant period of March 27 – April 11 thanks to the 72-1 score by Bourbonic in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino.

Kendrick Carmouche, who engineered the Bourbonic upset, led all riders with a $3.80 ROI from a record of 10 wins in 57 starts over the relevant period. Pletcher and Carmouche teamed up to win 4-of-8 starts in the past two weeks for an ROI of $20.84.

Jose Ortiz, who won five races on Sunday’s card, is leading the 11-day spring meet with 16 wins. He boasts a record of 16 wins from 45 starts the past two weeks for an ROI of $2.22. Ortiz has teamed up successfully with James Ryerson [2 wins from 4 starts, $8.45 ROI], Linda Rice [2 wins from 4 starts, $2.30 ROI], and Chad Brown [2 wins from 7 starts, $1.04 ROI].

For a closer look at the bi-weekly stat pack, click this link.


The Big Ticket: A $36 Cross Country Pick 5 investment returns $25,507.25

On April 10, a horseplayer invested $36 into the Cross Country Pick 5 featuring stakes action from Aqueduct, Oaklawn Park and Keeneland Race Course, and was rewarded with a payout of $25,507.25 for selecting all five winner’s for the 50-cent wager. The total was pool was $180,061.

The ticket went as follows: 1,5,8/6,8/7,8/4,9/3,6,8

Going three deep in the opening leg paid off when Family Biz [No. 5, $13.80] drew clear of a field of six in a one-turn mile allowance for 3-year-olds and up under Eric Cancel for trainer Linda Rice.

The player was strongly against 2-1 morning-line favorite Into Mystic in the second leg, the Giant’s Causeway going 5 1/2-furlongs on the Keenland turf in Race 8. And while the opinion was correct, it came with some drama when the lower-priced option of the ticket’s two selections A Bit of Both [No. 6, 8-1ML] was scratched after unseating jockey Tyler Gaffalione in the post parade. In a field reduced to seven horses, it was Change of Control [No. 8, $19.80], who rallied for a length score over even-money fave Into Mystic. Colby Hernandez had the call for conditioner Michelle Lovell’s 500th career win.

One way to avoid being defeated by the ‘other’ Chad Brown is to use both the four-time Eclipse Award-winners entrants. Brown sent out mutuel favorite Analyze It [No. 7] and Delaware [No. 8, $22.20] in the Danger’s Hour in Race 8 at the Big A and was rewarded by an eye-catching turn of foot in the final sixteenth as Delaware collared Rinaldi for a narrow score in course record time of 1:33.67 in the one-mile inner turf test for older horses.

The winning punter went fishing for more longshots at Keeneland in Race 9, the Grade 3 Lexington, going two deep with It’s My House [No. 4, 30-1ML off at 60-1] and King Fury [No. 9, $38.40]. King Fury, who bested Super Stock in the Street Sense at Churchill Downs in October, drifted up from his 10-1 morning-line assessment but found his best stride late under Brian Hernandez to secure a 2 3/4-length score for trainer Ken McPeek. The well-backed Proxy and Swiftsure finished fourth and seventh, respectively. It’s My House ran sixth.

In the finale, the $400,000 Oaklawn Mile in Race 9, the ticket had a trio of picks to finish off a lucrative score in By My Standards [No. 6, $6.80], Wells Bayou [No. 3, 4-1ML] and Home Base [No. 8, 15-1 ML].

Buzz horse Rushie took the money and left the gate as the mutuel favorite under Joel Rosario, establishing a length lead at the stretch call. By My Standards, with Gabriel Saez up, rallied four wide through the turn and won an unlikely nose victory to save the ticket. Wells Bayou finished third with Home Base settling for seventh.

To learn more about the Cross Country Pick 5, check out a previous edition of Between The Hedges:


A look back…a look ahead

The Big A spring meet continued over the weekend with a trio of $100,000 stakes led by the Top Flight and Danger’s Hour on Saturday and the Plenty of Grace on Sunday.

Three-time graded stakes winner Horologist recaptured her 2020 form in notching a comeback triumph in the Top Flight Invitational, a nine-furlong test for older fillies and mares. Read more:$100k-top-flight-invitational

Delaware used a deep-stretch surge to overtake pacesetter Rinaldi in the final sixteenth, setting an Aqueduct Racetrack inner turf course record at one mile with a three-quarter length score in the Danger’s Hour. Read more:

Peter Brant’s Regal Glory, patiently piloted by Jose Ortiz, overtook pacesetter Platinum Paynter in deep stretch to secure a half-length score in the $100,000 Plenty of Grace, a one-mile turf test for older fillies and mares. The victory marked the fifth straight Plenty of Grace win for trainer Chad Brown. Read more:

Next weekend brings a close to the compact 11-day Big A spring meet with a quarter of stakes.

Saturday’s action includes the $100,000 Woodhaven at 1 1/16-miles on turf for sophomores and $200,000 NYSSS Times Square at 6 1/2-furlongs for eligible New York-sired sophomores.

On Sunday, the $100,000 Memories of Silver will feature sophomore fillies trying 1 1/16-miles on the turf, while the $200,000 NYSSS Park Avenue will feature eligible New York-sired sophomore fillies sprinting 6 1/2-furlongs.

For FREE TimeformUS analysis and selections for races from Aqueduct Racetrack, visit:

FREE daily NYRA selections are available from analysts Andy Serling and Anthony Stabile. Watch Serling and Stabile discuss the card each live race day from The Big A on Talking Horses:

Check out NYRA Notes for insights into recent races and the inside scoop on contenders for upcoming events with quotes from the connections:

Aqueduct spring meet Week 3 stakes probables

 Saturday, April 17

$100,000 Woodhaven

Probable: Extrasexybigdaddee (Mike Trombetta), Hard Love (Jonathan Thomas), Original (John Terranova), Shawdyshawdyshawdy (Jorge Abreu), Sifting Sands (Chad Brown)

Possible: It’s a Gamble (Kelly Breen), Yes This Time (Kelly Breen)

$200,000 NYSSS Times Square

Probable: Devious Mo (Rudy Rodriguez), It’s Gravy (Kelly Breen), Lobsta (Gary Sciacca), Market Alert (James Ryerson), Noctilucent (James Bond), Papa Smooth (Mike Maker), Sinful Dancer (George Weaver), Writer’s Regret (James Ferraro)

Possible: The King Cheek (Jamie Ness)

Sunday, April 18

$100,000 Memories of Silver

Probable: Bravo Regina (Juan Vazquez), Fluffy Socks (Chad Brown), Frost Me (John Kimmel), Ingrassia (Chad Brown), Mischevious Dream (Christophe Clement), Oyster Box (Graham Motion)

$200,000 NYSSS Park Avenue

Probable: Bustin Bay (Antonio Arriaga), Jill’s a Hot Mess (John Kimmel), Laobanonaprayer (Daniel Velazquez), Laura’s Bellamy (Todd Pletcher)

Possible: Dramatic Twist (Patrick Quick), Rosey’s Peach (Domenick Schettino), Shaker Shack (Patrick Reynolds)


NYRA Bets promotions

A number of promotions are on tap this month for NYRA Bets customers, including the $50 Belmont Opening Bonus.

The 48-day Belmont Park spring/summer meet, which will feature 59 total stakes races worth $16.95 million in total purses, begins on Thursday, April 22 and continues through Sunday, July 11.

Here’s how to earn the $50 opening weekend bonus at Belmont Park.

·      Bet a $50 base double on that last double of the day (second to last race) at Belmont Park on April 22, 23, 24 AND 25 through the NYRA Bets App.

·      Participate in all four days and earn a $50 bonus - win or lose!

Customer must bet exactly a $50 base double on the last double of the day at Belmont Park each promotional day to qualify. Customer must bet on the NYRA Bets App to qualify. Wagers placed on the NYRA Bets mobile site (, desktop site or by phone with a live operator are not valid for the promotion bonus. Bonus will be placed in player account on Tuesday, April 27. Customer must be in good standing to receive the bonus. Bonus capped at $50 per customer.

Promotion Dates: April 22, 23, 24, 25 (must participate all days to qualify)

For more info, visit

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