Equidaily Racing Journal


Saratoga Springs, NY... We're not sure what the exact purpose is for adding the new sign-up fee to NYRA's SHOWDOWN game.

Not that $10 is a lot of money. But why?

NYRA's press release announcing the new sign-up fee declares, "Belmont Fall SHOWdown begins a new era of online contests."

OK, but why?


Theoretically perhaps the promise of a much larger prize pool was at the core of this decision. The Saratoga SHOWDOWN contest began with over 7000 players. That would translate to $70,000 in prize money under the new format -- as opposed to the $5000 previously offered by NYRA.

But of course that all depends on how many people will elect to play now that they have to pay. It will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up come Opening Day at Belmont.

Reading comments over on the nyra.com fan forum it seems like a mixed bag of folks who are opposed to the fee and other folks who look forward to the enlarged jackpot. Others are hopeful the entry fee will discourage the alleged cheating of some entrants said to be "sneaking in" using multiple email addresses in order to enter more than the once per person allowed. However if an end to cheating is a desired goal for players it seems that could be achieved in other ways. For instance, asking for a credit card number, with name and address, might help foil people from making multiple entries. Sure, it's a pain in the neck -- but no more so than giving credit card info for the $10 entry fee!


The simple fact is that after a few go-rounds with SHOWDOWN since it debuted last summer, it's become obvious that it's a flawed game in need of gross re-working.

There are two major problems with SHOWDOWN.

First, the requirement that the game MUST BE PLAYED EVERY DAY. Nobody loves horse-racing more than this writer -- but hey, even we have lives outside of horse-racing. Saratoga SHOWDOWN lost the vast majority of its players within a few short days. One has to wonder how many of those people simply chose to engage in any of a myriad of wonderful summertime activities rather than spend time indoors handicapping and web-surfing in order to make their daily entry.

And we can't even count the number of times we've visited various fan forums on the 'net and heard people lament about forgetting to put in their entry that day.

And, of course, there are the simple vagaries of the internet that on any given day can prevent someone from making their required entry.

Second, a good contest should BUILD suspense and excitement. SHOWDOWN accomplishes just the opposite. Within a few short days of its beginning the SHOWDOWN contest is of little or no interest to most of the entrants. Doesn't it make more sense to have a contest that pulls more and more people in over time?

Originally the contest was called "Survivor" and gave a tip of the hat to the TV series of the same name by whittling down contestants until only one winner remained. That's great for a TV show -- it's make for fun viewing. It's not so hot for an online handicapping contest.


When a racetrack runs an online contest the purpose should be simple -- to provide a fun, easy-to-use, and engaging game that will entertain confirmed fans and possibly develop new ones.

SHOWDOWN is an interesting promotional device for the track because it requires players to handicap every card. And of course, if you handicap a card you're more likely to find something you might want to bet on! Ingenious.

But again, the vast majority of us simply don't have the time to handicap the entire card each and every day.


The goal then has to be to develop a contest that people WANT to play, and want to play often -- if not every day. Plus, that contest should ALLOW them to play often, in other words a player is never eliminated.

There are any number of ideas that could be developed but here are a couple that will demonstrate the concept:

Players must pick six horses per day they think will come in the money. A minor prize is offered daily and is given to the only contestant that picks all six correctly. If more than one player picks all six -- or if no player picks all six -- then the prize money is rolled over into the next day. People can play every day, or just some days, and there is the possiblity that interest will grow if the prize rolls over for a few days.

Or, run monthly contests that are similar in theme. Players must pick six horses a day that they think will come in the money. The winner is declared at the end of the month using a player's top twelve days.


Again, some brainstorming can certainly produce many exciting ideas that would be more appealing than the present format. And you know what? A game that offered these elements -- primarily the non-elimination factor -- would be even more likely to find entrants willing to part with a sawbuck to play...

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