This year’s 152nd edition (a word not to be interchangeably used with the word anniversary) of the Queen’s Plate will be memorable for at least one historic reason. It may be more if Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield becomes one of the most successful conditioner in the race’s history or if Eurico Rosa da Silva becomes the first jockey ever to capture three consecutive Queen’s Plates.
Regardless of who finishes first on Sunday, the 2011 edition of the Queen’s Plate will be memorable for a reason that has nothing to do with the action that takes place on the racetrack. In fact, this year’s Plate is cause for reflection on ‘action’ of a different sort – the type of action that keeps the jockeys riding, the trainers conditioning, the owner’s entering and the breeder’s selling. This is the action that impacts every person that counts on the industry for a paycheque and a livelihood.
Of course, the term ‘action’ makes reference to the important act of wagering that defines the contribution of hundreds of thousands of gamblers, horse players, and casual fans across North America.
This year is significant because it marks the 100th anniversary of the first Queen’s Plate in which a pari-mutuel system was used to accept ‘action’ from the betting public.
In 1911, the year St. Bass captured the Plate by six lengths at Woodbine Park (which would later become Old Woodbine and then Greenwood), racetrack patrons no longer had to haggle with a bookmaker for ‘fair’ odds. Instead, as is discussed in Lou Cauz’s historic look at The Plate: 150 Years of Royal Tradition From Don Juan to Eye of the Leopard, fans would line up and wager at a $430 pari-mutuel betting machine manned by an expert.
Instead of receiving a fixed price on their wager, for the first time Queen’s Plate bettors were wagering into a pool, as remains the case today. The amount wagered on the winning horse relative to the amount in the pool would determine the winning pari-mutuel payout.
As the Cauz work discusses, there were some issues because lines were organized by the size of the wager and there were shortages of small bills to pay off winning patrons. But that didn’t stop the 12,000 fans in attendance from funnelling over $74,000 into the win pool that day in May. St. Bass returned $5.80 as the public's second-choice.
So, on Sunday, whether you’re in Montana or Delaware or on the second floor of the Woodbine Grandstand placing your wager on Sunday’s Queen’s Plate, consider how much has changed at the racetrack in 100 years. Then consider that one of the simplest concepts – the one that enables all of us to play against each other and not against the house (like in almost every other form of gambling) – hasn’t changed in a century.
Will it last another 100 years? The betting exchange companies around the world would have you believe that it won’t. Nonetheless, it is impressive that pari-mutuel wagering has weathered storm after storm, applied technology to broaden its delivery systems (in some markets), and essentially stayed the course for all theese years in its role in horse racing.
Incidentally, the concept of the track takeout (for operating expenses) was also born in 1911. The take-out rate? A lowly five per cent. Now, those were the days!
[Who do you think will win the 152nd edition of the Queen's Plate?]