About McKay

President and Founder of HorseTourneys

“Winter Rules” Now In Effect


This blog is sent out annually as a reminder of some tweaks we here at HorseTourneys employ to try and mitigate the effects of winter weather on scheduling.  For beginners and veteran tourney players alike, it’s always a good idea for a quick refresher:

As we roll into the winter months, it’s a good idea that we explain our approach to scheduling, which we tweak this time of year.  We’ve employed this approach every year, and it just bears a quick reminder every November or so as chilly temperatures descend across the land.

As is stated in our Support FAQ section, the race schedule for multi-track tournaments–by which we mean our Featured schedules on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays–are traditionally posted 48-hours in advance of the date of the tournament.  So for instance, the race schedule for the Featured Saturday tournaments is typically posted on Thursday afternoon.

Snow, ice and high winds will no doubt descend on some of the racetracks we like to use, be it Aqueduct in New York, Turfway in Kentucky or even some of our friends as far south as Louisiana.  We hate cancellations as much as you do and always do our best to avoid them.

Therefore, essentially through March, we’ll post race schedules a day later – or approximately 24 hours prior to the contest.  So a race schedule for a Featured Saturday will now be posted on Friday afternoon.

We realize that players like to have access to races as far in advance as possible, but for us, these extra 24-hours are often critical.  During these months, weather can change dramatically in a 24-hour span.  Having the extra time to survey what we think might happen makes it more likely that we’ll avoid making scheduling mistakes that could result in cancellations.  This approach has proven prudent, as it’s helped save more than an handful of schedules that would otherwise have been scrapped.

Generally speaking, we will also avoid using cold-weather tracks in Quick Early Bird schedules whenever an alternative with more predictable weather is available, especially on the weekends.  It is essential that Quick Early Bird schedules run on Saturdays and Sundays, since those schedules include so many feeders to the days’ Featured events.  So for instance, you’ll be far more likely to see Tampa included in a QEB schedule than Aqueduct–even though we know Aqueduct is a more popular circuit.

Lastly, since many people ask us about replacing races with “alternate” races in the event of cancellations, we feel it’s helpful to explain how we approach scenarios where races are indeed cancelled:

  • If races that are included in a multi-track schedule are cancelled the evening prior to the date, we will make changes to the Featured schedule and announce to all players
  • If races that are included in a multi-track schedule are cancelled the same day of the Featured schedule, it is our policy to never make changes to those schedules.  This is mostly because there are simply too many players that make selections the day prior and will not have the ability to make changes, or may not even be aware of the changes.  This is an untenable situation and one that is unfair to those players
  • If races that are included in a QUICK EARLY BIRD schedule are cancelled on the same day, we will refund entries in that QEB schedule and post a new schedule that includes other races, assuming there is sufficient time to do so.  We will never replace races in a QEB schedule the same day.  What this means is that players will need to re-buy into the new schedule to play the revised Quick Early Bird schedule.

Here at HorseTourneys, Eric Wing and I take scheduling very, very seriously.  You spend a ton of time preparing, and we feel the above approach is the best to ensuring your play experiences as few inconveniences as possible.

We hope this provides some insight – email us at support@horsetourneys.com with any questions.  Stay warm!

With Cancellations, Less is the Only Option

This past Sunday, October 27, Belmont Park ran its first race on the card, but heavy rain and high winds forced cancellation immediately thereafter. Weather was also poor at Monmouth, but conditions held up a little better there, with the entire card running to completion.

Three Belmont races were included in the Sunday Featured schedule which, with the cancellation, reduced the number of races in the schedule from the usual 12 to nine.  But this total still represented 75 percent of the original number, above the 70 percent threshold to constitute a valid schedule per the Official Rules. Thus, the Featured schedule carried on.

The above scenario is not unheard of…but it’s relatively rare. We estimate that 3-5 Featured schedules a year are either reduced or cancelled, most of them happening either in the deep winter months or July/August when extreme temperatures can invade the northeast.  October or November?  That’s pretty unusual.

The Twitterverse and our email inbox was unusually ablaze this time, however.  Some players were not satisfied that they were forced to participate in a truncated schedule.  We speculate that this was partly to do with the fact that qualifiers to the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge are winding down, and players are eager to earn seats to the coveted event.

Trust us, we get it.  We really do.  We hate race cancellations just as much as you do.  It’s a pain in our butts to handle and, on top of that, we lose money on the deal.

Before we move on, let me say that, at the risk of tooting our own horns, I am certain that we spend far more time in constructing multi-track schedules than anyone has or ever will in the tournament space.  Eric Wing, as part of his role, is responsible for putting these together. He takes this duty deadly seriously, and I know of no one more qualified to do this than he.

Having handled this myself for many years, I can attest that this takes much more time than one would imagine.  We look at every race available and take into account multiple factors in crafting a schedule that we think best serves our players.  Weather, timing, race quality, field size, et al. The variables are too numerous to list fully.

For Sunday, we anticipated the bad weather in the northeast, and purposefully excluded any grass races there.  And, since Belmont stood to have the worst weather, we limited its usage to three races, so that a cancellation wouldn’t force us to scrap the schedule entirely.  We didn’t actually expect that Belmont would cancel (especially with an Empire 6 forceout scheduled)…but, in some ways, things actually happened according to plan.

I can probably go back over the years and point out a bucket full of instances where proper planning prevented schedule reductions or cancellations.  We feel it’s our job to plan ahead. This time we avoided a cancellation (by not using more than three Belmont races), but not a reduction.

On to the issue at hand.  The complaints and suggestions generally centered around two areas.  We’ll take them one by one:

  • HorseTourneys should be able to add races to a schedule in the event of cancellations

Currently, our policy is that we will never make changes to any Featured schedule on the actual day of that schedule.  If a track cancels the evening before, we’ll endeavor to make changes and communicate those, but once the morning comes, adding or changing the schedule is out.

Why do we draw such a hard line?

It’s important to understand the habits of tournament players.  One of the wonderful things about online tournament play is that one doesn’t need to be following along in real time.  Generally speaking, players understand that they are not at a disadvantage by preparing early, making selections and walking away.  And that’s exactly what they do—in very large numbers.

Of course, this is easy to do in Pick & Pray events, but our data shows that even in Live events, no more than 50 percent of entrants are actually participating in real time.  They’re playing (and winning) while still being able to enjoy the other things that weekend life offers.  We think that’s terrific and one of the key selling points of the product.

So imagine you’re someone with religious or family obligations on a Sunday; you prepare for the schedule and make your picks either the night before or early morning.  If changes are made, in the vast majority of cases, you’re not going to be able to adjust in time.

And communicating changes is practically impossible.  Our email open rates are about 20 percent at their highest (which is actually very high), and that’s within a day or so of being sent.  (Nevermind if they are actually read.)  Alerts on the website don’t do any good if the players aren’t around to see them.  It’s unlikely we’d be able to reach any more than 20-30 percent of those entered if changes were made.

So making changes to a schedule on the day-of is highly problematic.  It’s impossible to conclude that this would be anything but unfair.

OK, so if that’s out, what about an alternative?

  • HorseTourneys should include a number of “alternate” races (say 3-4) in the schedule that would be activated in the event of cancellations

This sounds pretty good at first blush.  Could we do it from a technical perspective?  Sure, it might be a bit messy, but it’s doable.

But is it something that solves the issues inherent in introducing changes?  We don’t think so.  And this isn’t a matter of not wanting to make the effort.

It’s human nature not to extend effort toward something that has a very low chance of occurring.  Let’s go back to our estimate of 3-5 Featured schedules a year being impacted by cancellations.  If we look at Saturday and Sunday only, that’s 3-5 schedules impacted out of a yearly total of 104 a year.  If we include Fridays, that’s 3-5 out of 156.   That’s 3.2 percent at most.

Adding 3-4 races would increase prep time by at least 25 percent.  Do we really believe that most players are going to prepare for those races ahead of time, for a 3 percent chance that they’ll be needed?  Meanwhile, the same communications challenges remain.  Even if this were offered, a meaningful percentage of players will not have even looked at those races.

Some might say, “That’s tough, the player knew they were available…it’s his responsibility.”  Again, that stance might sound good, but it doesn’t take into account the disenchantment that a large number of those players would feel by not having prepared for those races — especially if their inclusion materially affected their results.

Here’s the kind of exchange that we’d likely receive under these circumstances:

PLAYER:  Hi, HorseTourneys.  I know that some races were cancelled today and the alternate races were used in their place.  Unfortunately, I was tight on time last night and didn’t get a chance to prepare for those or make selections.  I would have won this tournament if those races hadn’t been used.  I think you should have just gone with the other races.  I’m pretty upset and would like you to refund my money or give me the prize I would have won.

HORSETOURNEYS SUPPORT: We’re sorry, but the rules are clear that in the event of cancellations, the alternate races are used.  It’s the responsibility of all players to prepare for those races.  There’s nothing we can do.

PLAYER: Yeah, I know what the rules say, but nobody thought that Belmont would cancel today.  This was a total surprise.  I feel like I got screwed here.  Please give me my money back.

In cases like this, we’d have the choice of sticking to our guns and pissing someone off, or providing refunds out of pocket. Obviously, neither of those options are good ones.

Barring an exception, Featured schedules on weekends contain at least 12 races.  This means that a Featured schedule is guaranteed to have nine races on Saturday or Sunday in order to meet the 70 percent threshold.  While we’d certainly prefer more, we think that this is still a number acceptable to the vast majority of players and that it is far preferable to an outright cancellation.  Moreover, having a set threshold gives us something to plan against when taking contingencies into account.

But most importantly, adherence to this rule allows players to know that they will never have to worry about late additions.  Picking winners is never easy, but at least it’s fun. Dealing with last-minute curveballs…not so much.







Notice for Minnesota residents

Below is an email sent to Minnesota residents on November 13, 2019.

Dear Minnesota resident:

Beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 13, HorseTourneys and HorsePlayers will make an operational change that will impact Minnesota residents.

Minnesota is a state, among several, that requires separate account wagering licensing in order to legally accept online wagers on horse racing. HorseTourneys and HorsePlayers operate under the Minnesota account wagering license of Xpressbet, with whom we maintain an official affiliate partnership.

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The All-Optional Format Returns – Finally

This week, we’ll begin testing the newest version of the All-Optional format here at HorseTourneys.  We’ve been working on this for quite awhile, and are relieved to finally be in a position to roll it out again.

For well over a year now, many of you have been asking us what had happened to it, and when we might be bringing it back.  We don’t blame you, as it’s a format that should be part and parcel of any ongoing tourney platform such as ours.

So you’re probably asking yourself – what in the world took you guys so long?

The answer to that question isn’t simple.  But one thing is for sure: we were lucky we got away with using it when we did. And that’s only because the racing gods spared us circumstances that would have caused havoc.  It was a little like driving in a car we knew had a loose axle.  Eventually and inevitably, the axle would break and we’d go crashing into a tree.  That’s why we shelved using the All-Optional format a couple of years ago before we started work on the new site that launched last August.  But we always vowed to get back to it as soon as we were able.

The main problem was that technically, we were not prepared to handle rare events that would require the return of a pick back to a player’s quiver of selections.  For instance, if a horse was declared a non-starter, rather than treating that like a scratch, you should get your selection back, right?  Or what if a race was declared a No Contest?  All players would need that pick back.  Races from certain tracks cancelled?  We weren’t prepared for that either.

There is a whole series of circumstances that we needed our system to be able to account for that weren’t in place previously.  It took longer than it should have, but at this point we’re confident that we have all contingencies covered.

Related to the fixes, there are two main points that players need to be aware of when playing the All-Optional format:

  • If a horse is declared a NON-STARTER, players will be given that selection back, UNLESS the race is the final race in the tournament. In that case, the non-starter will be treated like an ordinary scratch, with alternates or post-time favorites applied
  • If races are either declared a NO CONTEST, or cancelled, players will also be given back any selections that had been made in those races

If participating in this format, players must acknowledge that if there are circumstances such as non-starters or no contests that occur late in a tournament, it is possible that players may end up with more selections remaining than there are eligible races in which to use them.  This is simply unavoidable as it relates to this format.  What we cannot do as administrators is deal with individual cases on an ad hoc basis.  Therefore, the rules as they relate to procedures in the all-optional format are ironclad.

Aside from the above, the format operates exactly the same as when we used it previously.  Players will make a designated maximum number of selections from the list of eligible races.  Typically, this will be eight or 10 maximum selections among an eligible group of 15-25 races.

If a player needs to “clear” a selection in order to free up a pick, players simply need to un-check a primary selection, which will also clear the alternate pick.  The count of selections available per entry is displayed at the top of your entry in the selections interface:


We’ll likely continue with testing for a couple weeks or so.  Once we’re confident everything is in tip-top shape, we’ll start to work the format into the rotation for the Featured schedules on the weekend, as well as offering it on a daily basis when at least two major circuits are available.

Of course, please notify us of any issues you may come across when playing.  We want to know about anything that may not look right or out of place.

We look forward to making this format a standard part of offerings moving forward.  Thank you in advance for your assistance in getting there.