Racing's glamor division, 3-year-old males, is still without a clear leader. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and late season sensation West Coast probably have the inside track with a pair of Grade 1 wins apiece. Turf specialist Oscar Performance could become the only sophomore with a trio of Grade 1 scores in Saturday's Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Some argue this would make him a candidate for the 3-year-old Eclipse. Also, there is concern in some circles that the new relaxed IRS rules will bring about the elimination of low cost exotic wagers.



Here we go again. It was only a few years ago that the hot debate in racing circles was whether Wise Dan deserved the Eclipse Award as Best Older Horse since his sparkling record was achieved on the grass. In 2015, after Wise Dan prevailed with Eclipse voters, the award was reclassified to Best Older Dirt Horse, since there already was a Best Grass Horse category.

This year the same issues could resurface in the 3-year-old male division. Always Dreaming would seem to have the inside track because all other things being equal, the Kentucky Derby is and should be the tiebreaker.

In spite of West Coast’s late-season heroics, which are not as impressive as Arrogate last year but are getting closer, he and Always Dreaming have the same number of Grade 1 wins, two. Meanwhile, Oscar Performance also has a pair of Grade 1’s, both on grass, and could ring up a third Saturday in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic against older rivals, something neither Always Dreaming and West Coast have even attempted.

Call me a hypocrite—I prefer flexible--but I’ve shifted positions. I advocated and voted for Wise Dan under the logic that he had done more than any of his dirt rivals. I’m on the other side this time. Oscar Performance will not get my vote even if the score is 3-2-2.

Three-year-old racing is all about main track Derbys, the classic in Kentucky, its preps and follow-ups, including the Travers, the Midsummer Derby. Oscar Performance might change my thinking if he were to win Saturday then take the Breeders’ Cup Turf or Mile. But I can’t say that for sure. Right now I would still lean the other way.

West Coast could put all the arguments to rest with a win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. However, Bob Baffert said after Saturday’s decisive triumph in the Pennsylvania Derby that West Coast might not even go in the Classic.

This is not a typical case of a trainer hedging weeks out from a big race. Baffert already has two of the three horses to beat in the Classic, Arrogate and Collected. (Gun Runner, of course, is the other.) Baffert also could start Cupid, who won the Gold Cup at Santa Anita at the Classic’s 10-furlong distance.

Right now West Coast is probably in no worse than a deadheat with Always Dreaming, who is on the shelf, for divisional honors. An off-the-board performance in the Classic, which considering who West Coast would be up against is far from a longshot, could tip the scales back toward Always Dreaming—or inject Oscar Performance into the conversation.

Unintended consequences

Talk about buzz kills. Just when I was celebrating along with other horse players the long overdue revision in IRS withholding policy on payoffs of more than 300-1, a couple of people whose opinions I respect took the fizz out of my champagne.

HRI contributor Indulto and Andy Asaro, the West Coast-based champion of players’ rights, both suggested the new regulations might have unintended consequences for small and medium bettors. Their view is the new IRS policy could signal the beginning of the end of fractional wagers—10-cent supers, 50-cent tri’s, pick 3’s, 4’s and 5’s and 20-cent Rainbow 6’s.

One of the catalysts for the low-priced wagers was to help players avoid IRS hits. The threshold for reporting was 300-1, a product of the $600 personal deduction the IRS granted tax payers for decades. The $600 deduction has been raised many times to reflect inflation but $602 (including the cost of the bet) remained the bar for “signers.” Indeed, it endures even under the new regulations.

So a player could hit a 599-1 proposition on a $1 wager and even greater odds on lesser bets and not have to report it. The new rules take into account the total cost of the wager instead of treating a winning combination as the only one that counts for tax purposes. This would seem to mitigate against the need for fractional bets.

However, lesser minimum bets turned out to have other benefits. The primary one is it brings fans with limited bankrolls into pools they otherwise would snub. This is not a debatable point. At every track where there are $1 or less pick 3’s and pick 4’s, they out-handle $2 pick 6’s by a three to four to one or more ratio.

Even with the original and for a long time only exotic, the daily double, a $1 minimum in New York far out-handles the $2 minimum version in Southern California.

The pig-headed hierarchy in California fails to accept that players aren’t spending only the minimum, they are playing more combinations and often spending more money under the perception they are getting more bang for their buck.

There’s also the issue of bringing new people into the game. The less expensive a day at the track is, the more inviting it is likely to be. Young people have less disposable income than ever due to student loan burdens and the fiscal strain of supporting a family. If they’re able to participate in a day at the races without busting their budget and enjoy the experience they are more likely to return when their financial situation improves.

Ergo, it would be incredibly short-sighted for tracks to use the relaxed IRS regulations as an excuse to increase the minimum costs of bets. This is why I'm so worried.

Miami, Sept. 28