Early indications are that the dollars spent on sports betting at Monmouth Park probably came out of money that might have been bet on horses. Monmouth was up at the halfway point of its meeting but wound up on the downside of the ledger after sports betting took hold. Doing nothing as Jorge Navarro won with almost half his starters, an absurd ratio for even Hall of Famers, also might have been a turnoff to bettors.


Early indicators of new business ventures can be like exit polls on Election Day, not always an accurate forecast of the eventual results. Racing should pray this is the case with sports betting. The early returns are sports betting is going to be a fabulous success—no surprise there—alas, at the expense of racing.

Monmouth was a pioneer in introducing legalized sports betting. At the halfway point of its 52-day meeting on-track handle was up 8%. Total handle was even better, up 10%. By the time the final official of the meeting was posted Sunday, on-track handle was off 6% and overall business was down 2.1%, according to published figures.

What happened in the final month and a half that would cause the negative turnaround? Wet weather, which resulted in about a third of scheduled turf races being moved to the main track, with resulting shorter fields and murky past performances, is being cited as a primary cause and undoubtedly did have an impact.

Arguably, a greater factor occurred in mid-June when sports betting arrived. The transfer of racing dollars to sports betting might not have shown up immediately because it was still a novelty and there was no NFL, NBA or NHL. Baseball is a great sport, my favorite, but not that big a betting sport.

However, king football kicked off in early August and sports betting picked up appreciably. A report in the New York Post on the first day of the NFL regular season said lines at Monmouth’s sports betting windows were 20 deep from early morning to the start of the 1 o’clock games, then picked up again for the late afternoon contests. Twenty-deep lines at race betting windows have become fond memories of a distant past.

Anyone who thinks there is an infinite amount of disposable income for gambling is naĂŻve. You have to wonder how much of that sports money will never see its way to the race windows again.

Legalized sports betting at race tracks is still in its infancy. When the really big racing states get on line (in more ways than one), the war for the gambling dollar is going to get really ferocious. Racing is not the favorite to come out on top.

The Juice Man turnoff

Another possible negative in Monmouth’s decline is the dominance of Jorge Navarro. “The Juice Man” ran away with his sixth straight training championship and racked up his third straight record-setting season.

Navarro outdid himself this summer, winning with 85 of 190 starters, an absurd 45% strike rate. When you consider races in which he had more than one starter, this percentage becomes even more unbelievable.

Why should Navarro stop doing whatever it is he is doing? Monmouth clearly has a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude toward a situation that defies credulity.

Bettors might not be so voluntarily gullible. Navarro has created a situation where you can’t bet him, because of the short prices on his horses, but it’s foolhardy to bet against him. This finally might be showing up in the handle.

Rain, rain, go away

Atypically wet weather is also being blamed for a slight downtick at Saratoga this summer. Again the culprit seems to be the multitude of races taken off the turf, causing a plethora of scratches.

Allowing “main track only” entries helps somewhat. But there is usually no more than two or three of these in a race.

I’ve offered a close cousin remedy a few times in the past that I feel is a viable alternative. The conditions of all turf races, except stakes, should include the stipulation, “preference to horses entered for turf or dirt.” These horses would not be allowed to scratch in the event of a surface switch.

Grass races, especially at Saratoga, can be tough to draw into. Trainers willing to roll the dice with this condition would be all but guaranteed a spot in the starting gate and the track would be spared four- and five-horse fields in the event of bad weather.

I’ll concede there is a potential downside, trainers who want to race only on turf, avoiding those races. Nevertheless, it’s worth a try. The Aqueduct spring meeting, at a time of year when there is a lot of precipitation, could be a useful Petri dish.

If it works, as I think it would, it could be extended to other meetings. If not, how much would be lost?

Triple Crown grind

The road to the Triple Crown gets under way this Saturday at Churchill Down with the Iroquois Stakes, the first event to offer qualifying points for next spring’s Kentucky Derby.

The recent retirement of 2017 Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming is the latest reminder of how taxing an ordeal getting to racing’s most glamorous events can be.

The 2017 Derby was Always Dreaming’s fourth straight win. After the Run for the Roses, he never won again, finishing in the money only twice in five starts as a 3- and 4-year-old.

Cloud Computing, who upset that spring’s Preakness, raced three more times but never hit the board.

Tapwrit, the 2017 Belmont champion, is winless in five subsequent starts. The only time he has hit the board was a third in an allowance race.

It might be convenient to dismiss the 3-year-old class of 2017 as an inferior lot, which it certainly seems to be. But the year before wasn’t much better. Nyquist was zero-for-three after extending his unbeaten streak in the 2016 Derby.

Exaggerator was the over-achiever. He added the Haskell to his Preakness laurels. But he was zero-for-three otherwise.

Creator raced twice, a seventh in the Travers and sixth in the Jim Dandy, after capturing the Belmont.

Throw in Justify, who was retired after sweeping this years Triple Crown, and the past three years, winners of a Triple Crown event have subsequently won only once in 22 starts.

These were ostensibly the best of their generation. This is what the Triple Crown can do to a horse.