It's amazing racing survives the people running it. Last Saturday, a late change of riders, which never should have been allowed, was rubber-stamped by the stewards and not announced to the public until after some multi-race wagers had closed. At the annual racing convention last week in Arizona, racing's honchos thought the best idea presented to them was a game in which handicapping, the element that separates racing from lotteries and slots, is totally irrelevant.

MIAMI, Dec. 17-2015--This happened at Hialeah some years ago. Because of the passage of time, I can’t positively identify the people involved. However, as what’s left of my memory serves, it was Walter Blum, retired jockey turned steward, and Jose Santos, then as dominant a jockey as Javier Castellano is today.

It was just before the last race on a Saturday. There were no pick 3’s, 4’s or 6’s in those days, just a late daily double. In the few minutes between the feature, the first half of the double, and the horses being saddled for the finale, it was announced over the public address system that there would be a change of jockeys. A 10-pound bug boy on the program was being replaced by Santos.

Blum, in the media area of the press box between races, heard the announcement and exclaimed, “Like hell.”

Putting the fans first—this really used to happen--he went back to the stewards room, got the trainer on the phone and told him, “Either the kid rides the horse or I’ll scratch him.”

Blum was admirably fan-friendly in another way. Frustrated that Hialeah’s John Brunetti routinely had the start of races dragged ridiculously past the listed post, Blum sent a message. He ordered the betting windows locked. The problem didn’t go away completely but it got a lot better.

Fast forward to last Saturday at Gulfstream. One of the first things I learned as a cub reporter was you can never count on your reader having read yesterday’s paper. So I’ll briefly recap what JP detailed the other day. Matthew Rispoli was listed on the overnight and the program as the rider of Valid in the Harlan’s Holiday Stakes. Sometime before “riders up,” Rispoli--ready, willing and able to ride--was bumped off the horse for Castellano.

JP said he first heard the announcement just before the race. He quoted Caton Bredar saying the same thing on TVG. I was en route to the paddock, so I didn't hear it at all. In other words, the public was alerted to the change long after betting on the final pick 3, 4 and 5 and Rainbow Six had closed.

This wasn’t exactly the same as the long ago situation at Hialeah. Rispoli is not a 10-pound bug. He’s a competent young rider, who won a stakes the last time he rode Valid. But he’s no Castellano, who has dominated Gulfstream the past three or four seasons like no rider since maybe Pat Day in Kentucky.

I’m not suggesting there was any betting coup or anything untoward as it relates to the race. Valid was the deserved morning line favorite and might have won with any rider in the room. His connections can’t be blamed for getting the leading rider. If I owned the horse and had a choice between Rispoli and Castellano, I would have done the same thing. But they shouldn’t have been allowed to make the change so late in the game.

This was another reason for fans to feel screwed, that they have no chance against the insiders. No amount of promotion or marketing dollars can undo the damage of those feelings.

‘Swopstakes’? Really?

Tis the season to be jolly, so I apologize for being so cranky.

However, an avalanche of recent developments, including the Valid rider switch, makes those of us who champion racing want to throw up our hands and ask, “Why bother?”

Few things could convene a coalition of such disparate figures as Andy Asaro, JP, myself and resident curmudgeon WMC on the same side. One is that racing’s greatest asset and strongest marketing tool is a player can use his brain to control his success to some extent. This is what keeps me coming back.

This apparently is lost to the hierarchy of the sport. A $15,000 first prize was offered for new and innovative ideas at the annual Racing and Gaming Symposium in Arizona last week. Eighty-nine entries were submitted from around the world.

A concept dubbed “Swopstakes” from an Australian company—hence the strange spelling-- took home the prize. Swopstakes has nothing to do with handicapping. It is pure luck, in essence a different type of lottery game. To me, the description makes it sound like the old NBC show “Deal or No Deal.”

The way it was presented, Swopstakes involves selling millions of lottery-like tickets, with the outcome decided by the results of a series of horse races. This is the only connection it appears to have with racing, although picking numbers out of a hat could serve the same end.

Using round numbers for convenience sake, a six-race sequence of 10-horse fields would produce one million distinct combinations, if my math is correct. It’s essential that every ticket has to be sold, since there would be only one possible winning combination. I have seen reports that the takeout could be as high as 30 percent.

The twist that makes Swopstakes unique is players would have the ability to buy and sell live tickets as the sequence progressed. Someone who had a ticket with, say, the first three races correct could offer it for sale to the highest bidder. This would continue right through post-time for the final leg.

The logistics are not unprecedented. Back in the early days of the pick 4, then known at New York harness tracks as the Twin Double, a ticket with the winners of the first two legs had to be exchanged for a new ticket for the final two legs. There was bartering galore by the mutual bays—all of it illegal—as players sought to obtain the number of exchange tickets they felt they needed to hit the bet. The higher the payoffs on legs one and two, the more those exchange tickets were worth.

The critical difference between the Twin Double and Swopstakes is handicapping was the key element of nailing the harness race bet. Swopstakes is pure luck.

Another difference with Swopstakes is the marketplace would reopen after each race through post time for the final leg. Also, the sale of tickets would not only be legal, it would be encouraged.

Prices of the Swopstakes winners wouldn’t matter, since there would be only one grand prize winner whether six odds-on favorites or six 100-1 shots won. Handicapping, the element that separates racing from lotteries and slots, would be irrelevant.

What happens if not every combination is sold? Do we hold up post-times until a sellout is achieved? Granted, this wouldn’t be far removed from what tracks do when they don’t hit megabucks guarantees for multi-race wagers.

Time between races would almost surely have to be extended to allow for the buying and selling. To accommodate what amounts to lottery players, tracks would alienate horse players, who come to handicap, bet and watch the races.

Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars, which might have gone through the pari-mutuel windows, will be tied up with no churn. Like the pick six, the jackpots would likely be scooped up by syndicates. The little guys would have to be content with whatever they could negotiate for live tickets along the way.

From all the ideas from all over the world, racing’s honchos thought this was the grand prize winner.

Why do we bother?