Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Gulfstream DQ furor a symptom of vast discontent
Only one bettor lost out when a DQ in the final race Saturday at Gulfstream negated a $1.6 million payoff. But hundreds have weighed in with their dissatisfaction. This is indicative of widespread frustration at the inconsistencies of stewards.
I was at Gulfstream Saturday. My opinion is that the DQ was justified. But if the stewards had left up Collinito, it wouldnâ€™t have been the worst non-DQ in history. (Game on Dudeâ€™s first Big Cap has been the leader in the clubhouse since 2011.)
A point that has been overlooked and which should be a concern to all race tracks is that only one person suffered from the DQ. Yet hundreds, maybe thousands, have weighed in with their displeasure. The only way to interpret this is that the anger at Saturdayâ€™s DQ is a manifestation of vast frustration with the whole system.
A foul in one race is not in another. There is no standard and there should be.
Thus John Pricciâ€™s call for total transparency in the stewardsâ€™ booth, including audio and video of their deliberations during inquiries, should not just be brushed away. At least players would know which offenses are going to result in a disqualification and which are not. This, of course, assumes there would be consistency once the stewards were put on record. This might be a leap too far.
However, I donâ€™t totally agree with J.P., because, as I said in a comment on his piece, cameras change behavior. This is why trials are televised but jury deliberations are not.
Gulfstreamâ€™s 12th race Saturday was a close enough call that nobody would be talking about it if it had happened elsewhere on the card. Its impact on the monster jackpot is responsible for all the attention.
Race tracks should have seen this coming. The new priority nationwide has inarguably become building life-changing jackpots in bets such as the Pick Six and Rainbow Six. Itâ€™s the steps taken to create these situations that have invited skepticism.
Stakes races with long traditions, even Grade 1â€™s, have been shifted from their customary position toward the end of the program to the third or fourth race to take them out of the Pick 6 if the field is short or there is an outstanding favorite, which would reduce the numbers of combinations purchased. Formless races with huge fields of established losers have replaced them in the showcase positions on the card. (This wasnâ€™t the case Saturday but it has been on many more days than not.)
It has become unmistakably clear that the new priority is to create carryovers at almost any cost. They generate media attention, a huge handle into that pool and a positive ripple effect to the rest of the card. With a unique bet like the Rainbow 6, whose jackpot is distributed only if there is a single winner, the windfall to a trackâ€™s bottom line could resonate for weeks, even months.
Ergo, bettors canâ€™t be faulted for suspecting chicanery when a borderline call, such as Saturdayâ€™s, comes down in a way that benefits the track. Many fans consider stewards to be an extension of management.
Until the advent of rainbow-chasing bets, the beauty of the pari-mutuel system was tracks had no stake in who won and who lost. This has been perverted into a â€śwe win when you loseâ€ť scenario. Long term, this cannot be good for the game.
The obvious remedy, eliminating bets with carryovers, is a non-starter. My guess is even those screaming the loudest would not want to see this happen.
The next best thing is to take steps to downplay how much the tracks covet carryovers. These include not pushing stakes out of the most lucrative multi-race wagers, not scheduling races loaded with first-time starters in the middle of the sequence, so tote board action canâ€™t offer clues as to who is live, and refraining from almost gloating over the P.A. and closed-circuit TV systems that there will be a carryover even before the bet is finished.
None of this is likely to happen because tracks know bettors have short memories. Whatever hard feelings there might have been from Saturday, there was no carryover (I couldnâ€™t resist). Bettors pumped another half-million-plus dollars into Sundayâ€™s pool.
An unfortunate byproduct of the Gulfstream controversy is it has become the main topic of conversation from a day when preps for the Triple Crown should have been, especially with the third (next-to-last) Kentucky Derby Futures pool opening Thursday.
The Derby future is still a foolâ€™s wager when anything resembling serious money is involved. Every year about half the eventual Derby field goes off at better odds on the first Saturday in May than in the futures. And you get your money back at Churchill Downs if your selection doesnâ€™t run.
As best I can surmise, the whole purpose of making a futures bet is to be able to show off winning tickets to prove you picked the winner a few months out. If it substantially outpays the final toteboard odds, all the better.
Forget the field at 6-1 (and likely lower when the pools close). There are no bragging rights for taking that position.
Cairo Prince deservedly is the shortest price of the individuals at 8-1. He killed the Holy Bull field and has lost only once, by a nose, after a bad ride. Heâ€™s beaten Intense Holiday, who won the Risen Star, enough times to retire the trophy. But with the Derby favorite going to the post in the area of 4-1, 5-1 the past few years, thereâ€™s no value.
Top Billing is the underlay, sharing morning line favoritism with Cairo Prince. He ran a good but not great race from a tough post against a vicious track bias in the Fountain of Youth. Alas, everyone in the world knows it. So no value here, either.
Honor Code, the only horse to beat Cairo Prince and the individual favorite in the last futures pool, is next at 10-1. That he still has not run as a 3-year-old could goose his odds up a few points. If he wins the Rebel, he will be one of the favorites in Louisville, so he might be worth a flyer at double digit odds.
Shared Belief is the most confounding proposition. Heâ€™s listed at 12-1 but should drift higher since his participation in Louisville becomes more doubtful every day that he doesnâ€™t work out. Itâ€™s not encouraging that Jerry Hollendorfer shipped the Eclipse champion, who has been troubled by foot issues, out of Santa Anita to Northern California.
I painted myself into a corner with last weekâ€™s column in which I questioned how poll voters could put him below horses he had dusted. Not to be hypocritical, I put him on top in the first Horse Race Insider poll. I still think he could prove to be the best of his crop, but if he hasnâ€™t worked by this weekend, Iâ€™m cutting bait on him.
The morning line is too generous on a couple of colts listed at 15-1, Bayern and Tapiture. If you can get that price, which I doubt, they are worth a shot.
After a 15-length entry-level allowance romp, Bayern is being compared to Bodemeister, who might have broken the Apollo jinx (no horse who didnâ€™t race at 2 has won the Derby in more than 125 years) if Trinniberg hadnâ€™t gone on a pointless kamikaze mission in the 2012 Derby. If the Derby points system has accomplished anything, it is keeping pure sprinters like Trinniberg out of the starting gate.
Tapiture's Southwest was the most impressive prep last week. He demolished everyone but Strong Mandate, who once again had a troubled trip. Still, if I had to make one play, Strong Mandate, at anywhere near the 20-1 he is listed on the morning line, would be it.