Saturday, December 20, 2008
Champions of 2008: One Man’s Opinion
Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 19, 2008--My Eclipse Award information packet arrived in the mail this week. And never before had the thought occurred to me to apologize for sharing my thoughts on racing’s best in show for 2008 with the sport's fans.
But I’ll resist that temptation, even if the sport-v-gambling option has been much in the news recently. It’s been a very bad year, as we know, and, like the economy, things will get worse before they get better.
The most debilitating occurence, of course, was the filly Eight Belles’ breaking down in the Kentucky Derby. If there are takers, I’d like to bet that last year’s calamity will become part of the feature segment on the 2009 Kentucky telecast.
Television is incapable of avoiding gruesome footage. It will be followed by an update of the strides the industry has taken to prevent a similar calamity in the future.
On this, however, providence might prove preferable to science.
You’re free to disagree, of course, but I’ve made what I consider cogent arguments on the state of racing. It's a sport because of the interaction of the athletes involved, equines with humans. It's a game because people bet on the outcome. Both enjoy a history and tradition.
And this is why I consider it a privilege to cast an Eclipse ballot once again:
I have to hold on to the notion of thoroughbred racing for as long as I can. I enjoy the intellectual stimulation handicapping affords me and I need
to win money from time to time, although not necessarily in that order.
But I’m holding on to the sport because if it dies, a big part of me dies along with it.
I’m holding on because, as with any sacred avocation, my soul demands it.
In my opinion, here are the equine and human individuals who set themselves apart this past year. Aside from the occasional score, the accomplishments of individuals like these are always worth my time and effort. Every year, racing’s best makes the mundane special.
Eclipse Award Categories 2008:
STEEPLECHASE: 1. Good Night Shirt,
by virtue of a most impressive, undefeated season. 2. Dark Equation. 3. Sovereign Duty.
2-YEAR-OLD COLT: 1. Midshipman
won two Grade 1s, one while the world looked on. 2. Vineyard Haven. 3. Street Hero.
2-YEAR-OLD FILLY: 1. Stardom Bound
is the stuff of juvenile filly legend. 2. Mani Bhavan. 3. Dream Express.
3-YEAR-OLD COLT: 1. Big Brown
might have been one of the great ones but we can never know. 2. Raven’s Pass. 3. Henrythenavigator.
3-YEAR-OLD FILLY: 1. Music Note,
by a nose. 2. Proud Spell. 3. Goldikova.
4-YEAR-OLD & UP MALE: 1. Curlin,
by a mile. 2. Einstein. 3. Commentator.
4-YEAR-OLD & UP FEMALE: 1. Zenyatta,
by a mile and a half. 2. Ginger Punch. 3. Cocoa Beach.
SPRINTER, MALE: 1. Benny The Bull
was 4-for-4 on four disparate surfaces and two continents, spotting weight twice. 2. Midnight Lute. 3. Street Boss.
SPRINTER, FEMALE: 1. Indian Blessing
fast, faster, fastest. 2. Ventura. 3. Intangaroo.
TURF, MALE: 1. Conduit
is a true and consistent stayer; a throwback. 2. Einstein. 3. Grand Couturier.
TURF, FEMALE: 1. Forever Together
won three G1s at different distances; from nowhere, a remarkable season. 2. Goldikova. 3. Cocoa Beach.
TRAINER: 1. Jack Fisher
engineered an undefeated 5-for-5, eight-month long, G1 campaign over five different courses with 'chaser Good Night Shirt. 2. John Sherriffs. 3. Steve Asmussen.
JOCKEY: 1. Garrett Gomez
is money. 2. Alan Garcia. 3. Julien Leparoux.
OWNER: 1. Stonestreet Stables LLC, Jess Jackson,
because sportsmanship and class still matters. 2. IEAH Stables. 3. Godolphin Racing.
BREEDER: 1. Adena Springs
because excellence, productivity and consistency also still matters. 2. WinStar Farm. 3. Maverick Production, Ltd.
APPRENTICE: 1. Pascacio Lopez,
as we’ve not seen such domination since Steve Cauthen. 2. Inez Karlsson. 3. Sebastian Morales.
HORSE OF THE YEAR: 1. Curlin,
as the reigning champion did enough. 2. Zenyatta. 3. Big Brown.
Written by John Pricci
Friday, December 19, 2008
Thank You Readers, For Everything
Whenever anyone asks how I’m doing, I tell them never better--that I’m having more fun now than any time I spent at Newsday, or anywhere else in racing for that matter. Why?
As Bill wrote, this Internet thing was a new experience for we former ink-stained wretches. We’ve tried to combine whatever skills we might have as columnists/reporters and apply it to this new paradigm.
I always joke that “I love writing a blog: I can play loose with the facts and get to write my own headlines.” That is a joke, of course, because you keep us on our toes.
As Bill wrote, we have to be careful to dot Is and cross Ts as there’s no copy desk to prevent us from making complete fools of ourselves.
And Vic had it absolutely right when he wrote:
“Over and again, you have given generously with your time, read through our pages, challenged our thoughts, and gotten back to us with yours. You, not us, set the high standards to which we strive.”
Whenever I get too flowery, I know Wendell will be there to jolt me back to reality. Quickly! Then there’s Indulto, who never fails to give me something to which I should respond.
And former trainer Doug Amos, who wants me to be “Racing’s Czar,” aw well as all the other feedback we get from HRI’s loyal constituents.
Note to Doug: Given the amount of tweaking we give the industry, no one would give me a job as a piss-catcher. (For the uninitiated, that’s a real job)!
But none of us here are going to stop. The stakes are higher than they‘ve ever been.
Vic doesn’t need to do this, but he’s been gung ho from day one. Bill can enjoy his retirement via his many sojourns to Vegas, but just can‘t cut the chord that tethers him to the backside of Southern California racetracks.
Me? Well, what the hell would I do with myself, otherwise? Players need a voice and a springboard.
The common denominator is our love of the game. And if there’s anything we can do to give back, to make the game better, however misguided we might be on occasion, we’re going to do it.
Given the amount of CYA that goes on in our business, someone has to speak truth to power. Now don’t expect that we would throw the blanket of incompetence over an entire industry. That’s unfair and simply not true.
But the arrogance of the “good old boy” network frustrates me.
The greed and lack of transparency--whether it lives on the backstretch or in the board rooms of America‘s tracks, the halls of the state house, the trading floor of the NYSE or inside the corridors of corporate America--makes me angry.
So, HRI readers, with your continued inspiration, guidance, valid criticisms and ideas, HRI staffers and contributors will continue to rage against the machine.
We must. You know what they say about not being part of the solution.
Written by John Pricci
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Racetracks Must Think Outside the Boxscore
Saratoga Springs, NY, Dec. 12, 2008--Sports betting, legal and otherwise, is back in the news. According to a Philadelphia Daily News story at http://firstname.lastname@example.org
on Thursday, the Governor and General Assembly of Delaware could act to legalize sports betting as soon as the summer of 2009.
Delaware, Oregon and Montana are the only states in addition to Nevada that enjoys a “Grandfather exemption” to a 1992 federal law that prohibits gambling on sporting events.
Since this would come under the aegis of the Delaware state lottery, it’s not as if we’re talking about real sports betting, which federal law enforcement officials estimate as a $300-billion illegal enterprise. Damn, talking real bailout dollars there.
So, no, we’re not talking about taking the Giants plus points to beat the Cowboys Sunday night in Dallas--but we could be talking about the possibility of taking the points and that a healthy Brandon Jacobs would rush for more than 100 yards.
This is known as a parlay and would be purchased much as any lottery card would be sold. The Jacobs portion of the wager is more correctly known as a proposition bet which, believe it or not, is enormously popular and a growth area in the field of sports betting.
Something akin to this could be a great promotional tool for increasing attendance at racetracks if they were ever granted permission to conduct this form of lottery wagering, which technically got VLT machines into many racetracks.
There will be the usual roadblocks. The first, of course, is the holier-than-thou, look-the-the-way, wink-wink attitude of professional sports leagues such as the NFL, MLB and NBA. College sports, in as much as their athletes are unpaid, have a better argument.
Meanwhile, what are college athletic scholarships and “living expenses” if not a monetary consideration in return for services rendered? And isn’t the idea to fill those 80,000-seat stadiums, and the university’s coffers?
And aren’t television networks interested in charging the same advertising rate in the final five minutes of a blowout, when underdog bettors might be in receipt of a 14-point spread that “levels” the playing-field scoreboard?
Will the hypocrisy never end? If it weren’t for gambling, sports would never be as woven into society’s fabric as it is; the popular diversion from real-life issues that it has become.
Safeguarding the integrity of the game? Please, that goes on now. They caught the NBA ref, didn’t they? And don’t you think those paranoid rantings on sports talk radio have made the NFL league office increase its vigilance?
Doesn’t Las Vegas already contact the leagues whenever there’s a suspicious betting pattern on a game? And that includes action on college sports. But, I digress.
Before racetracks can embrace sports betting as a marketing tool, it must in practicality skirt existing federal statute. The three states outside Nevada do this with a lottery concept, such as in the example described above.
But aside from flat-out props, of which there are a zillion possibilities, simply attaching an over/under provision to the traditional pointspread would qualify nicely.
Will it work? Is it worth the effort?
Everyone knows there’s been virtually no cross-over from the casino part of the racino to the racetrack part of the racino. In fact, at Prairie Meadows Racetrack, a recent study concluded that casino receipts increased on days when live racing was conducted.
Not the intended effect, but proving there’s some synergy nonetheless.
As structured, racetracks cannot conduct sports betting, even by state statute. Why? Because the house sometimes loses. It’s why point-spreads move; how casinos try to avoid “exposure.” It shouldn’t be called book-making; it should be called book-balancing.
But that’s the beauty and simplicity of parimutuel wagering. And here’s how it would work:
According to Friday’s betting line, the Cowboys are a consensus 3-point favorite to beat the Giants tomorrow night, with an over/under of 45 total points.
If tracks in states with legal parimutuel wagering offered tickets with four permutations of Cowboys -3 and O/U 45, with a 10 percent takeout [the same as bookmakers; betting $55 to win $50], the payoff would be based on number of tickets sold, just like a horse race.
Payoffs would be virtually the same as what bookmakers pay now. If equal action were attracted on all sides, minus the 10 takeout, the payoff would be $7-plus on a $2 bet. But if your combination attracts smaller play, the payoff would be higher. The converse is also true.
Whatever the payoff, winning prices would be posted at kickoff so that bettors would know what sides attracted the most play and how much they‘d win. Want more handle? Offer a readily available half-time line for those bettors looking to optimize, save or somehow catch a middle: winning on both sides.
In theory, sports bettors might collect even more than the traditional even-money paid on winning sports wagers if, say, the Giants and Under attracted less play than any of the other three possibilities. Either way, it’s a simple programming issue that puts a new spin on playing the pros and ponies promotions.
The catch is that the wager would be made available only on track when and where live racing in conducted. It won’t be a handle bonanza--but then neither is the Matrix or other prop type bets offered by Churchill Downs.
The idea is to put fannies in the seats.
I’m betting that Sunday attendance would improve, at least incrementally, and that there might some crossover at racino venues because of the sports betting attraction. Further, horseplaying and sports betting require a handicapping discipline, more potential for crossover.
Written by John Pricci