Wednesday, October 11, 2017


With Respect to Running Times, Racing Has a Crediblity Gap


While parimutuel takeout and the Keeneland boycott have dominated the discussion in recent weeks, there is a matter of urgency that not only effects horseplayers but the very foundation and history of Thoroughbred racing itself: The timing of races.

Whether it is how one horse matches up against another in today’s race, or whether Arrogate is the historical equal of Seattle Slew, visual interpretations notwithstanding, it is axiomatic that running time is the only absolute truth in the game.

Presently there is credibility crisis in terms of how accurate the running times you see posted on the tote board and in past performances are. This has been at issue for several years, the most egregious example being the incorrect time of the 2017 Pegasus.

This week, however, the prominent Pace Advantage, a prominent racing message board, and Twitter has blown up because of the incorrect timing issues that have occurred with regularity at the current Santa Anita race meet.

Timing and past performance company Trakus published three charts from this past Saturday without running times listed, including intra-race fractions and final clocking, because the originally posted times were inaccurate.

Once this credibility gap was exposed and social media got involved, Jeff Platt, founder and president of Horseplayers Association of North America, made Santa Anita and the California Horse Racing Board aware of the Internet discussions.

Santa Anita and the CHRB acted appropriately with dispatch and handled the matter correctly. All races are now hand-timed in addition to electronic timing. When obvious mistakes occur, the correct hand-timed clocking becomes the official time of that race.

No reasonable person should have a problem with this approach, whereby tracks use official timers as a fail-safe in the interests of accuracy. Here’s why:

The most dominant driver of racing’s liquid economies, from the betting windows to the sales ring, are the “Sheets” products produced by Ragozin and Thoro-Graph. Horses are managed on the information contained therein. They provide the most meaningful measure of when horses go in and out of their form cycles.

No high six- or seven-figure purchases “off the racetrack,” or even claims, are made without knowing what kind of “Sheets number” a horse has run, an indication of both present ability shown and a projection of how fast it might run in the future.

There are other variables involved: Age and pedigree readily come to mind. And, of course, with respect to private purchases, no deal is made without a veterinary inspection.

It has been conservatively estimated--and empirically correct—that three of every four dollars wagered is made by Sheets players, including those arbitrageurs who rock the tote board in the final minute of wagering.

Parenthetically, not knowing whether you made a value play for certain until the field reaches the half-mile pole is another factor that is chasing some players away. But that’s a conversation for another day.

California is now using professional clockers, paid by the racetrack, to fail-safe timing mechanisms. If I can trust a workout indicating that Arrogate’s 5-furlong move on Oct. 10 was 1:00.20, the fastest of 40 at the distance.

Most fans and bettors readily accept workout reports and these published works are the result of a single take. When it comes to hand-timing races, multiple video-takes are considered before a more accurate average is considered official information.

This is the way it’s always been done, in the modern era going back to Secretariat’s Preakness. HRI’s Mark Berner, who retired after decades in the employ of Teletimer, hand-timed every race.

If there were an obvious malfunction, he would time a race thrice, confer with NYRA’s Official Timer, before posting an official clocking for the race.

While racetracks don’t set out to intentionally deceive the public, the industry stays well clear of making embarrassing waves, as opposed to transparently doing the right thing.

With respect to Santa Anita’s recent timing issues, credit the CHRB for finally getting something right.

Timing discrepancies are the result of many variables. A trifecta of trouble is the run-up—the distance between the starting gate and times poles; pole position placement itself, and the big kahuna of quandary, the use of temporarily rails on the turf course.

Various solutions mentioned are very costly timing apparatus used by sports leagues, impractical except for the A+ venues, timing from gate to wire, minus the run-up, which still leaves intra-race splits in question, or use the same standards in place now.

But whatever the methodology, the use of a professional Official Timer, whose name should be listed in the official track program, is the best fail-safe of all. Replication by a professional is the best insurer of accuracy, as was suggested by HRI last winter.

At the 2016-17 Gulfstream championship meet, there were many timing discrepancies, especially on the turf course where the track has the ability to move the temporary rail to six different positions.

Races in which the inner rail was placed in the middle of the course were particularly suspect and still remain dubious. We have been assured that the issue will be remedied in time for the 2017-18 championship meet launch in December.

The wish is that Gulfstream will follow California’s lead and announce that a trusted professional will be in place to insure accuracy. Timing races accurately should be part of the rules and regulations that tracks adhere to when granted a license by their states to operate.

For a business that’s dependent on data-driven gambling to succeed, only accurate information will allow customers to make informed decisions. The past, present and future of the sport depends on it.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, October 11, 2017

Written by John Pricci

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