Oaklawn Park race caller and veteran handicapping contest player, Vic Stauffer, tweeted this on Friday .from the National Handicapping Championship:

“OMG I’ve never said a word in 20 years about late odds changes. But this was INCREDIBLE. I switched to the #2 in the tournament ONLY because she was 7-1. INTO THE GATE. Went past the ¼ pole at 4-1. OMG. OMG. OMG.”

With all due respect, Vic, wish someone with your visibility had spoken out sooner. It happens every day, especially at major tracks with big pools. Mr Jicha and I disagree on many things, as the HRI Faithful knows, but we concur wholeheartedly on this one:

Last minute computer batch betting, coupled with rebates, is the biggest threat the racing industry faces because of the damage it does to bankrolls. For players, it’s bigger than takeout, bigger than drug cheats, bigger than anything to a horseplayer’s fiscal health.

Horsemen’s groups should join responsible industry journalists and a majority of customers fighting to save the remaining horse player/fan. Your purse accounts depend on it, of course. Players who have remained loyal already have begun curtailing their play.

Racing had better shake these doldrums. Useful to note contextually that handle has tanked by about 1/3 in the last decade, and has been flat the last five years. In business you either grow or die, and we’re not even thinking about the inflation quotient here.

I spoke with a friend Sunday morning with a puncher’s chance to win the NHC despite one contestant’s commanding lead. He said there was significant chatter about big-odds drops during Friday’s wagering among those players at his table.

Sadly, he said, the contestants seemed resigned to the fact that this is the world horseplayers now live in.

Everyone lives in the real world: Racetracks, like any company, are in the business of growing revenue. Computer syndicates with access to pool data supply a significant portion of that income, but they wouldn’t be able to sustain it if it weren’t for rebates.

Big players that very much help the game go are entitled to their rewards—but not at the expense of the other 95%, many of whom may also be big bettors but without access to data and computer speed. They are rebated, too, but without the batch-bettor’s edge.

We’re only asking this much: Allow the computers to bet up until minutes-to-post strikes 0, then drag the start a few minutes for the benefit of the rest of us who can react to payoff odds that would be much closer to approximating final payoffs.

Give nine out of 10 serious and loyal players a fighting chance. Bet-takers might even be able to squeeze out a little more betting handle from the masses. If anyone has a better idea, please share. Horseplayers need all the help they can get.

LOTS OF FIRSTS AT GULFSTREAM SATURDAY…

First, first, there was the maiden victory of He Takes Charge, a very pricey purchase and precursor of trainer Mark Casse’s upset victory in Tampa’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis with Flameaway, completing a training triple 30 minutes with 2017 Turf Champion World Approval who took the G3 Tampa Bay Stakes. He showed a little rust--and a lot of class.

In Hallandale, 7-year-old Heart to Heart finally got his Grade 1 taking the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes in wire fashion beneath a heady and determined Julien Leparoux, able to help his mount to suppress the early challengers, holding on with grim determination.

“He had to work very hard today,” said a relieved Brian Lynch, “but he finally got it done. We were a little anxious at the start because when they reach that age you don’t know how much more they want to do it,” Lynch said, explaining Heart to Heart’s 2018 debut in the Ft. Lauderdale when his charge reared at the start, losing all chance. Happy for man and best; both deserved to win one of these.

That storyline repeated itself a half hour later when the usually trip-compromised Elysea’s World showed all her class to take her first graded score beneath wise, patient and strong handling from Javier Castellano, who admitted “today, she got a perfect trip today.”

The 5-year-old mare won by a nose over less experienced stablemate, Dream Awhile, who held grudgingly but was out-bobbed at the finish. Trainer Chad Brown didn’t get the dead-heat he was rooting for in the final strides but promised that Dream Awhile will be heard from. “She’s still young and I think she has a bright future ahead of her.”

BIG DAY AT THE BAY…

Excellent job by Dale Romans, shipping C. S. Incharge north to Tampa to take the Suncoast in the final strides coming off the two-turn maiden breaker at Gulfstream. You know she’s going to return for the next one MAR 10…Romans did not fare as well with Hollywood Star who appeared in need of his season’s debut, running spottily in the Sam F. Davis; will benefit.

The Sam F. Davis is always entertaining but outdid itself in this renewal. His rivals allowed Flameaway to get away a bit soft on a surface that on balance carried speed. Still, he proved more than a turf specialist while competing against a pretty salty group.

Fans of Catholic Boy and Vino Rosso take heart; all they lost was a horse race. Favored Catholic Boy never saw the fence at any time, loomed a winner but idled late as if in need of the effort. He, too, will benefit.

Show finisher Vino Rosso is going to be a tough customer in the Tampa Derby off his Davis finish. Racing between horses most of the way down the backside, he was outrun along the inside approaching the five-sixteenths but re-rallied after Johnny Velazquez brought him to the outside.

In a matter of jumps, he went from what appeared to be an off-the-board finish to nearly winning the damn thing, lengthening stride late, close to catching the two leaders by a decreasing half-length margin. Ate plenty of dirt and showed class and courage.

The Todd Pletcher charge is scheduled to return in the Tampa Derby. HRI has learned that Graham Motion’s Untamed Domain, who finished third in his 3-year-old debut on the Gulfstream lawn, is heading to Tampa Bay. The Tampa Derby will be his introduction to dirt racing.