Friday, August 07, 2015
Snore at the Shore: A Wakeup Call
LOS ANGELES, August 5, 2015—Thankfully, I was able to watch Sunday's Haskell Invitational on HD-TV without the continually streaming interruptions that marred my viewing of Friday's Curlin and Saturday's Jim Dandy from Saratoga on my ADW's track feed.
Those difficulties notwithstanding, both of those races were more exciting and offered better wagering opportunities despite shorter fields, than did American Pharaoh's purse enhanced public workout at Monmouth.
Maybe I'm just too old and too cynical, but if the practice of beating up on inferior stock--including some already squashed multiple times--is considered sport then so is professional wrestling. Worse, giving in to purse inflation coercion sets a dangerous precedent.
I don't deny that America's best 3-year-old looked very impressive despite the lack of competition. Indeed, the Triple Crown winner was most significantly been tested in the Kentucky Derby by Firing Line and Dortmund; the former now sidelined for the rest of the year.
NYRA executives are now in lockstep with their Monmouth Park counterparts. Perhaps the late ascending Curlin winner, Smart Transition, and the resurgent Jim Dandy victor, Texas Red, will get a chance to make American Pharoah work harder for his next inflated-purse prize.
Fortunately, it appears that the prestige of the Travers might provide that possibility.
Kent Desormeaux's masterful ride on Texas Red to narrowly defeat Joel Rosario on Frosted in the Jim Dandy almost didn't get a chance to happen. Nor would he have been able to garner virtually the same payday the very next day, guiding Keen Ice to a second-place Haskell finish following a breathalyzer dust-up with the California stewards.
Desormeaux rode four races at Del Mar last Wednesday before the stewards decided to perform a breathalyzer test and then took him off his final two mounts. The next day, the jockey claimed he had demonstrated to the stewards that a carbonated beverage affects test results as much as the hard stuff.
Apparently, Desormeaux generated sufficient doubt to, at least, temporarily delay further sanctions. I have yet to read an explanation as to why they wanted to perform the test in the first place.
I'm an unabashed fan of jockey Kent Desormeaux and was happy that his hopes for a big day aboard the most important horse trained by his brother, Keith, weren't thwarted by the SoCal stewards via yet another arbitrary decision.
One of the NBC talking heads had a field day on camera with Kent's difficulties but I must have missed the part where they engaged in any critical discussion on eleventh-hour purse increases.
Perhaps the jockey's enhanced payday was poetic justice but that’s where the slope gets slippery. Can one applaud Desormeaux's good fortune in light of the excess that enabled it? Are his proven issues with alcohol any more off-putting than those allegedly associated with Ahmed Zayat's gambling?
The only perfection we could see in the Shore Snore was American Pharoah's stride as he eased his way to the finish line.
But it was good to see crowds of people enjoying themselves at summertime race meets that traditionally renew a horseplayer's passion, if not his bankroll. Perhaps the increasing frequency of short fields and short prices aren't as aggravating at the track when caught up in the excitement of celebrations too long delayed.
Surely, American Pharoah deserves the same accolades bequeathed Secretariat and Seattle Slew for their superiority in capturing their Triple Crowns at the expense of progressively weaker competition.
The problem with the practice of elevating purses for highly-visible graded stakes is that it also raises the cost of participation for owners in the long term and players in the short term while benefitting only stud farms and a fortunate few owners, trainers and jockeys.
I believe an overwhelming majority of racing's customers would support efforts to ensure fuller, more competitive fields in these “ultra-purse” events.
That, however, would require not only more cooperative scheduling of Grade I and II stakes within divisions but possibly limiting maximum-purse distribution to full fields only. A downward sliding scale could apply to successively fewer starters floored by graded-stakes minimums.
Not practical? Fields would be padded with hopeless entries? Aren't they already? Perhaps other measures could define minimums on earnings; say average speed ratings or other factors to be determined by actual competition?
If Churchill Downs can mandate top-four finishers in specific qualifying races for Derby starters, why can't additional measures of previous performance levels be developed to qualify starters in other high-profile events in all applicable divisions?
I've long advocated bonus-incentivized series to reward cumulative performances across multiple graded events within divisions. Last year's bonus that rewarded victories in the Los Alamitos Derby Pacific Classic and Breeders' Cup Classic might have been won by Shared Belief if not for a seriously compromised start.
Monmouth's effort to create a similar bonus with the Haskell as the first leg, rather than increase its own purse never came to fruition, and executive consultant Dennis Drazin offered to show HRI executive editor John Pricci e-mail documentation.
There just has to be better alternatives to rewarding “the big horse” at the expense of worthy competition between the fences for the horses and for the bettors queued up in betting lines everywhere.
Written by John Pricci
Monday, July 27, 2015
Fed Bills Fumble on Meds
LOS ANGLES, July 27, 2015--Anyone fearful of Federal intervention had ample justification dumped in their laps last week when sponsors of one Congressional bill dealing with horse racing reform started criticizing a newer, similar bill with different sponsors.
Already on record in support of the newer bill, HRI Executive Editor, John Pricci commented
, "Perhaps they should consider acting like grownups and help push for legislation that makes the game better for bettors and industry stakeholders. If they are sincere, they should try to fashion a solution helping like-minded colleagues instead of competing with them."
Also supporting the newer bill is a coalition of the Jockey Club and the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance (WHOA). Recently, the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA) was invited by the Jockey Club to join that coalition.
HANA then polled its membership to determine whether or not it should do so, but they have not shared the results for several weeks now. Perhaps expansion of the elite Jockey Club's influence is not all that popular a concept, or perhaps horseplayers only care about the next set of past performances?
I believe both bills contain the same fatal flaw, i.e., they put the proverbial cart before the horse.
The reason the Federal Government is inserting itself in the widely called-for overhaul of racing's medication and drug testing policies and punishment procedures is because the industry cannot – or will not – reform itself. Due to its fragmented regulation at 38 state levels – which effectively protects existing political fiefdoms and private power bases – it lacks the authority to impose change across racing jurisdictions.
Or, perhaps, now that there are casinos on virtually every corner and drafting athletes for dollars, the tacit legalization of sports gambling throughout the 50 states, bean counters don’t care all that much anymore about racing’s contributions—one that has declined by about 25 percent in the last decade—to their various coffers.
Both bills appear to address only a subset of required reforms without first creating a framework for a central authority with the ability and responsibility to analyze, prioritize, and fund completion of all of them.
There is no completely, coherent strategy in place for creating a truly representative decision-making body independent of the states that can A) establish the rules all venues must follow, B) enforce those rules in identical fashion everywhere, and C) ensure cooperation among all venues to achieve the "greatest collective benefit to all."
The hope is that, as provided within the bill, there will be meaningful cooperation between the industry and government as the process will not go forward without first getting input from the industry, which may lead back to square one since there is no central authority.
The status quo becomes more insurmountable by the day and only the industry is to blame due to its own foot-dragging.
How such a body might be formed, funded, and staffed, is problematic because few, if any, appear to be in favor of direct control of racing by the Federal government, which really is part of the big lie; the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is an already established independent body.
If Federally-sponsored legislation really wants to have a positive impact, perhaps it should call for, create, and help pay for a Centralized Racing Authority Convention to independently draft a detailed proposal for such a body to be operated as a private corporation with Federally-legislated authority; with accountability to a Federal government agency when that need presents itself. Perhaps this private, corporate entity could be the ultimate-compromise way forward.
What better model than the Constitutional Convention of our Founding Forefathers to work out a solution to racing's problems and map out the game's future? In my opinion, any proposal developed must have complete transparency built in, possibly by a group of elected representatives.
In this case, the electorate would consist of people directly and indirectly involved in racing occupationally, racing's customers, and representatives of State and Federal governments.
Perhaps a blue-ribbon panel of representatives could be appointed from each state in which racing is conducted by the federal government including industry stakeholders, but not limited to, alphabetically: 1) bettors, 2) breeders, 3) horse owners, 4) horse rescuers, 5) jockeys, 6) news providers, 7) regulators, 8) stewards, 9) track management, 10) trainers, 11) veterinarians. Did I leave anyone out?
One possible scenario might be that the government/stakeholder group (GSG) name three individuals it considered capable of addressing racing-related issues with integrity and intelligence.
Ballots with those candidates for each GSG seat would then be mailed to each government appointee, industry licensee, and to each unique ADW account holder, virtually every serious fan/bettor.
A statement by each candidate for viewing and commenting would be made available on all actively monitored racing discussion forum websites.
Each candidate must propose possible solutions to deal effectively with areas of greatest conflict:
Uniform rules of wagering as well as racing
Race day medication policy
Drug testing procedures
Current acceptable levels under specific circumstances
Authorized testing agencies and source(s) of funding)
Specific penalties for violation of specific rules, and multiple violations over specific periods
Procedures for challenging and effecting changes to rules and rulings subsequently brought into question.
As a horseplayer, I want to see uniformity of definition, access, and application, as well as transparency of implementation, characterizing each of the following aspects of wagering:
Takeout revenue optimization
Expansion and Promotion of high-churn wagers
Breakage levels and beneficiaries
Taxation on individual payoffs and collective winnings
Rebates to winners AND losers
State Residency Regulations
Other GSGs will undoubtedly have different issues to pursue. The main goal of the preceding approach is create a group collectively concerned, experienced, and reasonable enough to participate objectively.
Surely, there are some Franklin and Jefferson types associated with racing capable of hammering out something that the vast majority can get behind. I'll take a shot at priming the pump with a few recognizable names with impeccable credentials:
– Tim Ritvo
– Bennett Liebman
– Maggie Moss
– Barry Irwin
– Caroline Betts
– H. Graham Motion
– Dr. Avery Bramlage
– Jerry Bailey
– Ray Paulick
– John Pricci
New York Racing
– Steven Crist
I hope readers will feel free to chime in with any names they trust to represent them in such an endeavor, and with any GSG-specific issues they feel strongly about.
Written by Indulto
Friday, July 03, 2015
I Can No Longer Look the Other Way
LOS ANGELES, July 2, 2015—As children, we are trained to look both ways before crossing the street. Likewise, some of us are taught to look at both sides of an issue before making a decision regarding it.
Racing survives because most of its customers have been conditioned to look the other way whenever its flaws come into view.
In my sixth decade of betting on thoroughbreds, I find it progressively harder to overlook the game's shortcomings and those of its leadership.
The evils of simulcasting has perverted parimutuel wagering and tilted playing fields for both horseplayers and horsemen.
The process is no less damaging than the malfeasance displayed by racing's operators and regulators whose independent fiefdoms effectively prevent reform and protect the powerful.
The Rick Dutrow case has finally brought me to my senses. Any fairness, justice and transparency that may have once been evident in racing appears to have vanished.
The game as it now exists is not one I care to pass on to future generations. I can no longer accept the status quo as either a customer or a citizen.
Like society, the game has changed dramatically in the past half century with the emergence of alternative forms of legalized gambling.
Not only have racing's participants been pared down to a fraction of their former ranks but state and local governments have become increasingly dependent upon the revenue alternate forms of gambling generates.
While the tax burdens of corporations and the wealthy were lowered, the middle class has shrunk. Disposable income became a victim of the inflation caused by wasteful overspending on the military, social services abuses, fraud, etc., etc.
I've often wondered whether racing's decline in New York since the Rockefeller Administration was as much the result of undeclared wars around the world as the disastrous decision by NYRA not to create and control off-track betting in the first place.
So many potential players – particularly among young males from the populous Empire State – must have been permanently dissuaded from participating because the opportunity to play the game was never encouraged properly.
The threat of terrorism, as well as pleas from the well-heeled to demand comfort and exclusivity at any cost, now limits live attendance at premier racing events; compelling the masses wishing to attend such spectacles to settle for participation via TV sets and computer screens.
The technological advances that eliminated binoculars and betting windows also has fueled revenue flow to a subset of trainers and professional bettors whose enhanced edge-taking exploits advantages not available to the competition.
The greed at work here fundamentally is no different than the kind that causes a collapse of the stock market, mortgage and insurance industries.
The conduct on the part of state appointees and elected representatives in California, where political influence and neglect have presided over the industry's contraction there, is particularly offensive.
This behavior is exceeded only in New York’s where an iron-fisted Governor has enabled the sacrifice of natural beauty and equal treatment for all that ignited my life-long passion for racing during my initial exposure to Saratoga Race Course.
No one explored the current situation as elegantly as Tom Noonan
It's often been said that voters in a democracy get the government they deserve. Similarly, by continuing to consume racing products sold and sanctioned by politically-connected operators and regulators we get the regulation and oversight we deserve.
So far, no organized advocacy for racing reform has been able to attract support large enough to compel change. Until someone with sufficient stature steps forward to become a respected, highly-visible leader, a voice of reason, no meaningful reform will take place.
Until that happens, I'll simply play even less than I do now and won’t bother to re-fill my ADW account--even if the funding runs out before the Breeders' Cup.
If you want to see an individual who can make a difference and help change the status quo, take a good look in the mirror.
That person can challenge and change the manner in which racing is conducted nationwide provided he or she is willing to combine with others to create credible, accountable and transparent representation.
Or are we willing to continue looking the other way, getting the kind of sport we deserve?
Written by Indulto