Monday, March 03, 2014
Stewards Should Be More Than Just Traffic Cops
LOS ANGELES, March 2, 2014—Gulfstream Park’s highly successful Rainbow Six wager has set the stage for some serious debate regarding the accountability of stewards’ decisions.
In the wake of the controversial disqualification of last Saturday’s final race’s first-place finisher, horseplayers were clamoring for clarification of how a lone ticket-holder’s dream was denied by an arguably arbitrary decision. Having reached true jackpot status, the wager should continue attracting a lot of money, but now fear of futility may have become a factor.
Weather impact, surface switches, equine equilibrium, rider reactivity, starting gate shenanigans, scratches, traffic problems, etc., are all handicapping-defying hazards the horseplayer must accept. The “three men in a room” dynamic, however, has to be the hardest to swallow.
The game as we know it cannot exist without the Stewards’ authority to ensure that races are fairly run. If the actual order of finish were always permitted to stand, racing would soon degenerate into free-for-all, no-holds-barred contests resulting in equine bloodbaths that only the ancient Romans would bet on. Still the process is not perfect.
At the very least, any decision to disqualify should be unanimous, but such information is not currently forthcoming. Likewise, steward performance should receive no less scrutiny than the riders they regulate. Yet no such accountability is required and no review takes place.
John Pricci suggested that tracks provide live audio/video of the Stewards’ deliberations. Fellow HRI blogger, Tom Jicha, disagreed; opining that the camera would likely change behavior as feared in jury deliberations. That might be true initially, but eventually they would get their acts together, and fans would be treated to enlightening, if not entertaining, experiences.
Each steward’s vote and his justification should be recorded for periodic review and analysis as to appropriateness and consistency by a central authority. If such reform were implemented in this context, it would put pressure on racing to start holding others responsible for fair conduct of the game--trainers and veterinarians included.
What I’ve yet to see answered is “were they aware that the first place finisher would trigger the jackpot and, if so, did that information play any part in any individual’s decision?” This is not intended to be an indictment of any individual, rather the system as a whole. Is too much information—such as the possibility of one jackpot winner--being released in advance?
There are many facets to transparency, or lack thereof. When viewing the Sam F. Davis a few weeks ago, I noticed that -- at least for that race -- Tampa Bay Downs did not show the loading of the runners from behind the gate for the one mile and one sixteenth event. What followed might have been interpreted by some as either a Big Brownout in Oldsmar or some kind of Life At Ten lackluster look-a-like.
Just when it seemed as if Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux’s comeback was starting to gather momentum, the specter of Big Brown’s Belmont re-emerged when Desormeaux’s mount, Noble Cornerstone, finished next-to-last as the favorite.
As the horses were loading into the starting gate, track announcer Richard Grunder informed that Desormeaux was off his horse. Since he didn’t say the horse unseated its rider, I was left to assume it was the rider’s decision. Eventually Desormeaux re-mounted just prior to the start.
Daily Racing Form later reported that “Noble Cornerstone, the 9-5 favorite, was never a factor when finishing seventh after acting up badly just prior to the break. [Noble Cornerstone] absolutely freaked in the gate and lost his race right there,” said his jockey, Kent Desormeaux.”
Noble Cornerstone, racing without blinkers for the first time, “was off a bit slow, raced far back and showed little” according to the chart footnote.
Those who bet Noble Cornerstone didn’t get a run for their money and no one knows why. Should the horse have been scratched? Are there uniform guidelines for determining a horse’s fitness to race based on its behavior at the starting gate, or are only extreme examples such as Quality Road in the Breeders’ Cup Classic allowed to protect the betting public? What is, and what should be, the role of the stewards in such matters?
The controversial disqualification at Gulfstream has resulted in either maligning individuals in authority at Gulfstream Park or serious questions about of horseracing integrity in general. If this heightened awareness of the game’s flaws underscores the need for a central authority, so much the better.
One only needs to note how selective rebating and high takeout rates stacks the game against the average bettor. Maybe this unfortunate incident will give racing’s leaders amplification to what extent players are taken for granted and what needs to be done to level the playing field for all.
Written by Indulto
Monday, February 17, 2014
Scintillating Saturation Stakes Scheduling
LOS ANGELES, February 17, 2013—Governor Cuomo’s Not-Yet-Reality-Accepting racetrack management team is not permitted to bet on races yet they are willing to gamble that:
A: People will be willing to pay exorbitant admission fees on Belmont Stakes day even if no Triple Crown attempt materializes.
B: The weather is going to cooperate.
C: Sufficient quality horseflesh can be attracted to compete for absurdly inflated purses in wager-compelling fields.
By essentially combining Memorial Day and Belmont Stakes Day into one and increasing their total stakes purses by $3.1M, the New York Racing Assn. seeks to make their biggest day even bigger. By gutting other weekend cards of graded stakes and concentrating them on fewer, bigger weekends, they expect to increase total handle for the meet.
Even if that expansion occurs, will profitability even be possible given the recent purse hikes?
Some contend the amount of money available to racing on a weekend basis has its limits and base that conclusion on the fact that Breeders’ Cup total handle for Friday and Saturday cards hasn’t significantly exceeded the one-day Saturday event.
NYRA customers bet more than one out of every five dollars wagered nationwide. Belmont Stakes day is already NYRA’s best attraction in terms of attendance and handle; roughly doubling the 13 or 14-race Travers-day handle and more than quadruple the money bet on either of the 11-race Met Mile and Jockey Gold Cup programs.
With national television coverage available, many who could experience the event in person will opt to watch it in high-definition in the comfort and convenience of their living rooms. And many will be encouraged to bet more on-line with money saved from transportation/parking, food/beverage and admission/seating costs.
Raising prices on the latter is the best promotion for staying home.
Many observers agree that year-round live racing has already reduced the game’s specialness and eliminated the anticipatory excitement that seasonal venues experience.
And now the reverence normally observed for championship-level sport is being squandered by squeezing several month’s of stakes racing into a single weekend.
Worse, multiple events could cannibalize racing’s glamour division. Why risk siphoning off any three-year-olds from a possible Belmont Stakes run?
Both the G1 Metropolitan Handicap and especially the G2 Brooklyn Handicap likely would be better positioned after the Belmont, positioning it closer to the Whitney. The Met Mile might attract top three-year-olds prepping for the Haskell and/or Travers as well.
And I’ve always why there was no tie-in between last year’s Belmont Stakes winners and this year’s Brooklyn, a natural extension for Elmont-loving three year olds to return for some big money at four?
Is this year’s Brooklyn capable of attracting a field worthy of $200K, much less $500K? And will hiking the Met Mile purse from $750K to $1.25M adversely affect the handicap division nationwide? When will the competitive madness between racetracks end? (Since racing is more regional than national in scope, it appears that answer is never).
Raising the Belmont Stakes purse will prove to be a waste unless the Derby and Preakness winners both show up. And wouldn’t the race be better served if the winner of a Louisville-Baltimore rubber match be eligible for a bonus? Speaking of bonuses, shouldn’t the Triple Crown bonus scheme be reprised? In my opinion, no undercard race not named Breeders’ Cup deserves a $1M purse.
The purse elevations of the Manhattan, Ogden Phipps (even with Beholder and Princess Of Sylmar), and Acorn seem particularly unreasonable. What works for Breeders’ Cup doesn’t really have practical applications anywhere else.
Since management is willing to “experiment” with the allocation of slots revenue, why not try lowering effective takeout for on-track bettors rather than further subsidize the wealthiest owners? This could be achieved in either of two ways: paying a 10% bonus to on-track winners or selling one-day use betting vouchers at a 10% discount on-track.
Would any drop in revenue from a lower takeout come even close to the added infusion of cash into the purse accounts, with or without a Triple Crown bid?
Isn’t it ironic that the maximum takeout in Kentucky is lower without slots than New York is with them?
The Triple Crown trail through the Classics demonstrates the value of making horses recognizable to the general public. So, too, would the game benefit from additional divisional series that rewards consistent multiple performances against one another through a bonus program instead of bestowing higher financial rewards one race at a time.
Stacking 10 stakes on Belmont Day does not constitute a mini-Breeders Cup day or even a mini-Jockey Gold Cup day. In my opinion it’s a hastily concocted hedge against the absence of a Triple Crown attempt that does little to eliminate dependence on slots revenue and an unhealthy distribution of funds. Overvaluing races while undervaluing customers only reinforces the organization’s imperial image the Governor once indicated he would eradicate.
No decision of this magnitude could have been made without approval from the Governor’s inner circle, and I wonder if this plan truly was supported by feedback from the Racing Fan Advisory Council, the formation of which was an early attempt by Team Cuomo “regulators to consider more than just the views of owners, trainers and breeders.”
If nothing else, this decision has generated a lot of commentary that has raised the visibility of Belmont Stakes Day in February without spending any money at all. Is this is the wave of the future: marketing through controversy; customer acquisition by provocation? Horseplayers can’t always be organized but can easily be antagonized.
Written by Indulto
Monday, January 27, 2014
The Day the Musings Died
LOS ANGELES, CA, January 27, 2014— Even before we could recover from renowned handicapping theorist and practitioner Cary Fotias’s untimely departure, Paul Moran’s recent passing at 66 reminded many of us eligible for Medicare how short early retirement can be.
News reports indicated that the gifted turf writer left with the dignity of awareness, and in the presence of some who shared significant moments of his life and appreciated his worth. That’s crossing the finish line as a winner, in my book.
By definition, to muse is to “say something in a thoughtful and questioning way.”
The thoroughbred racing musings of Paul Moran often differed from those of his contemporaries in both tone and detail. He frequently appeared independent of the authority others seemed subservient to.
Perhaps some of those still surviving wonder whether that was achieved through abundant will power or the absence of concern for consequences.
I’ll remember Mr. Moran as a professional who was very kind to an anonymous amateur whom he had unknowingly inspired. His words weren’t just enlightening and entertaining, they were enriching like art. Some musicians are gifted with perfect pitch ... Paul Moran produced perfect prose.
Until I began reading his work a little more than a decade ago, I’d never felt the urge to write creatively. The Internet enabled access here on the West Coast to those Newsday articles from the East Coast, and eventually facilitated contact as well.
Indeed, one of the more compelling aspects of the switch from the print medium to cyberspace has been the ability of readers to interact with authors.
While some bloggers appear to embrace communication with their audience, it seemed to me that Mr. Moran had little enthusiasm for it. His public responses were an exercise in economy of expression. Even private responses I received were succinct and to the point.
In 2008, I submitted several opinion pieces for his blog’s Weekend Guest feature. After initially requesting a bio, he published them all after very brief acknowledgements. He became only slightly more expansive when I later thanked him for giving me credibility with other bloggers.
Some of his own pieces that he posted on his blog were published here at HRI, where he was featured along with other talented turf writers including Bill Christine, John Pricci, and Vic Zast. Moran previewed the comments on his own site, but the freedom of speech at this one too often rewarded him with petty abuse. He stayed above it all, publicly, and ignored his detractors.
Having since learned how it feels when they “shoot the messenger,” it was with great satisfaction that I saw my personal admiration for his work so widely mirrored in the myriad of comments throughout cyberspace in the month following his passing.
What I felt was missing from early accolades, however, was appreciation for his fearlessness in expressing disdain for circumstances and individuals that detracted from the game’s integrity and stability. Without writers like Moran to help hold the line, racing’s propensity for self-inflicted damage might have reached critical mass even sooner.
Eventually I encountered a piece by Michael Veitch who wrote the following while noting Moran’s death in the Saratogian
: “A veteran of the war in Vietnam, he loved New York racing and always saw the big picture, while never hesitating to criticize those whom he felt were not working in its best interests.”
In his book “Six Weeks in Saratoga,” HRI blogger Brendan O’Meara’s description of a news conference held by then CEO Charles Hayward included this reference to Moran:
‘The closer to New York, the grouchier the racing press gets. Hayward thought that award–winning columnist Paul Moran, formerly of Newsday, used to puncture him. Moran sliced into NYRA after the 2005 Belmont Stakes that NYRA “almost gleefully picks the pockets of those who remain interested in actually attending the races on days when they sense a demand.”
Hayward said, “We are always reluctant to raise our prices.” To which Moran continued, “Can NYRA completely mess up Saratoga too? Tough assignment, but not out of the realm of possibility.”’
I can only imagine Moran’s response to new NYRA CEO Chris Kay’s recent announcement of planned admission price increases at Saratoga and Belmont. The photographs of Moran were not always flattering but I‘m far more likely to remember the pictures he painted with his words. I hope he was a Don McLean fan, and allow me this:
As drug-free racing horsemen forsake
While states impose excessive take
A player couldn’t get a fair shake
The day the musings died
So I’ll be singin’ bye-bye, All-American Guy
With the lighting in your writing
One could read the truth by
The glimpses you gave of those sitting on high
Proved that changing the status quo we must try
Even more musings
: Discussion here can become addictive, the real danger being the possibility of deluding oneself that horseplayers can be motivated to join together in sufficient numbers to effect changes in racing’s status quo to their common benefit.
It would seem that old horseplayer advocates don’t fade away, they have to be carried out; especially since we have more to say as age advances. After several years of regular and sometimes adversarial interaction with featured bloggers and fellow readers in the comments section here, I submitted an opinion piece to HRI’s Executive Editor, Mr. Pricci. Fortunately for me he not only has extended me the same kindness that his friend and colleague had but his own friendship as well.
I wanted to find out if support could be mustered at HRI to influence long-needed change to Kentucky Derby eligibility rules. The project evolved into a weekly comparison of proposed points-based eligibility rankings with the existing one based on earnings as the qualifying process proceeded along the road to the 2012 Triple Crown.
Our efforts ultimately were rewarded when Churchill Downs decided to replace its earnings-based eligibility system with a points-based system of their own design.
Of course, we can only speculate as to the extent we actually influenced this action but hopefully it will encourage others to step forward here and keep the recreational player’s perspective in front of racing’s leadership.
This forum needs continually fresh ideas, and those with the topics, tools, and training should take the opportunity to do so. I believe devoted, recreational fans can make a difference.
In a game that depends upon diversity of opinion, shouldn’t there be more horseplayers seeking a debate than a rebate?
Written by Indulto