Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Friday, August 26, 2011

Dumb and Dumber

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Aug. 25, 2011--As fans and gamblers alike look forward to handicapping, betting, and watching tomorrow’s 142nd renewal of the Travers Stakes, comes the realization that this exercise may not be for everyone.

When it comes to the business side of Thoroughbred racing, we have not read many viewpoints that are as reasonable and fair as Bill Shanklin’s. Shanklin may have his share of detractors, although I’m hard pressed to understand why.

Anyway, his most recent Internet post spoke to a pet peeve of mine which I’ve addressed before and sure to redress. To wit: No one in an industry position of authority seems to have figured a way to deal with the learning curve in Thoroughbred handicapping.

“There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man,” said Winston Churchill. However, if you believe the result of an America that’s systematically been dumbed down sufficiently to not know the quote’s author, chances are shamefully big that much of the population may not even have heard of the author himself.

Think that’s an exaggeration? Perhaps you should consider some of the findings pointed out by Shanklin were simply referencing the results of a survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that questioned 470,000 young people from around the world.

No one in this audience will be too shocked to learn that our young people rank 25th in the world in math. Given that statistic, the future of the country might be more dire than whatever problems the Thoroughbred industry may be facing.

That America’s education system, whose budgets have been slashed in the name of all that is ideological, greedy, and myopic, is starting to show visible
signs of its uphill struggle, one only needs to consider these results:

That 40% of those polled were unable to identify which country the U.S. fought in World War II. Clearly, people are not spending their money on the right movies, or are surfing right past the History Channel.

Double that amount did not know who the American president was at the time. (I’d be willing to credit responders who answered Bill Murray, who will play FDR in an upcoming movie. [Sorry, those still stumped for an answer will need to Google those initials]).

Sixty-three percent of those polled could not identify how many judges sit on the Supreme Court; never mind that the highest court in the land gave corporations the right to buy any election it wants. (The answer? Think the baseball movie “Eight Men Out,” then add one).

Almost 30% could not name the current Vice-President of the United States. (Now I realize that this is the office where viable politicians go to die but, Joe, say it ain’t so!)

Final Jeopardy: For a trillion dollars, and with apologies to Groucho [Google, Part 2], who is buried in Grant’s Tomb? Just kidding. Now, for a bazillion dollars, on what date was the Declaration of Independence signed?

Don’t snicker: Only one out of three could answer correctly.

And the Thoroughbred industry expects would-be customers to understand the vague complexities of a weighted wheel?

What’s really sad is that since horses are no longer part of American culture, many people with discretionary dollars to spend are unlikely to have the experience or appreciation for watching the beauty and power displayed in a typical horse race.

For those folks, horses might as well be orangutans. The only hook to interest them, then, would be winning a lot of money; the less thinking required, the better. Which is precisely why the bells, whistles and cocktails of a slot emporium appeal to so many older Americans, whose main concern is where to make dinner reservations.

The way parimutuel wagering is structured, routine rules, regulations and a basic handicapping skill set are just too confusing: “You mean you expect me to have to learn a new and confusing way to lose my money? No, thank you."

As Shanklin wrote, “racing must not exclude the millions of people who will not wager on the sport if they have to handicap and cope with confusing betting requirements. What is routine to seasoned racehorse bettors is complex to the neophyte.”

But they might buy a ticket on a horse race if they didn’t have to learn any particular skill, go out of their way to make a bet, or if the payoff were big enough.

That’s why a lottery type wager based on the results of an important horse race televised nationally every Saturday afternoon, modeled after the old Irish Sweepstakes, could work. Lotteries, after all, out-handle parimutuels by a margin of eight dollars to one.

Chance rather than skill would interest these “gamblers,” as opposed to sports bettors and poker players who don’t mind mixing in a little thinking and skill with their gambling.

Maybe some widget manufacturer would be interested in creating a new revenue stream based on this model, especially since parimutuel wagering is legal in 32 of the 50 states?

Bet you thought I was going to say 48 states, didn’t you?

Written by John Pricci

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