The Horse Race Insider is a privately owned magazine. All copyrights reserved. “Bet with your head, not over it.”

The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

INDUSTRY MUST LEARN TAMPERING WITH TRUTH IS NO VIRTUE, DISSENTING VIEWS NO VICE

By Indulto

HRI owner/publisher, John Pricci, recently attributed disillusionment to the discouraging departures of his fellow journalists who had shared his vision and ably supported this website’s mission:

‘Part of the reasons why Mark and Tom “retired” is because nothing in the game will change substantively and is a waste of time and effort, i.e., continue trying to make a difference.

I don’t disagree with their observations but I know that the only way to affect change with respect to any issue in life, is from within.’

LOS ANGELES, December 17, 2020–My late friend, Willy, would often minimize the impact of short-term setbacks with his sarcastic mantra, “Nothing is so bad it can’t get worse.” Those prophetic words are as applicable to Thoroughbred racing as they were to the current pandemic.

The HRI executive editor has a point when he talks about making change from within, but actual reform also requires pressure from without. And generating outrage at proven outrageousness takes the kind of determination, dedication, and free discussion that gets the job done.

Racing participants were denied an important forum for exchanging opinions recently when the Paulick Report suspended reader commentary beneath its articles.

Apparently, the task of maintaining civility had become unmanageable for Mr. Paulick whose site’s success was largely due to the opportunity for the communication it offered since its inception.

Intended or not, absence of public engagement gives the industry greater control over messaging to customers while simultaneously lowering the volume on negative feedback. Worse, the industry reinforces its lack of transparency that only grows suspicion rather than alleviate it.

Never before has racing faced the volume of scrutiny and criticism from without, but not so much from within. Absent independent presentation and evaluation of readily apparent truths, we risk the need for reform being overwhelmed by a deliberate distortion of facts.

The ascent of animal rights activists alleging abuse of racehorses, and advocating the abolition of horse racing, has focused public attention on breakdowns and whip use.

Activists have exposed the industry’s failure to collect complete, verifiable data detailing breakdown circumstances in all jurisdictions and the suppression of such data by some. It also has demonstrated PETA’s ability to influence California’s largest racetrack operator and state government officials.

Parenthetically, if nearly half the general population was willing to accept allegations of widespread voter fraud without evidence that it actually occurred, how can racing be expected to survive an organized onslaught from an increasing pool of disgruntled critics?

In its heyday, the industry flourished with an image of integrity relatively undiminished except for occasional unrelated incidents of cheating exposed in the press. Expression of reader opinion back then was confined to Letters to the Editor.

On the Baby Boomers’ watch, however, racing has seen a steady reduction in the ranks of its participants, particularly among casual bettors and small stable owners.

Thanks to independent reporting and a variety of on-line racing forums such as this one, many who were not racing insiders became aware of the seeming increased in edge-taking.

An example of an issue that might easily have escaped examination was the elevation of economic reward from breeding Thoroughbreds rather than race them.

The result is now the distribution of most blue-blooded stock among a handful of “super-trainers” and the expansion of conflicted  interests between trainers and clients as well as among multiple-investor groups with cross-membership would surely have evaded scrutiny without a free exchange of information and ideas in cyberspace.

Consider race-day medications, legal and otherwise, it is fair to ask whether or not investigations of suspicious activity would have come to light without the support of well-meaning individuals who share relevant perspectives on this issue?

Broadly, there has been general agreement that racing’s early failure to embrace television; the fumbling of simulcast parameters; emergence of alternative forms of legal gambling; an ever-decreasing foal crop that results in fewer races, competitors, and lower handle, when coupled with disparate racing rules, safety standards, enforcement, and oversight, has not helped racing’s cause.

It amazes me that all the above has not yet generated sufficient disgust among most non-professional bettors to drive us all from the game– although it surely has dampened our enthusiasm and curtailed our action.

What finally brought me to the brink is the glaring too-frequent absence of competition due to minuscule fields for most important graded stakes. The refusal of racetracks to collaboratively schedule stakes within divisions only exacerbates the problem. Tracks cling to notes of competition, not cooperation.

Indeed, the failure of racing to standardize rules for breeding, racing, and wagering, and to exercise adequate authority and unity to enforce them with consistency, leaves us with no accountable body with whom to petition redress. Regrettably, needed federal intervention only would increase the number of hoops to jump through.

As in most endeavors, winning takes priority and money buys privilege and advantage. When such advantage rises to the level of unfairness through self-interest or incompetence, cloaked by a lack of transparency, it becomes reasonable to question degrees of integrity.

Racing almost succumbed to COVID-19 despite the potential for lost jobs and fortunes. What saved it was the argument that racehorses require continued care, which in turn requires funding that would not be available unless racing were conducted. Not even PETA could challenge that logic.

In return, racing did provide a diversion for many locked down by the pandemic, but eventually the virus will be defeated. Will sufficient “casino dole” and disposable income be available when people can finally leave their homes, or has racing lost those loyal participants for good?

Further, will live attendance reach pre-pandemic levels after old customers have been forced to experience the comfort and convenience of watching and wagering from their easy chairs as newly acquainted fans think that this is the way it works?

What percentage of racetracks could survive today without continued revenue from other forms of gambling? What portion of rebated professional bettors would remain profitable without a significant presence of non-professional bettors to grease the pools?

Where will the funds needed to provide oversight come from now that handle and attendance has been flattened or worse? Maybe some miracle will create operating revenue by allowing track operators and state governments to act in concert, redefining the model for racing regulations.

Should a new paradigm, or expansion of the existing one, be created, how does the rank and file get a seat at the table? As it stands, without discussion forums, we have no redress. Without respected leadership to conduct meaningful debate, our influence will be limited, if it exists at all.

Achieving handle restoration and optimization will require level playing fields for both horsemen and horseplayers. Purses should more meaningfully reflect field size as well as actual quality of competition. Takeout rates should be equal for all bettors, not only for growth but for keeping the customers racing has.

Integrity and transparency must be improved with respect to, but not limited to, stewards’ decisions, parimutuel pool activity, equine medical records, multiple-owner entries, and riding crop use.

With independent voices abandoning the game, and without comment sections that give the racing public a voice, the likelihood of harnessing the power of collective dissent will be decidedly diminished until one day it is no more. That might have been the modern industry’s intent all along.

Share on facebook
Facebook Share
Share on twitter
Twitter Share
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn Share
Share on email
Email
Share on print
Print

⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

18 Responses

  1. Indulto,
    Everything you stated is true. I guess the real problem was that no person in racing reacted to all the problems in racing until it was too late to correct. At that point, the powers that be just turned the other cheek and ignored the bettors and fans like they didn’t exist. Now a long comes the pandemic and race tracks are getting what they really wanted a game without bettors and fans in attendance. Less overhead and less expenses. Like $2.00 hookers,they get their money from the casino’s and save on expense. Most bettors as of now would rather stay home. This happened before the pandemic. Adw’s are allowed to operate without the expense of putting on the show. Going back in history,NYRA not wanting to run NYOTB was the first big mistake. The second mistake is the industry doesn’t have the courage to ban the obvious cheaters. In some cases they even defend them. If we had real men of conviction running the game it probably would have a chance to be saved. Sadly,between the press and managements there are no hero’s to be had as racing continues to flounder.

    1. AS,
      You won’t get any argument from me regarding the NY OTBs. How about those bidding circuses for the racing and casino franchises on the watches of successive dysfunctional Governors?

      But at least NYRA finally opened its own ADW to get a bigger piece of its own pie the way CDI and TSG have.

  2. Indulto,
    Absolutely true. NYRA is doing a good job with its ADW and putting its product out there. Problem is they have probably sold their signal too cheap and have really not done much on the drug problem in the industry. To be honest, at this point I don’t know what they could do without rocking the boat. One thing about NYRA,they never rock the boat unless they are forced to and then only gently. Don’t know what to say about the Governor and racing. I would think racing is the least of his problems.

    1. AS,
      Is it true that NYRA is unique with regard to the IHA in that it doesn’t require horsemen approval to alter takeout rates?

      They certainly rocked the boat when they altered course on suspending Jerry Hollendorfer.

      1. Jerry Hollendorfer was not one of their own. How many trainers have they looked the other way on ? Dutrow was the only trainer they took a stand on. They didn’t care about any trainer before or after him. If the FBI didn’t catch Servis and Navarro they would still be allowed in. Go back thru the years and see if there is any top trainer they have made an example of. They did get rid of a couple of trainers who win 1-2 races a year. Wasn’t Potts suspended or barred from training somewhere ? He seems to have found a home at NYRA. At this point,I don’t know much about takeout rated. I think the last time NYRA lowered rates Barry Schwartz was in charge.

        1. I think the last time they lowered takeout was when they returned a temporary hike to its previous level after Hayward failed to observe the sunset date–allegedly on advice from NYRA’s legal expert, before Cuomo set both of them them packing.

          He was exposed by a paceadvantage.com reader who had contacted Steven Crist to find out why the higher rate was still in effect. If I remember correctly, you were a frequent and interesting commenter there at the time.

          1. Yes,remember that. I don’t consider that as an actual lowering of the takeout, that is why I didn’t mention it. To me, they were just trying to make up for their error in judgement. It seems to me a lot of NYRA CEO’s get sent packing. Chris Kay was sent packing and it is now like he never happened. Barry Schwartz worked for nothing and was sent packing.

  3. Not sure if “cleaning up the sport” can save it at this point. The casino subsidy gravy train will either come to a halt or be substantially reduced. With all the businesses in dire condition, how can any reasonable person justify laws that provide a cut from gaming revenue to prop up horse racing ?

    The brave new world officially starts on January 1. Be prepared.

    1. Dan,
      You are most likely correct.Even in better times racing was never willing to take a short term decrease in revenue to create a long term increase.

    2. DM,
      I agree that racing will have to do more with less revenue from gaming and attendance. But it can more than make up the deficit by offering a better product with fairer outcomes and consistent regulation. We who acquire a passion for the game do so because–under the right circumstances–it is a form of entertainment that sometimes offers experiences we can’t wait to repeat.

      Racing doesn’t need million dollar purses for anything but the TC and the BC to put on the best show. It doesn’t need stud fees in the hundreds of thousands or unraced yearlings in the millions, to produce champions. It doesn’t need rebates to make professional bettors profitable or high takeout to mask money laundering while shortening the solvency of casual bettors.

      The key is balancing takeout with parimutuel pool levels, and purses with field size, accomplishment of starters, and pool total attracted. Suppose, for example, tracks were to set baselines for purses at various levels of competition, and increased them toward specified limits in proportion to field size, number of winners at current and/or higher class levels within a specified time period. The more attractive the betting proposition provided by the horsemen, the more money would be bet by horseplayers.

      If the takeout rate for each wagering pool in each race could be dynamically reduced as individual pool totals reached specified levels, whales could still dictate a lower rate while not preventing minnows from competing. In its heyday, racing rewarded players for their accumulation of parimutuel payoffs, not rebates on high wagering volume win or lose.

      1. In my opinion you have some great points. How you get them accomplished in racing is another story. The thing racing needs most is honest and smart leadership. At this point that seems impossible. Racing [correct me if I am wrong] seems to be an industry where management gets the job and keeps the job by not rocking the boat or making any hard decisions.

  4. Wish I could disagree with much of the sentiment expressed here but in good conscience I can’t.

    The only exception I’ll take was the obvious railroading of Rick Dutrow in which a state investigator lied under oath, which was supported by the Queens District Attorney, among many other misdeeds in the name of retribution.

    And remember close to 2,500 industry stakeholders signed a petition supporting the notion to confine his suspension to time served–including many of his training rivals–which at that time was about six years. Not to mention the support he received from a whistle-blowing steward appointed by NYS.

    The point here is that they made an example of Dutrow for the crime of embarrassing certain industry leaders, simply a case of politics whereby those in power could–and did.

    The railroading conspiracy continued recently in Kentucky where, after being told he could apply for a trainer’s license, Dutrow appeared in the Commonwealth with his lawyer only to be told to withdraw his application because it would be rejected.

    Seditionists are treated better.

    1. Even though I am no fan of Dutrow,it is obvious he was railroaded. The real problem is there are trainers who are embarrassing the industry every day and will never be punished. A lot of these trainers are probably bigger names than Dutrow ever was. What is going on is happening at all levels of the game.Leadership at the top is what is killing the game. Does anyone remember any great leaders in racing ? Just asking.

  5. This site had really dropped to new all-time depths if Pricci gave you a column.

    I wouldn’t read ehat you have to say even f to was paid to do so.

    1. Once a troll, always a troll!

      Perhaps some historical–if not hysterical—perspective is appropriate to close out a year of unbridled incivility.

      Wih apologies to John Lennon and Paul McCartney:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL-N3BhhjVY

      DenDen was a man who knew he was a loser
      But demanded others share his pain
      DenDen went on-line at several racing forums
      Where he would annoy and complain

      Get back, get back
      Beneath the bridge from which you came
      Get back, get back
      Get back to where you still belong
      Get back, DenDen

  6. In the spirit of Christmas now past, I passively ponder and think it best to proceed promptly past the preceding “paid to do so” verse. Life is too short Indy. Places to go, people to see, and too many other things to do. I’ll start off on my to do list today by saying Hello and Merry Christmas to my long distance good friend from California.

    Fortunately for us Indy, cyber space converts the time zone separations to instant time. A “Merriment” whatever holiday “festivous” you may celebrate Indulto, even if you are not celebrating at all, I simply extend to you my wish for Peace and Good Health in the coming year.

    Sorry for not commenting sooner on your article I-Man. Been too busy of late tending to the requirements of the Man in the Red Suit job. Best job I ever had. Sleep as late as you like, work only a half day a year, and everyone you encounter along the run wants to provide you with fresh baked cookies or the beverage of your choice. Sweet job. And there are no issues with race day meds or PETA with the reindeer, Lol. Hopefully next year, no mask will be mandated.

    Indy you have captured quite well the malaise that has enshrouded the sport. I suspect your message can be best summarized by one single sentence of your indictment and well thought narrative. “As in most endeavors, winning takes priority and money buys privilege and advantage.”

    I could not agree more with your statement and assessment regarding the somewhat now diminished fan loyalty, “It amazes me that all the above has not yet generated sufficient disgust among most non-professional bettors to drive us all from the game– although it surely has dampened our enthusiasm and curtailed our action.” I suspect we are all amazed, but I continue to refuse to accept racings defeat.

    Sadly it will take more than our collective remaining days to restore racing’s bloodlines to a more logical balanced view towards endurance. Dr. Fager, Damascus, Buckpasser, Forego, et all; how lucky we were to witness the champions of our younger days. We can now hope at least that the restrictions of race day meds in 2021 will hasten the return back to the era of wonderment of the sport’s past.

    Your comments also have me thinking back to the basics of life counseled in a Brother’s Grimm fairy tell I read to my boys over f40 years back, “The Cat and Mouse Partnership”. Much the same as the victim in the tale, we the Players trusted the Overseers only to witness the rape of the bloodlines simply for profit. The veiled warning for the two dollar player “Not Another Word” applys to us as well. “There’s just never enough to be had is all.”

    Things didn’t end so well for the mouse in the tale. Hopefully for the loyal advocates and two dollar Players of horseracing things will play out better for us.

    I thank John Pricci as at least on the HRI pages we still have a voice to help fight the good. I’m with Vincent.
    “Now let’s go get those bad guys!”

    Good Year ahead to all, – McD

    If you have a spare minute ot two, see if you don’t find a bit of yourself in the attached tale. So simple in scope it was written for children, and most adults will simply dismiss as silly. Like what could we loose in all of this.

    Maybe just the sport?

    https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/grimm002.html

    1. Glad to see you made it to the party, McD, but the recurring resemblances to Grimm’s Fairy Tales during the last four years have reduced their entertainment value for me. However, your undeviating undertaking of uplifting endeavors continues to inspire. You are indeed the Santa Claus I can believe in.

      May I return your wishes for “peace and good health” as well as all other quality of life enhancements that are likely to unite us rather than divide us when divine ideals are misinterpreted by mere mortals.

      The fact that our friendship continues off-board as well is a tribute to the environment JP has nurtured that enables like minds to recognize and reach out to one another.

      I also appreciate our host’s willingness to give non-journalists a voice here in op-ed pieces when one feels strongly enough about an issue. I hope we’ll see impassioned contributions from more members of the HRI faithful in 2021.

      Sadly, grinches with grudges also seem to gravitate here during the holidays to growl about their grievances. Speaking of fairy tales, perhaps Dumpy and Trumpy should be added to Snow White’s entourage. LOL

  7. In the spirit of Christmas now past, I passively ponder and think it best to proceed promptly past the preceding “paid to do so” verse. Life is too short Indy. Places to go, people to see, and too many other things to do. I’ll start off on my to do list today by saying Hello and Merry Christmas to my long distance good friend from California.

    Fortunately for us Indy, cyber space converts the time zone separations to instant time. A “Merriment” whatever holiday “festivous” you may celebrate Indulto, even if you are not celebrating at all, I simply extend to you my wish for Peace and Good Health in the coming year.

    Sorry for not commenting sooner on your article I-Man. Been too busy of late tending to the requirements of the Man in the Red Suit job. Best job I ever had. Sleep as late as you like, work only a half day a year, and everyone you encounter along the run wants to provide you with fresh baked cookies or the beverage of your choice. Sweet job. And there are no issues with race day meds or PETA with the reindeer, Lol. Hopefully next year, no mask will be mandated.

    Indy you have captured quite well the malaise that has enshrouded the sport. I suspect your message can be best summarized by one single sentence of your indictment and well thought narrative. “As in most endeavors, winning takes priority and money buys privilege and advantage.”

    I could not agree more with your statement and assessment regarding the somewhat now diminished fan loyalty, “It amazes me that all the above has not yet generated sufficient disgust among most non-professional bettors to drive us all from the game– although it surely has dampened our enthusiasm and curtailed our action.” I suspect we are all amazed, but I continue to refuse to accept racings defeat.

    Sadly it will take more than our collective remaining days to restore racing’s bloodlines to a more logical balanced view towards endurance. Dr. Fager, Damascus, Buckpasser, Forego, et all; how lucky we were to witness the champions of our younger days. We can now hope at least that the restrictions of race day meds in 2021 will hasten the return back to the era of wonderment of the sport’s past.

    Your comments also have me thinking back to the basics of life counseled in a Brother’s Grimm fairy tell I read to my boys over f40 years back, “The Cat and Mouse Partnership”. Much the same as the victim in the tale, we the Players trusted the Overseers only to witness the rape of the bloodlines simply for profit. The veiled warning for the two dollar player “Not Another Word” applies to us as well. “There’s just never enough to be had is all.”

    Things didn’t end so well for the mouse in the tale. Hopefully for the loyal advocates and two dollar Players of horseracing things will play out better for us.

    I thank John Pricci as at least on the HRI pages we still have a voice to help fight the good. I’m with Vincent.
    “Now let’s go get those bad guys!”

    Good Year ahead to all, – McD

    If you have a spare minute ot two, see if you don’t find a bit of yourself in the attached tale. So simple in scope it was written for children, and most adults will simply dismiss as silly. Like what could we loose in all of this.

    Maybe just the sport?

    “Half-Gone? What are you saying? I have never heard that name in all my life. I’ll wager it is not in the almanac.”

    The cat’s mouth soon again began to water for the delicious goods. “All good things come in threes,” he said to the mouse. “I have been asked to be godfather again. The child is totally black, only it has white paws. Otherwise it has not a single white hair on its whole body. This only happens once every few years. You will let me go, won’t you?”

    “Top-Off. Half-Gone,” answered the mouse. “They are such odd names, that they make me stop and think.”

    “Here you sit at home,” said the cat, “with your dark gray fur coat and long braid of hair capturing fantasies. That is because you do not go out in the daytime.”

    During the cat’s absence the mouse cleaned the house, and put it in order, but the greedy cat devoured all the rest of the fat. “One has peace only after everything is eaten up,” he said to himself. Well filled and fat, he did not return home until nighttime.

    The mouse immediately asked what name had been given to the third child.

    “You will not like it either,” said the cat. “His name is All-Gone.”

    “All-Gone!”, cried the mouse. “That is the most worrisome name of all. I have never seen it in print. All-Gone! What can that mean?” Then she shook her head, curled herself up, and lay down to sleep.

    From this time forth no one invited the cat to be godfather, but when winter had come and there was no longer anything to be found outside, the mouse thought of their stored food, and said, “Come cat, we will go to our pot of fat which we have stored up for ourselves. It will taste good now.”

    “Yes,” answered the cat. “You will enjoy it as much as you would enjoy sticking that dainty tongue of yours out of the window.”

    They set out on their way, but when they arrived, the pot of fat, to be sure, was still in its place, but it was empty. “Alas,” said the mouse, “now I see what has happened. Now it comes to light. You are a true friend. You ate everything when you were serving as a godfather. First top off, then half done, then …”

    “Be quiet!” cried the cat. “One more word, and I will eat you too.”

    “All gone” was already on the poor mouse’s lips. She had scarcely spoken it before the cat sprang on her, seized her, and swallowed her down. You see, that is the way of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *