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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Indulto

Los ANGELES, May 23, 2021–Is lack of vision what we can’t see, what we won’t see, or what we’re not allowed to see?

These questions arose as I perused the past performances on Preakness morning. I enjoy this exercise–studying running lines, a process I sorely missed for several months while awaiting pandemic-delayed cataract surgery.

Even more disconcerting was my inability to read the articles at Horse Race Insider, their comments, to respond even with a back-lit keyboard.

The Windows “Magnifier” and “Narrator” utilities were somewhat helpful though limited. The time for voice recognition software installation is while one can still see.

The former allowed me to at least navigate the browser but even the enlarged text was still blurry and bounced with every mouse movement required to get to the end of a line and the beginning of the next one.

The latter allowed me to at least listen to John Pricci’s blogs, but inevitably it choked on the comments; starting to repeat them after the first few. Even selecting a line at a time failed in that section.

So I experienced tremendous joy and relief when today’s optical technology, applied by my talented and caring ophthalmologist, who succeeded in restoring my vision just in time to overlook Rombauer’s ability.

Medina Spirit also escaped my notice on Derby Day when I attempted to find value among contenders using the BRIS statistical rankings. I regard the result as a moral victory since one of my Trifecta combinations included the 2-3-4 finishers.

It has occurred to me that with the overwhelming majority of wagers now being recorded by ADWs, the practicality of withholding payoffs on Triple-Crown events and preps until the results have been either validated or overturned by post-race drug tests, has arrived.

Still, there is a Baffert-less Belmont to look forward to and an opportunity to recoup my losses.

For what it’s worth, I believe the ointment that caused Medina Spirit’s disqualification had no direct effect on his performance, but I have no doubt that something else did.

I don’t know whether Bob Baffert’s “magic potion” is administered chemically, behaviorally, electronically, orally, anally, audibly, visually, or spiritually.

But coincidence doesn’t explain why so many of his trainees run their eyeballs out in the most lucrative events, and the seven sudden equine deaths that occurred in his barn at Hollywood Park for which he was never sanctioned.

Despite all the fame and fortune he has amassed, the records he set, and the heart attack he survived, it appears that Baffert simply couldn’t relinquish the spotlight and the attention it attracted.

While the cause of such test results were often previously dismissed as contamination, jokes began to surface about carelessness trumping competence when hiring new Baffert crew members.

Repeated disqualifications of his Derby Prep winners at Oaklawn Park, this year and last, set the stage for greasing Baffert’s departure prior to implementation of the new Horse Racing Integrity Act (HISA).

The positive for 21 picograms of betamethasone in Derby winning Medina Spirit earned him a ban in Kentucky and New York. It remains to be seen whether how long those bans will continue and if California will follow suit.

The impact of the “big lie” on Baffert’s training prowess, or racing as a “sport,” falls short of denials by Trump supporters about the 2020 Presidential election and “Insurrection,” but it does place the credibility of California’s racing commissioners on the line. Indeed, are there other “secrets” to be revealed?

Not many blinked when trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro were exposed but Baffert’s profile is too high to ignore. He is considered by many to be the best trainer of Thoroughbreds in America.

Even if he never saddled another runner, he would be much in demand as a media commentator. When that happens, Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss may have to make room.

“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”

The New York Gaming Commission’s three-year ban license revocation trainer levied on Linda Rice revealed yet another example of how creative minds at the racetrack continue to game the system for their benefit; even without abusing a racehorse.

Rhetorically, was Rick Dutrow ever accused of corrupting track employees while failing to observe the rules of racing to the satisfaction of New York State regulators?

Opportunities for mischief aren’t limited to trainers, owners, jockeys, and backstretch workers. Shenanigans at the starting gate, stewards’ competency, testing shed and boardroom controversies have been always been subject to suspicion but seldom if ever proven.

Among Rice’s alleged misdeeds involved gifts to the starting gate crew which certainly renewed speculation in that area. At the retail level, what horseplayer has not experienced the slow-pay teller, or one who gave change for a ten rather than the twenty? The novelty of Rice’s alleged crime was that customers were not targeted directly.

With questionable leadership and oversight, from the Governor on down, New York racing is not a model for virtue. Nor is racing in California, Kentucky, Florida, and elsewhere in the U.S. Otherwise there would be no need for the HISA.

Unfortunately, no substantive steps have been taken to address one of racing’s primary issues; rebating which ensures that pari-mutuel takeout rates will remain higher than they should be.

Insightful observations have been presented recently by Thoroughbred Idea Foundation’s Patrick Cummings in his treatment on Wagering Insecurity. Some highlights:

“Simply put, the competitions within racing should be fair and honest...

“Bettors should expect that jockeys give horses their best chance to win, that betting information is accurate and that wagering systems are secure and do not advantage some customers over others...

How many individual customers are wagering? How many new customers have been created, and how many are still betting? How many customers are betting substantial amounts over $10 million, $50 million, or over $100 million annually?

What is the effective takeout for customers of different ADWs? How much are purses earning from different customer segments?

Without centralized reporting of these figures made available to all parties in the sport, it is almost impossible to know.”

Re-directing money away from pari-mutuel payoffs and purses in order to refund a significant percentage of huge wagers -– win or lose — rewards only those able and willing to bet qualifying amounts. This tiny minority can expect to stay ahead of the game, while the majority of horseplayers are hard-pressed to even stay in it.

The lack of a level playing field created by rebates sets the tone that encourages edge-taking wherever and whenever possible. Perhaps IRS reclassification of rebates as gambling winnings would be a start in the right direction.

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5 Responses

  1. I, Don’t know much about tax law requirements but since winnings are taxed against losses, rebates look more than eligible to be taxed since it doesn’t matter if their bets win or lose; rebaters earn money from their handle.

    What entitles them to that courtesy when 95% of the players, or thereabouts, pay full freight? What happens if rebates are rescinded and takeout drops to, say, a reasonable 12% across the board?

    ADWs and tracks would take a hit for a few years, eventually get even, then get well from the increased churn. Call a takeout reduction a universal rebate for ALL!

    When is the industry going to invest in the majority of its customers?

    1. JP,
      I’ve read that rebates are treated as discounts similar to what auto parts vendors offer, but then I don’t personally hang out with any whales willing to share their 1099s from their ADWs. LOL

      Your “ignite my hair” expression perfectly fits my own reaction to this perversion of the Parimutuel system since I first learned of it from Crist’s classic “Clownfish” Column and Thorograph’s recruiting campaign.

      I find it interesting that people generally agree with me in private discussions, but seldom in public ones.

      I would remind the latter that “There’s no overlays for he who overpays.”

  2. Good recall, remember that Crist piece. “No overlays for overpays…” I like that; fully intend to steal it.

  3. Very nice write up – as someone who has a blind family member, I’m always curious to read about the online experiences of visually impaired people.

    1. Thanks for responding, Doc.

      No one is prepared to lose that which they take for granted. I just wanted to share with my fellow aging HRI faithful the experience of no longer being able to rely on one’s computer to engage the rest of the world, as well as to pursue one’s passion for this game.

      If anyone out there is currently using voice-recognition/content reader software from any source, I’d be interested in their evaluation of it.

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