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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 19, 2022 – There was so much going on all week–mostly about Royal Ascot and early-morning wagering–that it can only be covered by a series of hot takes on a myriad of subjects.

MUST-SEE TV: Like most horseplayers, I can nit-pick on TVG all day long, even though I believe that I understand more about TV production than most and generally more forgiving as a consequence.

I guess the most off-putting about network viewing is the self-congratulatory, bow-scraping nature of industry with regard to itself. As part of the coverage, there should be fair criticism. Trainers and jockeys are human. As such, life turf writers, they make mistakes.

Calling them out is not negativity. They can be teachable moments. Not every trainer does a great job; not every winning ride is brilliant.

With respect to this past week’s Royal Ascot’s coverage, I can’t begin imagine how difficult it must be to do a remote from a venue such as Ascot, including body-clock travel woes.

Scott Hazelton, Nick Luck and Jessica Hammond did terrific work, Hazelton in particular. His presence, no matter how often he appears on camera, sets a good tone for the broadcast, one he maintains throughout.

The logistics must be a something of a nightmare, yet the team never seemed to lose its stride. Their exchanges helped the U.S. audience understand the nuances of European racing. The change was most welcome.

MUST-SEE RACING: Difficult to know which was better; the spectacular achievements of the horses or the human connections involved.

And so milestones on various days of the meet: 60 Royal wins for John Gosden; 80 for Aidan O’Brien, and each added victories after that. O’Brien is one winner shy of Sir Michael Stoute all-time Royal record.

The riding was superb, even as Frankie and Irad had such tough weeks. Ryan Moore’s seven wins gave him his ninth Royal Ascot title. William Buick was terrific with five heads-up rides. For us, Daniel Tudhope (4) and James McDonald (3) were revelations.

On the equine side, undefeated champion Baaeed just might be the world’s best racehorse. He certainly is its best miler and currently is riding a four-Group-1 win streak.

The two most outstanding performances on our view came sprinting. Undefeated Inspiral, who got Frankie off the duck, is freakishly talented. So is Aussie sprinter Nature Strip. Top class margin victories never come easily over there, but not for, literally, these two world beaters.

The most enjoyable, however, was seeing Holloway Boy simultaneously break race and stakes maiden on debut! He came from last of 13. Tudhope rode him as if he were 4-5, not 40-1. Despite the 1-1/4 length margin, he won impressively with energy in reserve. Remarkable effort, really…

U.S. DOES IT BETTER: When it comes to adjudicating fouls, American rules regarding demotions, despite their inconsistent shortcomings, make sense. And on balance are much more fair-minded.

It is understandable that many American punters don’t like it when much-the-best winners are disqualified. I believe, however, that horses should not be advantaged if their actions unjustly cost rivals a placing.

Find a replay of the Norfolk Stakes won by the outsider The Ridler. Decide for yourself whether or not he should have been disqualified for interference. And the Norfolk is a Breeders’ Cup win-and-in qualifier which made the decision particularly unfair.

Rider Paul Hanagan allowed his mount to veer in, conservatively about six paths, and never once tried to correct his mount in the slightest.

In doing so, Hanagan completely eliminated Brave Nation, bumping and turning him sideways, and it is extremely likely that he cost strong-rally Crispy Cat second money—never mind what it cost players involved in any and all betting pools.

Adding insult to injustice, the Ascot judges gave Hanagan 10 days for careless riding when on the day before they sanctioned Ortiz Jr. five days for interfering with as many as five rivals soon after leaving the starting gate.

The surmise is that they overcompensated after having second thoughts about their inactions?

BRITAIN DOES IT BETTER: First is the use of handicap races. In America, tracks and players alike lament the existence of short fields. One step to counter that would be the re-introduction of handicap racing.

Weight matters, old-schoolers knowing that a) “it can stop a freight train, and b) it brings horses of disparate talented and condition together.

And this should involve more than the stakes classes, involving simply a return to the starter handicap formats of the past, meaningful assignments that level playing fields and create potential for value.

For the kind of purses that horsemen race for today, they need to take a haircut on this one. Like Mick says, you can’t always get what you want, but you can give racing in this era what it badly needs.

Secondly, show pools in the U.S. are virtually dormant. It’s time to introduce the Omni bet to America, for may reasons. No worries about getting split in exactas, as first and third pays as much as first and second. Bettors can still optimize winnings in the exacta pool.

Even finishing first is unnecessary. If two horses finish anywhere in the top three, you cash the Omni bet. Of course, the payouts are smaller, but it keeps players liquid and makes for useful saver wagers.

BUILD BETTER FOREIGN PPs: It’s appreciated that many ADWs provide free foreign past performances, courtesy of Equibase. But then one gets what it pays for—betting numbers without post positions!

This makes live race watching extremely difficult, especially in fields with as many as 30 horses–which often occurs in handicaps!

I remember, but won’t swear, that foreign PPs back in the day included starting slips in smaller type in parenthesis below the program numbers, e.g. (P.P. 7).

Equipment changes, including medication should be consistently included at the bottom of race PPs, as is commonly done in track programs, not on a separate page at the end.

Equibase sells products, and that’s fine. But if it’s sincere about promoting fan interest, better brand recognition, and increase handle, for the good of all, they must do a more conscientious job.

This game is hard enough. How about helping the players, treating both loyal and new fans with greater respect?

Coming Tuesday, Haskell Preview Day review and other weekend highlights

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