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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

IT AIN’T NO DRAG, GULFSTREAM’S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG

You would think the development was earth-shattering, something like backstretch workers, whose job of caring for animals literally defines the term essential, would be included at the end of the first wave of hospital workers and convalescents to receive Coronavirus vaccinations.

Or that out-of-competition testing had been developed that, once and for all, would rid the sport of performance enhancing drugs, the kind of PEDs that would instantly turn former assistants into future Hall of Fame finalists. But no.

The big news that got the austere Jockey Club and Television Games Network talent so excited this week is that races from Gulfstream Park would start on time.

Something finally was being done to end the scourge of post-dragging and betting handle would surge nationwide.

Post dragging started innocently enough, the result of the enormous success of Gulfstream’s Rainbow 6 Jackpot wager, hailed at the time to be racing’s response to America’s love of gambling, a thinking man’s answer to lotteries everywhere. Why should racing be left out of the life-changing bet market?

And it costs only one thin dime.

So before too long, when jackpots reached seven figures and on rare occasion eight, it became routine to give an extra four or five minutes to allow bettors to get down. The wager is a brain twisting event that often takes many dollars, not fractions thereof, to rope in.

Jackpot mania had taken hold and the creation of more trappy, life-changing money-sucks suddenly were all the rage, win the Pick Whatever and it only cost 50-Cents. Bet it early, bet it late and take advantage of generally lower rake compared to traditional vertical exotics. Spread those dollars out.

The bets are easy to promote, often disingenuously—“the payout was $5,000 and that was for 50-Cents,” we are told. The reality, of course, is that the bet caters to the deep-pocketed players with the wherewithal to buy the pool at the late touch of a computer keystroke, like whales swallowing guppies.

Guppies can take down big scores, too, but they would need to be both very smart handicappers and  very lucky bettors. But given limited capital to invest, those high five- and six-figure life-changing payouts require just the right combination of birthdays and anniversaries. A half-dollar and a dream, right?

Horizontal-wagering hysteria, fueled by a barrage of jackpot carryover promotions and ersatz guaranteed pools, appeared on racing television screens everywhere, both on and off track. There are a minimum of two per day, per track; three on 12-race cards or when multiple tracks hook up.

Given the above, the occasional 14-race weekend card, and a post drag for virtually race, not just the first leg of a huge jackpot sequence, Gulfstream had its first billion-dollar season, an astounding amount of money anywhere outside New York, California, or Kentucky.

The announcement that the post-drag had been eliminated was trumpeted everywhere, reaching far beyond the audience of a Jockey Club Press Release recipients. Simulcast bettors everywhere, including social media  race fans, heralded the good news, as did every track not named Gulfstream.

Could this be the first step to coordinated post times on a national level?

We’ve suggested for years that America should follow the European model and identify non-stakes races by post time. What would be more informative and helpful; the fourth race from Aqueduct or the 2:15? One’s generic, non-specific. The other is a brand.

America has followed Europe’s lead by scheduling more turf races, which is more forgiving that dirt and usually attracts larger fields making for an attractive betting product, a good thing. So is eliminating raceday medication, albeit slowly, a nod to resistance from horsemen’s groups.

The data collection company Equibase actually has a scheduling office to assist tracks in coordinating post times and also helping to resolve any conflicts that arise, dealing with unknowns such as starting gate incidents, inquiries, and the like.

Schedule coordination and readily recognizable post times surely would have an excellent chance to significantly increase handle. Now that would be something worth shouting about.

“AMERICA’S DAY AT THE RACES” HAD A GREAT 2020

Cigar Mile Day was a great way to celebrate the end of New York’s prime time race season. Sponsored by racing’s marketing arm America’s Best Racing and Claiborne Farm, the most consistent presentation of Thoroughbred racing gets high marks for a combination of information dissemination and production values.

In concentrating on the prestige afforded both Belmont meets, Saratoga, of course, and selected segments of Aqueduct’s Spring and Fall stands, those sessions combined with top flight Kentucky race meets and from selected event days at other major venues made for compelling racing television.

On balance, hosts and analysts did a good job explaining not only the basics but provided enough nuance to entertain everyday bettors and fans. It made the most of the opportunities afforded racing when the ravages of Covid-19 wreaked havoc with traditional major sports schedules and programming.

Despite short fields that exist everywhere, a byproduct of too many graded or listed stakes that fuels the engine of breeding commerce, it becomes apparent that small, well matched fields can still provide exciting watchable sport, even if the betting is far less appealing.

Aqueduct yesterday provided plenty of entertaining events that showcased good and promising performances in a number of divisions, intertwined with the kind of poignant stories that separate Thoroughbred racing from other sports. The interaction between animals and those who tend to them is what makes racing’s chemistry unique.

As for the X’s and O’s that took place between the fences, two stories won the day: the $5,000 two-year-old purchase Brooklyn Strong winning the Remsen Stakes over Ten for Ten, a $410,000 buy, with a resolute stretch run.

And justice was served, too, as the winner prevailed despite obvious herding tactics by Jose Ortiz on the runnerup.

There’s a little too much race riding these days in New York and someone, or some horse, is going to get hurt. I don’t care if the stewards call out the jockeys privately the next morning. This game needs transparency not as a courtesy but as a right for those who make it go: Horseplayers.

Sharp Starr was good, and very game, winning the Go for Wand but Nonna Madeleine was neither. This three-year-old Barry Schwartz homebred appears to have upside.

Not sure I’ve ever seen anything like what juvenile filly Malathaat accomplished winning the Demoiselle. After not making the early lead, she ran extremely spottily, Johnny Velazquez alternately coaxing and steadying her; starting and stopping, desperately trying to get her into some kind of rhythm.

Malathaat’s a big filly and had to be uncomfortable being down inside on a sloppy track than appeared to become more tiring as the day progressed. She got rolling into headstretch, angled outside, brushed a rival on her way outside from between horses and found her best stride, lengthening in the final sixteenth.

It was the kind of trip that would lose 99 of 100 races—and that assessment comes with the benefit of a doubt. What she did was extraordinary, remaining undefeated in three career outings.

Finally, the record will show that True Timber won the Cigar Mile in 1:36.49 by 5-1/2 lengths over a sealed, sloppy track.

I went on Twitter immediately afterwards and said “Kendrick and I have different jobs in this game and look at it from a different perspective. But the love and passion is the same—really happy for Kendrick Carmouche today; nice goin’ jock!”

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⚠ 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.

11 Responses

  1. John: May I join you in congratulating, Andy, Maggie, Richie and the entire NYRA crew in presenting a wonderful program throughout the Spring, Summer and Fall. I would also like to acknowledge that there would be no show if not for a couple of New York guys, named Pack and Pricci ( and others) who laid a great foundation with the daily Thoroughbred Action show, a couple of decades ago. I believe that the current Daily show was what Harvey always envisioned. While everyone is rightfully heaping praise on the NYRA broadcast team, lets not forget that it was Harvey’s vision that set the foundation for what we have now. I was already missing the show this afternoon, and lets hope for a safe, short winter until we see the light of Wood day in April.

  2. Loved all of your sentiments, Fram. Yes, it was Harvey who went to John Tatta, the capo de tutti capo of what then was known as Cablevision with an idea for a replay show. We did a pilot program and voila, it grew up to be NYRA’s “America’s Day at the Races.” Good of you to acknowledge that, thank you, the pleasure was ours.

    Actually, the late Cary Fotias and I pitched the idea of a pre-race handicapping show, with post race video analysis, based on roughly the same format as ADATR — not the failed horseplayers show that played to stereotypes with more sophisticated and bigger bettors, which inevitably was canceled.

      1. Mark,

        I remember that, think I watched it in Esposito’s. Well, now your face is old, just like mine. Just gave me an idea about “Out-Wells,” your old Newsday column. To be continued, at some point…

        Glad you checked in. I better leave now, before DeSantis has his goons come in and commandeer my computer.

        Meanwhile, was one of 6 million people who took part in a survey re Rebekah Jones, a scientist who was fired in May for not changing the data on Covid positives.

        As you wrote in your send-off, part of the reason you retired is that you didn’t believe racing cared enough to change vis a vis PEDs, etc. Well, you might as well give up on life itself.

        That survey I referenced above, 59% of respondents thought this police action was “necessary.”

        And so the year is 2020/1984.

  3. And, ICYMI, the Sun Sentinel did a front page expose on DeSantis on Sunday, front page above the fold. The timing of this harassment at gun point, as Jethro Gibbs would agree, was no coincidence…

  4. John,
    I think you are confusing me with Mark Berner. Just an ordinary racing fan not associated with the business, but still have the same amount of years you and Mark have on the planet.

  5. Mea culpa Mark. I made an assumption, which makes me the ass, as the saying goes. The “New Faces” reference is what led me to believe it was MB. And it just sounded like something he would say.

    References to “Out-Wells” notwithstanding, your point is taken.

  6. John: I’m not sure if you have had the chance to read Shug McGaughey’s comments, in the Blood Horse, about Saturday’s Cigar Mile, but I found them extremely disingenuous and totally beneath a Hall of Fame trainer. Besides being a Hall of Famer, Shug holds a position of immense trust in the world that is New York Thoroughbred racing. He stands upon the shoulders of fellow Hall members, such as Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Eddie Neloy, Bill Winfrey and Angel Penna, Sr, who have been given the privilege of training for the First Family of NY racing, to wit, The Phippses. Not only was Ogden the long -time President of the Jockey Club, he was an original founding member of the Greater NY Association, which became the NYRA. Whether or not racing would haver survived, in the 50s, Ogden Phipps is surely the main reason that it did. For Shug to denigrate the NYRA, with his cheap shot at the calendaring of the Cigar Mile, is like any person cutting off their nose to spite their face. He owes Marty Panza, Dave O’Rourke, and all of the countless backstretch people who kept racing going, a very thoughtful and unconditional apology.
    With all that being said, it was not Chad Brown’s place to call Shug out for his error. New York racing does not need two of the top trainers in the world acting like spoiled little children on Twitter. Both Chad and Shug have tremendously benefitted from the exalted status that New York racing holds in the Thoroughbred Racing Universe. They should both just apologize for their errors and give thanks that Ogden Phipps followed in his Mother’s footsteps ( Wheatley Stable) and made New York the capital of racing in the United States.

  7. OK Fram, maybe everyone needs to take a breath.

    Did not read Shug’s comments in Bloodhorse but did hear him say on NYRA TV that he preferred it a week earlier — and I heard it more as a throwaway line. He didn’t dwell on it but did find it curious. Inconvenienced by leaving for Florida a week later? Everyone should have those problems.

    As for Chad, agree that it was none of his business what a rival trainer said as long as it wasn’t disparaging to him. NYRA doesn’t need Chad Brown defending its policies.

    Actually, I thought later scheduling was smart. There were 15 stakes Thanksgiving weekend for four days, the first Derby Futures, and CD’s big Future Stars II. There was less competition the following Saturday, Claiming Crown notwithstanding.

  8. Watched the Demoiselle replay and agree the Curlin filly won on pure class alone. Did not seem too happy out there in the mud. For over one million dollars I guess she should be a good one, huh? Thanks for pointing race out as it was super impressive to see her win when it looked like just hitting the board was unlikely.

    1. Given the circumstances, as you explained C, you just don’t see juveniles overcoming what she did going that far on a sloppy surfaces while down inside.

      Literally, my mouth was agape when she started to lengthen stride in midstretch after all that. I’ll say again, wow!

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