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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, September 28, 2021 – We’ve not written about the New Jersey No-Whip rule because we didn’t think we needed to reiterate ad nauseum our position on doing what’s best for the Thoroughbred industry–in the long term.

While racing has done a much better job of it lately, this game is a what-have-you-done-for-me-today exercise. And neither did I want to get into a back and forth with horseplayers who somehow felt like they were being cheated out of something.

I have no problem with bettors who eschewed betting on Monmouth Park’s races because they felt as they weren’t getting enough bangs for their bucks, literally. But then isn’t racing, in its truest sense, about the horses? Shouldn’t hands and heels be enough?

Those who did wager developed their own handicapping methodology to deal with the issue. Some posited frontrunning speed had an edge because jockeys on ralliers couldn’t encourage their mounts to quicken without the use of a riding crop.

As if frontrunners couldn’t benefit from those same reminders.

But that wasn’t what was at issue. Horseplayers who speed horses faded or whose closers didn’t close only affected their horse in that race, that the same “compromising” rule wasn’t affecting the other horses in the race at the same time.

It’s the gambling business but losing bettors were–or would be–taking losing results very personally.

More than a reduced foal crop, rescheduled turf racing, smaller fields of inferior stock created by a highly competitive Mid-Atlantic racing environment, the ‘No Whip Rule’ likely was the reason for vastly lower betting handle compared to 2019’s pre-Covid meet.

There is little question that daily average handle of $3.1 million was alarming when compared to 2019’s $3.8 million, a decline of more than 17% since the New Jersey Racing Commission mandated the change prior to the start of the meet.

Along with Jersey Joe Bravo, it appears that players did stay away, especially the heavy hitters–as if racing with whips guaranteed the best horse would win. Although one could make a case that the best conditioned horse would have a real edge in whipless races.

Of course, there were other factors at play, too. Horseplayers naturally bet less at the outset of the whipless period to see if any winning trends emerged. And perhaps they never returned to their prior betting levels.

We watched a handful of races throughout the meet and assume, like many observers did, that at the end of the day it was horse racing and the best horse on the day won.

One glaring factor were that margins from first horse to last, on balance, appeared to be wider than they were pre-mandate. A cursory look at result charts seem to bear this out, though the observation is far from scientific.

Whether the ‘No Whip Rule’ will remain in effect in New Jersey may not be up to the state. The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act is scheduled to commence in July 2022.

If, as expected, uniform rules become the law of the horse racing land, a whip-limit rule would be in place nationwide, guessing something akin to the Kentucky or California rule, or perhaps the European standard which is even more restrictive.

Then horseplayers will have only the feds to blame, an easy and familiar target. Unless, of course, democracy is replaced by autocratic rule and some religious zealot given the power will outlaw horse racing altogether. Can’t happen here? Neither could JAN 6.

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4 Responses

  1. “We watched a handful of races throughout the meet and assume, like many observers did, that at the end of the day it was horse racing and the best horse on the day won.”

    Even if that were the case most of the time, MTH bettors were still denied the confidence that the horse they bet on in any given race would perform up to its potential if it previously responded to whip encouragement. I’m surprised that handle was down only 17%.

    One of the most thrilling races I witnessed this year was Mind Control’s victory over Silver State in the PARX Dirt Mile which was possible only because the former responded to John Velazquez’s left-hand whipping after being passed by his rival.

    It’s a shame PARX didn’t (or couldn’t) display video to the public that conclusively demonstrated whether or not Hot Rod Charlie fouled Midnight Bourbon.

    Saturday promises to be a great day for betting at BEL, SA, and perhaps CD as well.

    Good luck, everyone!

    1. I,

      That HRC/MB incident likely occurred in what I call the seam of the camera zone in which a pan or head-on view fails to reveal what specifically happened at one particular point on the racetrack. Empirically, it seems to happen more often on turf, usually inside another surface, then it does on dirt. Meanwhile, I think Prat went right up to that intimidation line as far as he could go. It’s a judgment call and I personally thought it was the correct one.

  2. Whip issue aside, the financing of horse racing in New Jersey should outrage every taxpayer in that state. A direct subsidy is provided from the general fund. Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing needs to shrink to a level that is in line with market demand. New Jersey is my candidate for where the shrinking should start.

    Massachusetts has done its part to shrink thoroughbred racing. My wife and I went for a walk on the track at Suffolk Downs a few weeks ago:
    HYM Investment Group, the real estate firm behind the 161-acre redevelopment of Suffolk Downs, announced Wednesday that it is opening up a mile-long loop each day for Boston-area residents to exercise, run, or walk their dogs.

    Beginning on Wednesday, “The Track at Suffolk Downs” will be open from dawn until dusk to the general public.

    “The idea is to try to open the site to the public to make it so that people can visit the site, participate in some of the activities there, and enjoy it — even before we’ve completed all of the new open space and all of the new buildings,” Tom O’Brien, the founding partner and managing director at HYM, said in an interview Wednesday.

    1. Money, money, money … money. I’m thinking: How about everyone pay their fair share of taxes so that all can enjoy the infrastructure America needs and the people get all they want out of life.

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