Jon Stettin's Blog - AmWager

Jon Stettin's Blog

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  • Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

     

    January 31, 2019

    Things Do Happen

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I always get a laugh when I see someone make what seems to be an outrageous or bold claim or accusation on social media regarding horse racing, and some expert talking head dismisses it as preposterous. If history has taught us anything, it is things do happen, and often the worst is true. At times the reality is even worse than what we imagine. Add money, lots of it, into the equation and you have a scenario where nothing alleged is really that preposterous at all.

    Forgive the redundancy from previous articles, but if I were to ask you to believe that not that long ago people were betting pick 6’s after say four of the six races were run, and doing this on the Breeders’ Cup, you would probably have laughed at me. Can you imagine the expert industry talking heads response? I’d be dismissed as a crazy no doubt and put on the pay no mind list. They would be right about the crazy part, but I have never claimed sanity as a defense of anything. They would have been dead wrong about the pick 6 though, wouldn’t they?

    Some years back a good jockey friend of mine, who I was with up at Saratoga, rode a horse in the last race who went off at 30-1. He went to the lead and by about two lengths and held that until deep stretch. At that point the favorite at 8-5 changed leads and kicked in. He was being ridden by one of the leading riders. He nailed the longshot on the wire. A nose separated them.

    The next day was a Tuesday which was a dark day. The other rider came over to my friend who was barbecuing a steak on the grill. He said;
    “Why didn’t you tell me that horse was live yesterday? I could have got in trouble, and we all make money.” It seemed like half a joke and was laughed off as such. It likely was.

    Just last week a top Australian trainer who is a Melbourne Cup winner had their barn raided by law enforcement. The Melbourne Cup is one of the most famous and difficult races in the world to win. It has prestige on a par with a Kentucky Derby, and the same level of scrutiny. Darren Weir and two other “licensees” were taken into custody by the Victorian Police’s Sporting Intelligence Integrity Unit after four buzzers or batteries were found in the barn. A sporting intelligence integrity unit. Can you imagine if we had one of those in the states? Weir won the Melbourne Cup in 2015 with Prince of Penzance. Weir has two training locations, and both were raided. He was released and no charges have been filed yet. While the absolute rule may or may not apply to a licensee, in a criminal case possession would likely have to be established. Nevertheless, it would appear on the surface the batteries were present.

    If you asked industry insiders if they thought a Melbourne Cup winning outfit was using batteries, I’d wager most would say no way. Maybe they are right, and maybe they are wrong, but the question is not ridiculous at all, is it?

    I wonder how people in the industry would respond today if they had to live and work through the race fixing scandals of the ’70s. Pretty much the entire list of leading jockeys on the NYRA circuit was involved on one level or another even if it was just being subject to questioning. One rider, Mike Hole, committed suicide under what was considered questionable circumstances back then. Another rider was asked on the stand if he ever heard the expression “to hold or pull a horse?” He said simply, no, he never heard that and didn’t know what it meant. Con Errico in another scandal went to prison. In Europe, a top rider was actually put on trial for race fixing not long ago and was acquitted. Things happen. Questions are not crazy nor are those who ask them when money is at stake.

    Most of us know how difficult it is to detect some of the illegal performance-enhancing substances in professional sports. Athletes get caught in major mainstream sports with at least some degree of regularity. Our game is not mainstream. Nor does it have mainstream resources. Does this mean every 40% trainer is using “something?” Probably not. It also means asking those tough questions is far from unwarranted. Having some skepticism in many cases is not foolish. Pretending it is preposterous or the thought of a crazy is, well is just plain crazy. Things happen.

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    January 24, 2019

    The Morning Line

    By: Jonathan Stettin


    I think there are just some things related to playing the horses that come with time and experience. You can’t substitute anything for watching and learning the game by attending the races and studying the sport. There are no cliff notes or shortcuts. Does it mean you will win all the time? Of course not. Some players never win. Does it give you an edge over a novice or newcomer? Absolutely, if you’re an astute player and student.

    One of the things that have come to me over time is looking at a field and knowing two things almost off the bat. One is the likely or approximate post time odds. The other is the odds a horse should be, based on their likelihood of winning. It just comes to me after looking at the past performances and more times than not I’ll be spot on. Yes, I look at the morning line, but I don’t have to to get my feel for the probable odds.

    A true morning line is not indicative of the oddsmakers opinion of the horses and their chances. Not at all actually. It is reflective or at least should be of what they think the odds will be at post time. They are handicapping how we will bet more than the horses themselves. A lot of people think if an oddsmaker puts a horse at say 9-5, they must like that horse or think the horse has a good chance. That may or may not be the case. They may think the horse has no shot, but feel the public will bet the runner to 9-5. It is important to understand this when you look at a morning line.

    Most line makers use a formula. It goes something like this:
    Use a base of 100 and then add points to correspond with the win takeout, say 15%. Therefore, by adding 15 to a base of 100, we arrive at 115 points. Then, by designating an additional point per horse, the morning line will generally balance between 123 and 127 or something like that for fields consisting of 8 to 12 horses.

    Once a race is assigned a point value, the oddsmaker must now balance the field of horses to add up to the designated total or at least as close as a point or two.

    This is pretty much the formula that is used, or perhaps a close variation of it. If you like to make a fair odds line for yourself to spot overlays and underlays and bet accordingly, you probably use a similar formula. Personally, I don’t make a fair odds line. As I stated earlier when I study a race I know what I think the post time odds will be, and also what I think are fair odds on a horse based on my opinion of their chance of winning. I’m comfortable with that. I also don’t let it affect my betting as much as some might. I don’t bet against the horse I think will win regardless of price, and I don’t bet a horse I think won’t win just because they are long odds. That said if I think a 30-1 horse will win I will bet them the same as I would a 6-5 horse. I’ve singled long odds horses on expensive tickets. It’s just how I play. There is no value in a losing bet.

    The morning line has less of an impact today than it did maybe 20 years ago and prior to that. There are far more sharks in the water today. I think it has the most significant impact on payoffs in multi-race wagers. Those are bet without knowing the odds of the advance legs. Those are the races you can easily take advantage of bad morning lines. Once live race betting begins the sharks will balance the line more often than not.

    I don’t let odds dictate to me, so I surely would not let a morning line affect my play too much, or my opinion on a race at all. That works for me. It might not for you, and that’s fine. Whatever works for you is what matters.

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    January 17, 2019

    It Wasn't Broke

    By: Jonathan Stettin


     

    We have all heard the saying if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There was a time not really all that long ago when racing was not a broken sport, but somehow the industry tried to fix it, and that left us with what we have today.

    For those who have only been interested or exposed to the game for say the last 15 years or so, you really don’t know what you missed, and if you like the game today, you’d have probably loved it back a ways.

    When I first started writing Past the Wire, I made an effort to stay positive and focus on the ups. Always one to call it as I see it that has become increasingly challenging and at times just difficult.

    I’ve talked and written about many of the issues plaguing the Sport of Kings recently, and I won’t be making any shopping or laundry lists today. We all know the issues. Today I’ll touch on reporting and coverage and the erosion of horse racing journalism and media coverage. We have more coverage than ever thanks in part to social media and some dedicated networks, but do we have quality reporting and coverage? You tell me.

    The Kentucky Derby attracts as much media coverage as any horse race in the world. A few years back a top contender trained by a top trainer, Bob Baffert was in danger of scratching in the days leading up to the race. The horse, Dortmund, had a bout with Colic following a workout on April 25th. He overcame it and raced despite the setback. I’m sure he was good if Bob ran him and he, in fact, ran a credible third. That’s not the point. You’d be hard pressed to find any media coverage of this pretty significant development anywhere before the race. If you bet Dortmund you’d have to feel a bit slighted. After all, you read which way American Pharoah was facing when he got his morning bath until you were blue in the face. Everyone with a press credential had to tell you countless times what a long flowing, beautiful stride he had. However, there was not a peep about Dortmund almost scratching from a bout with colic. That wouldn’t have happened in the 70’s or 80’s and we are more advanced now, have more access and more coverage.

    99% of racing writers write about the same things with the same take as just about everyone else. Very few tackle the hardcore issues or address certain issues with candor and true journalism and reporting. Slaughter, sales, illegal drugs, and race fixing are off-limit topics for the most part, and the industry itself is complicit in that. Sponsorship, advertising, credentials, and access are all dangled as carrots to keep the reporting where the industry prefers it stays.

    Back to the Kentucky Derby. Do you really need to read more than one Derby contender list? The same horses, pretty close in order is on each of them. Occasionally, I’ll do one and when I do you’ll always find at least one outside the box horse not on anyone’s radar. That makes it interesting and fun.

    Now, I get there is only so much racing news on a daily basis. But all the publications regurgitating the same takes on the same topics all day long via email, social media and whatever other means they can is not helping to grow the game or keep those already engaged interested. Many in the game do not welcome the influx of so-called bloggers. I am not opposed hoping some more of them bring new perspectives and are not handcuffed from writing about the things it seems the industry doesn’t want any of us talking about.

    Playing ostrich by keeping one's head in the sand doesn’t fix anything or make it go away. If our most serious issues are brushed under the rug by our reporters how will the industry solve them? On their own? Take a look at the past performances on that and let me know how you’re betting.

    Of course, there are exceptions, but they are few. You can count on us to be one of the few. We’ll take you Past the Wire. Stay tuned.

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    January 11, 2019

    Those Who Know

    By: Jonathan Stettin


     

    Is a tip ever a tip at the racetrack? If you ask a hundred bettors, I think you might be surprised at the assortment of answers that you get. I’ll come back to that. Most of you who know me know I spent many years going to the racetrack every day, without missing a beat, first in New York, and then in Florida. I’m talking decades. I once broke up with a girlfriend, or I should say she broke up with me because I had to bail on her sister’s wedding. Yes, she was in the bridal party, and it was a big deal. That said her sister chose to get married on the first Saturday in May. I did not miss many days.

    For several seasons at the Gulfstream meet my Dad and I sat with a dear friend of ours Joe T., may they both rest in peace. My Dad would always make Joe laugh hysterically when he would ask us if we liked any of the horses we had running with Peter Walder. My Dad, also Joe, would say, “those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.” They would laugh together, and Joe T. would wave his finger and say, "You are right." Of course, Joe was never cold-shouldered out of any horse we liked, and I spent years chasing pick 6’s with him, and generally I don’t do partners.

    Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know. Interesting. Does anybody ever really know at the races. Sure, there are a number of times a year where I feel I know the outcome of a race, but there are intangibles, as A Raving Beauty showed early in the last Saratoga meet. You can know, but they still have to run the race.

    Once I claimed a horse named Am Flippy from of all people The Chief, Allen Jerkens. She had run a big number on the rags at two, and Peter and I grabbed her for $62,500. Obviously, we had some good expectations for her. She did not train as well as we hoped, but we were limited as to where to run her back. We used to win at a killer rate off the claim back then, and she would have taken money wherever we ran. With limited options, we ran back in an allowance race.

    I remember walking into the track that day and almost immediately being approached by a well-known race-tracker. The man asked me if I liked anything and I said not especially. He then said he had some good information on a horse. He said he knew the owner, and he was a big bettor who flew in from New York to bet and watch his horse run. I honestly had no interest, and frankly could care less. I do and did my own thing and go by only my opinion. Nonetheless, to be polite I asked who is the horse? Am Flippy he said. Yes, he gave me a tip on my own horse, and he didn’t even know it.

    Those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know. This guy obviously didn’t know but he absolutely said. Am Flippy didn’t win that race. She was one of the few horses we never did any good with. Claiming from The Chief, not such a good idea.

    One time in what seems like a lifetime ago, a well-known rider who is now a pretty well-known trainer, told my brother Joe DiMaio and I that he loved his horse at Belmont and was going to win this race the next day. The horse ran badly, and we didn’t even ask him, he volunteered the “info.” The next day when I saw him, I asked what happened, he looked at me with a degree of sincerity and disappointment in his face and said I should have read the form. What? Those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know.

    If you have spent a degree of time on the backside of the racetrack you learn fast it is different than the frontside. It is a world all its own. Generally speaking, trainers and riders (both exercise and jockeys) don’t like to share insight they may have into how horses are doing with just anyone. Bettors are often viewed as outsiders who don’t understand the backside, and there is really no upside for people on the backside to share what they may know about a horse. Often, they know of problems a horse may have that aren’t public knowledge and don’t appear in past performances. This information is good to have when you can get it, but you usually won’t.

    Trainers have a tendency to talk about their horses like people talk about their kids. They may like their horse, and know he is training excellently, but can they rate and rank the competition as objectively as a sharp handicapper?

    The most solid type of in the know information at the track, with the exception of knowing who will not win for one reason or another, is when a trainer cheats, and I don’t mean with illegal drugs, or doing anything illegal at all. I am referring to those scenarios where a trainer runs a horse worth 50K first time out for 20K knowing they will jog, and nobody will claim them. Sure, you can catch someone better in there, but for the tag as opposed to a Maiden Special Weight, you probably won’t. If you are fortunate to know about one of those, that would be a real “tip” or edge. Most of us likely won’t know until after the race when it becomes very visible.

    Sometimes a horse will overcome an issue that was hindering them, knowing can be an edge, but will you? Probably not but things even out in the long run, as the competition can always be tougher.

    Tips, or inside information, is not a prerequisite to success at the races. Can it help, maybe at times but remember, those who know don’t say, and those who say don’t know.



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    December 28, 2018

    Are You Talking To Me?

    By: Jonathan Stettin


     


    I have always felt if you can’t say something better yourself, then use a good quote. Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver comes to mind for this one. It’s a classic film, and the quote is “you talkin' to me.” It’s a great scene and line, and I could not do it justice here. That said I think we can put the quote to some good use and it definitely fits. At least for me.

    Right up front, I’ll say I am not going to call out anyone individually. No names. No networks or racetracks either. If you know who I am referring too that is great but no names.

    I can sort of, but not really, give some major networks a pass for their coverage of our classic races. Sure it is terrible for true players and Racetrackers, but at least there are some casual once a year people watching those broadcasts. During the course of the year, however, the only people tuned in watching horse racing channels are bettors or horseman. I have to ask, who do they think they are talking to? “Are you talking to me?”

    The other day on one of the racing networks the subject of the pick 6 came up and how some people prefer the $2 version as opposed to the 20 cent jackpot version. The analyst said, "well they could always play it for $2 if they prefer that." The other analyst agreed. Neither bothered to discuss the ramifications of that advice or solution or what is involved in it. Theoretically, you could do this, but the gripe is based more towards the jackpot format than the denomination although it is a factor. That part of it was ignored.

    Another day an analyst was discussing a carryover in a multi race wager. The pool had climbed obviously in increments to just over 700K. The analyst said the pool goes up to 700K in one flash. That’s a deceptive statement geared towards someone who has no clue what’s going on. “You talkin to me?” Well, we’re the ones watching and listening so who are you talking to? They then go on to state once the pool hit a cool million that for 50 cents you are playing for a life-changing million dollars. Come on, seriously. You probably have about the same chance of hitting power ball as you do of hitting the only ticket on a 50 cent play in a multi race wager with a large carryover. You can’t be talking to me so who are you talking to?

    For some reason, ADW’s and racetracks love to push and focus on multi race wagers. Pick 3’s 4’s and 5’s is all you hear. Very little about win, exactas, triples or superfectas. I guess they forgot those wagers generate more churn thus handle. All day long another multi race wager is starting. Are they talking to you?

    This was a classic also. Truly an all time social media racing moment. A high profile guy attacks a tout for selling their picks. He points out anyone who picks winners doesn’t sell picks. He blasts all who sell picks and identifies touts as ones who charge. Hey, it’s their opinion, and they are entitled to it. Shortly thereafter this same industry person plugs a tout and their picks. Interesting. It gets better. This same person then offers to sell their picks because they are that good and offers a money back guarantee if no positive ROI is reached by playing. Well, we know how this book ends. No positive ROI and guarantee canceled. Nonetheless, the tout basher is, last I heard, a full-blown tout. Who are they talking to?

    The other day an announcer called a $6,250 claimer who went out in 22,45 under pressure as not having gone that fast. What? "Are you talking to me?" Idiot, I singled the horse in a multi race wager, and I knew I was cooked turning for home, and he had opened about 5. Nailed of course. Not that fast.

    What I am trying to illustrate here is part of a bigger picture. There are so many more examples of our industry just disconnecting with their core customer, the gambler. People following racing coverage don’t want to be spoken too like they don’t have a clue by people who make it sound like they don’t have a clue, and I don’t know maybe some of them don’t, but some do. Those that do should act accordingly in my opinion as it would make the coverage all the better for who matters, their gambler customers.

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    December 27, 2018

    Success or Failure

    By: Jonathan Stettin


     

    The Pegasus and the unique purse structure it carries with it have only been around a few years. Thus far, I have been to all the runnings, and I intend to go again this year. The race has received some criticism about the depth of quality in the fields, and the buy-in slot system of the purse. The cost of attending has also come under criticism. While I think the current purse system may at some point have to change, overall I have to call the race and concept a success.

    Any big money race with a decent size field is good for the game. Racing is built around gambling and having to put up a nice chunk of cash to buy a slot in a race is a gamble on a whole different level for owner/investors. It allows for wheeling and dealing including sponsoring a horse and competing for the big prize. You can do this without actually having a horse of your own if you are willing to take a shot, buy a slot and then sell or share it with an owner who actually has a horse. Most who have tried this approach have lost some money thus far, but the race and concept are still in their very early stages or infancy.

    One of the many goals of the race was to keep some of the top horses around a tad longer. I think most in the sport are in favor of that. The timing of the race allows horses to compete and still hurry off to make the breeding season. It worked for California Chrome, Gun Runner, and appears it will for Accelerate as well. City of Light is also scheduled to run giving us two Breeders’ Cup winners competing against each other. I find that tough to knock.

    Despite the hefty purse the race never garnered much international interest. Being run on dirt in late January likely has a lot to do with that, but this year Mexican Triple Crown winner and champion Kukulcan is scheduled to run. The addition of a turf race to go with the dirt edition will be unveiled this year. If it continues, the Europeans and others will start looking at it as an option. Big money will bring big horses even with this unique structure. For the Stronach Group it is a win as long as it lasts, as they are hosting a major purse race and not footing the whole bill.

    Gulfstream is a beautiful venue. Unfortunately, it is just too small to host a Breeders’ Cup although it would be an ideal location. The high prices of the Pegasus have kept crowd size very comfortable so far. You can pretty much wager late and move comfortably around the facility taking in the horses without being too cramped. This is good but they do have to figure out a way to get the every day two dollar bettors in the door also. Maybe free entry vouchers or something to regulate Gulfstream attendees. That would be a nice and welcomed thank you.

    The Pegasus is the last race on the card laden with supporting stakes. It anchors the late pick 4,5, and of course the Rainbow Pick 6. Last year Gun Runner won as the favorite, but the multi-race wagers paid well. There will be a lot of great wagering opportunities on the card, and you can count on decent field sizes and generous pools.

    In the inaugural running Arrogate in the midst of his powerful string of races beat California Chrome so in only two years the race has quickly developed a little history. With two Breeders’ Cup winners squaring off with a Mexican champ thrown in we should have an interesting running again.

    Gulfstream is and has been a speed favoring racetrack. Because of that mile and an eighth horses can get the Pegasus distance of a mile and a quarter over it. That will help City of Light the Breeders’ Cup Mile winner against Classic winner Accelerate. He might not have as good a chance over some other racing strips.

    Remaining cognizant the whole purse system may change, thus far I have to call the Pegasus a win or success for the sport. I am looking forward to another strong running. I think we will see one.

    HIGH FIVE: Racing is finally going to digital tattooing. Better late than never. Luis Contreras a nice 1000 win milestone.

    LOW FIVE: It is the Holidays. Everyone gets a pass. I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

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    December 14, 2018

    The Feature Race

    Plus my take on the Horse of the Year debate and Santa Anita’s new wager

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    At the very least, on just about every weekend day of racing the “major” racetracks had a feature race. This was almost always a stake, often a graded stake, and was carded towards the end of the program. In New York, way back when, it was the seventh race of nine but later on moved to the eighth of nine, or customarily the next to last race. This gave the racing fans, and bettors alike, something to look forward to.

    Horse racing is a fantastic sport to view live. It is exciting, competitive and features both phenomenal equine and human athletes. The top horses and riders who competed at these high level meets developed strong followings and people came not only to wager but to see them compete.

    Along with a changing and evolving world, the Sport of Kings has changed. The history and traditions of the game are evaporating or being brushed aside. I’m all for change for the better. For the worse not so much.

    Today the feature races, for the most part, have been combined into what we now call super Saturdays. I was middle of the road on this concept as it developed. I was initially against moving the Metropolitan Mile from Memorial Day to Belmont Stakes Saturday. I’ll admit on the first Saturday they ran it that way I loved the card and thought I saw the light. I was wrong.

    While these super days are great when we run them, they leave a sour wake for days and even weeks to follow. The Sunday feature, often a stake, is now usually an optional claiming race if we are lucky. For example, last Sunday three major tracks ran the following feature races:

    Aqueduct, a starter allowance race for horses who previously ran for a claiming price of $16,000.

    Gulfstream Park- Claiming $16,000 and have never won three races.

    Los Alamitos- California breds which have never won three races other than maiden, claiming, or starter, or which have never won two races or a claiming price of $20,000.

    Obviously, racing secretaries have to get creative to fill races. Back in the day conditioned allowance races would fill without all these innovations to the condition book. Today we have to accept these newer types of races, but do we really have to cram the stakes into the big days and leave a void for up to weeks following? Is this the way to get people coming to the races, or have tracks folded their hands? Many may not mind the lack of a stake most days. However, I think history shows the interest and excitement they generate, and that spacing out as opposed to cramming it in looks more like a recipe for growth. The competition and athletes are our strengths, we need to show them off more not less, and stakes do that.

    So there is a horse of the year debate. I think the Eclipse awards have lost luster and significance due to some shall we say, weak voting. Nonetheless, people are talking and voicing their opinions. It comes down to Justify and Accelerate. I found it on the border of silly when Bob Baffert and John Sadler were interviewed about whom they thought deserved it. Seriously. Bob likes Justify, and John likes Accelerate. What a surprise. Did we really have to ask that?

    I am with Bob on this one. John Sadler brought out a great point in that Accelerate was good enough to get him his first Breeders’ Cup in over 40 tries, but that isn’t enough. Accelerate had a great year, a championship year for sure. I’m not arguing who I think would handle who on the racetrack. That’s a different discussion and will always be subjective. The Triple Crown is one of the toughest things in all sports to accomplish, not just the Sport of Kings but all of sports. Add doing so without racing at two, which broke a very old streak that goes back to Apollo, and you have to give the nod to Justify. Historically, there are so few Triple Crown winners for a very good reason. Sadler did a fantastic job and plotted a great course, and they executed beautifully. They just did it in a Triple Crown year. History is history. Sure Justify retired sooner than we would have liked. He still won the Triple Crown. It was but a few years back when all the talk was to change the sequence, it is too hard. We won’t see another one. It is hard indeed. Horse of the Year hard.

    Santa Anita has come up with a new Roulette wager. Kudos for trying but this sounds like a silly bet to me. Apparently, they will group horses into three color categories, red, black, and green. You bet a separate win pool on the color and thus the horses in that group, and if one of those wins so do you. We’ll see I guess.

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    December 10, 2018

    Nobody is Listening

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    We have all heard that old silly question about if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound? That is what the recently concluded Global Symposium on Racing reminds me of. Salud to Pat Cummings, Steve Byk, and some others for accurately pointing out some of the issues plaguing the Sport of Kings but all due respect given, identifying the problems has never been the issue. Dealing with and eradicating them has. I don’t see where having even a thousand symposiums will help if nobody is listening — nobody who calls any shots anyway.

    Several issues are hurting the game that can literally be fixed by post time today if we had the right shot callers. For example, how difficult is it to stagger post times between racetracks? It is not hard, I assure you but you need people who care enough about their customer to do something more than check the direct deposit of their paychecks. Unfortunately, we have way too many of those just galloping out to the finish not even knowing where the finish may be. Remember objects in the mirror may be closer than you think. Although I did not attend the symposium, I did follow what was discussed as best I could and also tried to gauge who was listening, and more importantly who was responding. It would appear nobody is listening.

    One of the obstacles not related to blatant mismanagement and a lack of caring about and knowing your customer is racetrack ownership and governing bodies. Racetracks are owned for the most part by different entities and operate in different states. This enables multiple jurisdictions and sets of laws and rules that govern the game. It is difficult to get people on the same page, especially when they have different goals and interests. Somehow all the racetracks must be brought under the same umbrella to see meaningful changes.

    Today, we have racetracks scrambling to posture themselves to the reality of having to find other revenue sources to survive. Slots or “racinos” are the low hanging fruit. Sports bettors are also a focus. Looking past that what do you think happens when tracks tap into those streams to the point where they support a diluted weakening product. Everyone has read that book and knows the ending.

    D. Wayne Lukas made a statement recently validating what many of us know. Far too many people in the game don’t know, or worse don’t even care who butters their bread. Wayne stated that racing is not fueled by gambling. That is just plain wrong. Without betting they would run for blue ribbons. How long do you think that would last?

    Racing has operated for years like they were the only game in town, and in some cases they were. Not so today. The gambler has many options. Many of those options are games of skill and not chance. Poker, blackjack, chess, backgammon, and others are as much, if not more, games of skill than horse racing and are played for big money with a far more equal and controlled playing field. There are many other options as well. Craps, roulette, slots, and of course sports to name a few. More and more bettors are literally being driven to these options by the very racetracks they have frequented. Shun your gambler customers enough they will go elsewhere.

    Look at it like this. The game cannot survive without the bettor, but the bettor can indeed survive and continue to bet without the game. It is simple really. Who needs who more?

    Wayne’s comment is consistent with what seems to be the thought process of most of the racetrack management, with a few welcome exceptions. Oaklawn Park despite their growing casino operation applauds the bettor and racing alike. Keeneland does it, and so do a select few other venues. The problem is more and more focus strictly on the off-track handle and other revenue sources and cringe at the thought the gambler is their core customer and driving force of the sport. Once, or rather, if these tracks are successful in transitioning to multiple option gambling houses, things will become much worse for both the horse and horseplayers.

    If you think the added revenue will go towards improving the game, I’d suggest looking at past performances. This is horse racing and you are a bettor so you will have to buy them.

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  • Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

     

    November 26, 2018

    Paradise Lost

    An end of the year look at the Sport of Kings from Past the Wire

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    As the end of the year approaches, you’d think racing fans and bettors would be focused on the positives we’ve seen on the racetrack the past 11 months. We’ve definitely had our share of performances that would be considered outstanding in any era. Enable takes the Arc and Breeders’ Cup Turf. Justify takes the coveted Triple Crown. Accelerate has a championship caliber older horse year. Monomoy Girl almost runs the table capped by a win verse older in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Obviously, the game can still produce. Maybe not on a Wednesday afternoon but all in all we have had some good racing.

    While some are appreciative and focused on these performances, the majority of fans, as reflected by my observations primarily on social media and when I go to the track and talk to people, is consumed with negativity. Most of it is well founded and unfortunately, it invades the space of the equine stars and achievements this game was built on.

    Let’s start with something I have been talking about and writing about for about for four years now. Stewards and their lack of accountability to bettors, owners, and trainers. Stewards make decisions that affect our money. We have no input in those decisions and they are made at times without even the courtesy of an explanation. Case in point this past weekend at Churchill Downs. We all saw the double disqualification resulting in a large carryover in the jackpot pick 6 wager. Right or wrong call is not the issue for me. That’s way too subjective and we will come back to that. The issue at least for me is twofold. First, it is not a consistent call with other similar occurrences. We have all seen horses stay up for more of a foul and come down for less of a foul. That’s a problem. Second, there is no clear-cut reasoning and explanation provided to the people whose bank accounts were affected. No accountability whatsoever. No review process. No appeal or at least true appeal process. Nothing. Just take it on the chin. That doesn’t work for me and it shouldn’t for you either.

    An underlying problem to these types of calls is perception, and we already have enough of a problem with that. We all know history repeats. If history has taught us anything it is where there can be corruption there likely will be corruption. Does anything corrupt more than money? I don’t know. Maybe sex. Maybe power. Perhaps something else, but money is on any worthwhile top ten list of corruption factors. There was a decent amount of money at stake based on that iffy call. The first two finishers both of whom would have triggered the pool being paid out were disqualified. The third finisher who was declared the official winner carried the pool over, which generated a whole new day of revenue fueled by jackpot chasing. Perception. This is why a clear transparent explanation immediately following the call was an absolute necessity. No ands, ifs, or buts. I have yet to see one of it was provided.

    Now I don’t believe, nor am I suggesting, the carryover came into play in this decision. I’d like to think that was no factor at all. However, we know anything is possible and if some years ago I told you people were betting pick 6’s after three or four races had been run even on days like the Breeders’ Cup you’d have probably called me crazy. If you care about your customer, which like it or not is the bettor, or gambler, provide them what you owe them. A clear, understandable transparent explanation of what you decided because it affects their money as much as your employers. You owe them that, every single one of them.

    The steward problem is ongoing with no real end in sight. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, which I think is a benefit and great concept, tried to bring some light on this issue. I think they missed the boat. I suspect, but admittedly have not confirmed, the majority of their feedback and “ideas” come from industry people and not necessarily bettors. Too many people in this game lose sight of who stops the horses from running for blue ribbons which would end the sport. Too many people forget the customer is the bettor. The gambler. The bettors and owners are the only two groups putting money in the game while everyone else takes it out. The owners have a small voice sporting an agenda which benefit them. The bettors have no voice. None. Most of the people who decide what they want, or what’s best for them probably don’t bet or are maybe two dollar bettors. A long-term recipe for failure.

    The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation proposes going from one system governing stewards decisions to another they think will make things easier, clearer and fairer. Respectfully, I disagree. Currently, the US and Canada use the category 2 system to adjudicate races. The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation suggests switching to category 1. Sounds like an old Chinese restaurant menu to me.

    Category 2, our current system:

    Rules provide that if the interferer is guilty of causing interference and such interference has affected the result of the race, then the interferer is placed behind the sufferer irrespective of whether the sufferer would have finished in front of the interferer had the incident(s) not occurred.

    Category 1 which they propose switching to:

    If in the opinion of the Staging Authority’s relevant judicial body, a horse or its rider causes interference and finishes in front of the horse interfered with but irrespective of the incident(s) the sufferer would not have finished ahead of the horse causing the interference, the judge’s placings will remain unaltered.

    While the proposed change would likely cut down on disqualifications it would not change perception when results are changed, and more importantly, it would not get rid of subjectivity amongst stewards, and that is where the problem lies most times. We can argue whether a horse would have finished better if not for an incident all day long. We can debate about a placing being affected forever. These talks have led nowhere and caused the current dissension. We can’t agree on what if’s. We can agree on what constitutes a foul and what doesn’t.

    There was a time in racing when a foul was a foul, and it resulted in a disqualification. Too many people started arguing but it didn’t affect the outcome, and that led to the subjective rules being implemented almost across the board. This put discretion into the hands of stewards with no accountability. It sounded great but doesn’t really work, does it? Today, herding out of the gate is practically allowed if not confined. Back before the subjective rules were put in place you came down if you fouled another horse out of the gate even if you won by 10. When the inquiry light went on, and you saw the head on you knew what was coming. Today, it is anyone’s guess and would remain anyone’s guess under the Foundations proposed change. Guess what, there was also way less herding back then.

    Basically, there are two solutions fair to bettors. One is to have a clearly defined set of rules for s racetracks that explain precisely what constitutes a foul. If you commit one, you are down. Simple as that. All fouls affect outcomes or have the potential too. It’s just too subjective to leave that in the hands of people who can’t agree and see the same thing differently. If you think Bayern didn’t knock the wind out of Shared Belief and that having your wind knocked out before immediately running a mile and a quarter didn’t impact the race…….never mind. Some things are better left unsaid.

    The other option which is used successfully in other jurisdictions is to harshly penalize the riders and connections with steep fines and suspensions and purse revocations but not alter the finish penalizing innocent bettors who got it right. If the fines and penalties are stiff enough fouls are indeed minimized and the opportunities for cheating are mitigated. Nothing, and I do mean nothing eliminates all cheating when money is at stake.

    From a humanitarian standpoint, aftercare and horse slaughter are the two most troublesome issues the industry faces — both equally problematic. We have made great strides in aftercare. We have rehoming efforts, second careers and adoption programs. All of these things mean we are moving in the right direction. The problem here is, as is in any animal rescue situation, there are just too many to save. We can never get them all, and there is never enough money or people to help every horse. This fuels slaughter. Most accept this as the natural order of things. I don’t. Not in our game. Remember this is the Sport of Kings or so we are called. The richest and most influential people in the world play this game predicated on yes gambling. Why should there be any money problem? We have owners spending millions on horses who may not be able to out run a Shetland Pony and gamblers betting thousands and even millions in some cases every year.

    I for one have no issue and am all for a piece of every dollar I wager, or anyone wagers going towards aftercare. I extend that sentiment to a piece of every dollar spent at the sales going towards aftercare. If we care more, it will cut into the horrendous slaughter numbers we don’t talk about at victory parties. We don’t talk about it, but most of us know that salespeople make commissions buying, selling and every which way they can. A piece of those dollars should go in the pot as well. While many of us love and revere these fine animals it is overdue the industry as a whole begins to.

    Slaughter is a deeper rooted and more complex problem. The injured horses and those whose only crime was not being fast or brave enough to compete have become a depended upon food source, which in turn is an ugly convenience for our industry. Never mind the greed and heartlessness of the kill pen operations, this is a real problem. It can only be addressed from within. We need strict regulations on breeding or should I say over-breeding and stricter regulations that are enforced when horses are retired. Owners must be held accountable for where their horses wind up, but the industry must also provide a road that is attainable to prevent these horses going to kill pens. Even humane euthanasia would be better than what we have, as much as that pains me to say but that’s not the answer. It comes down to properly funded programs regulated by the industry. Takeout has to do more than pay lofty salaries and put on the show. The show does NOT end after the last race.

    With the end of greyhound racing in Florida, people fear horse racing could be next. If that happens the industry has no one to blame but those who run it. Not PETA, not politicians, not the changing times. Just themselves. Change perception and clean up the yard or your neighbor's will, and they’ll just throw everything away.

    It is kind of comical when some media member writes how everything is great, "just look at the handle." That makes me chuckle. You hear every meet the handle broke the record, but you can fire a cannon in most tracks on a weekday and not hit a soul. Now I get most action comes from ADW’s and off-track, but we are a spectator sport. Racing is exciting to watch and exhilarating to watch live. Tracks used to be a fun place to go where you saw the same people for years. I don’t know where these handle figures come from, but they are on the internet so they must be accurate. Racetracks have to get people to come back out. Not all these new people they can’t find or even identify, the old people, their customers. The bettors. The gamblers. That’s where your bread is buttered, not by the fan who overpays for a ticket, parking space and cup of coffee once a year and maybe bets $20. They don’t matter in the long run. The bettor does. Take care of them with a seat, racing form, and a cup of coffee. They’ll repay you tenfold.

    I am against raceday medication — all of it. That said, I see the true benefits for horses who truly need therapeutic medications like Lasix. The problem becomes, do 98% of horses bleed and need Lasix? We have trainers saying, on the one hand, you can’t compete without it, and on the other hand it doesn’t enhance performance, mask any other drugs or speed up and clean out a horses metabolism. Which is it? If you really want to know, pick up a form and read the past performances. The answer is there. You can also look at the careers and longevity of horses who ran in New York prior to Lasix being allowed.

    Getting a horse on Lasix is as easy as telling your Vet hey he worked a little slower today, I think he might have bled a little. Done, he’s on Lasix. We ruin things for ourselves. Illegal drugs are a whole different and worse story. We penalize people like Bill Mott, and allow what we see to go on daily like it is not even happening. Remember that yard thing, if you let it get bad enough your neighbor decides to do it everything gets tossed. Including you.

    While we talk about attracting new fans and retaining ones we already have, we have front people for major circuits that have not been explained the concept of a thick skin while in a spotlighted position. They are fast to block people who simply disagree on social media, or even worse attack and condescend toward anyone who criticizes. That’s eroded to a threat of having people banned from racetracks we are trying to attract them to. Seriously, how is that ok? A prerequisite should be these front people have to be engaging towards people. They need to be easy to like. I can’t even watch without muting some track feeds anymore.

    So yes indeed the racing has been great on most of the big days. I don’t think we could ask for more there. The other days despite over breeding we have field shortages. We have tracks closing. We have more problems than solutions. Horses being abandoned and slaughtered. Drugs rampant. We have management totally disconnected from their core customers. But, everything is great. I read it on the internet.

    “You either understand, or you don’t understand.”

    HIGH FIVE: Tell me who deserves it.

    LOW FIVE: NYRA, why are you carding all these grass races now? Stronach Group. Holiday firings always get a low five. Timing is everything.

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  • Past the Wire     Tracking Tips Logo

     

    November 15, 2018

    Mirror, Mirror

    By: Jonathan Stettin



    I’ve said many times as students and fans of the Sport of Kings we have been quite fortunate the last decade or so. While the game has had a fair share of problems and then some, we have not lacked truly great racehorses. The accomplishments of some of these runners would be superlative in any era. That’s saying something in a game with a history like ours and a list of equine stars miles long.

    Who would have thought in a year where we had a Triple Crown winner there would be a debate amongst turf writers and racing’s social media ranks over Horse of the Year. What would normally be a foregone conclusion is now a debate due to the early retirement of Justify. That left the door open for Accelerate, and he came crashing through with a decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

    I’m not going to point on who does or doesn’t deserve the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year. Frankly, I think the Eclipse Awards are overrated and have lost some of the luster they had in the past. We can leave that subjective argument to those who have an interest in it or think it still means what it did in the past. California Chrome received a vote for Turf Horse a few years back. They lost me right there.

    Today, I’ll discuss what I feel was the most impressive and historically significant performance of the year. The credit belongs to horse, trainer and rider whom all came together and made some history.

    Not everyone knew Enable was less than 100% when she tried to win the Prix de Arc de Triomphe this year. She was going for a consecutive win in the event, against the boys, which is tough when you are on your game and nearly impossible if less than perfect. She was able to get it done due to a masterful training job by John Gosden, a masterful ride by Frankie Dettori, and the huge heart in her chest.

    While preparing for her repeat try in the Arc, Enable had a few minor setbacks which caused her to miss some training. When I learned she had to be turned around in her stall at Gosden’s yard so she couldn’t see the other horses train, as it made her mad, I thought this is my kind of racehorse and athlete. That’s heart. Gosden felt she was right enough to give a good account of herself, and she did more than that when she won.

    If you watch the replay of this year’s Arc, you will see Frankie had a smart hand in the win also. He sat motionless on the filly covered up most of the way. He angled her in the clear while still sitting chilly and then asked her for just enough of a three-furlong burst to get the deal sealed. She might not have won if he had done anything differently and the way things played out set her up perfectly for the Breeders’ Cup. Now she was fit, and far from spent. The ideal scenario.

    Her trip in the Breeders’ Cup Turf was less than perfect. She broke from the inside and had to dodge some traffic. She went wide to get clear turning for home and had to dig in from out there over a boggy course she did not care for. She again was game and talented enough to seal the deal and cap the elusive Arc – Breeders’ Cup Turf in the same year double. No small feat for a filly competing against the best turf males in the world.

    So while the masses debate Horse of the Year, I say when we say mirror, mirror on the wall who was the grandest of them all, the answer is clear. Enable.

    Enable likely won’t be a Horse of the Year candidate in the Eclipse voting off the one North American race, but her mark on racing history will remain just the same. She is a great one. Indeed.

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