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February 8, 2019

First Things First

By: Jonathan Stettin


Following an article released by the newly formed Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, I found myself engaged in a conversation on social media with some fellow racing people. While I do not always agree with the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, I do support them and appreciate their efforts.

The article that prompted the conversation was about improving and growing the sport, keeping up with the recent sports wagering legislation by embracing fixed odds wagering amongst other things. Most would agree it is probably a good idea for our industry to stay ahead of this curve.

The Thoroughbred Idea Foundation also promotes lowering take out, reducing the cost of handicapping data and embracing technology. All good ideas any horseplayer would welcome, myself included. Despite that, I see it as more of a chicken or the egg scenario, and frankly I think the answer is obvious.

I have written several articles about the disconnect between people who run racing and those who actually wager on it, their customers. I have written about embracing fixed odds wagering and exchange wagering well before sports wagering was for the most part legalized. All of this ties into many of us wanting to improve and grow the game, or maybe more accurately restore it to when it was the most popular spectator sport and truly the Sport of Kings.

It is my experience and opinion the perception of horse racing amongst those who play it, and even those who don’t is that the playing field is not level. There is a good reason for this. As much as I agree with all the good points to improve, restore, and grow the game, first things first. Level the field. Get rid of the drugs, cheating, and take care of the horses who can no longer compete or who never could or we continue down the steep hill. I see no way around that. Racing execs are satisfied to remain in their respective bubbles without working with other venues, jurisdictions or groups attempting to bring uniformity. To have a level field with minimal cheating, as it can never be eradicated, you need cooperation and uniformity.

During the aforementioned conversation some interesting points were brought up, but to my surprise eliminating cheating was not the number 1 across the board priority. Interestingly, simultaneous to this conversation Jason Servis won the second race at Gulfstream Park’s Championship meet with an off the claim runner who found some new speed to annihilate a field including one horse who had whipped him twice before. The Servis horse was odds on. As the conversation continued Jorge Navarro won the third race at the very same meet with a barb change to him for the first time. This horse also went wire to wire at odds on. Maybe they were both just the best horse, but perception is everything.

Also at the same time you can rest assured there were many ex racehorses, and horses who were never fast enough to compete awaiting horrendous fates at kill pens and slaughterhouses. In a game played by billionaires, multi-millionaires, millionaires, comfortable people, working-class people, struggling people and brokesters you’d think we’d want and insist on a fair game, level playing field and take care of our own. We don’t.

In reality, whatever we do to try and improve the game will not restore it or grow it unless we minimize cheating. Cheating is killing the sport on many levels.

It increases injuries and breakdowns thus sending more horses to slaughter and stressing the rescue organizations.

It decreases handle by driving bettors away and leaving a sour taste in their mouths.

It forces gamblers to seek other options.

It drives both small and honest barns out of business.

It allows for super trainers and barns that attract owners who will feed them horses and starve honest outfits.

It kills owners who employ honest trainers who do not cheat and robs them of purse opportunities.

I can go on and on but if you don’t get it by now, nothing I say is going to change that.

I can’t prove or accuse any trainer of cheating but I know plenty are and if you are a true student and lover of this game so do you. Cheating is not only done with illegal drugs, but also with the misuse, overuse, and not used as intended with legal drugs. There are many ways to push that envelope. Much less to get caught under our current systems. A week or so ago a top Australian trainer was caught with batteries in his barn used for shocking horses to run faster. Don’t all these other improvements regarding take out, technology, wagering options, free forms and programs, staggering post times take a serious back seat to the hardcore issues plaguing what once was the top spectator sport in the land?  

Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants to grow the game, but nobody wants to step up and handle first things first.