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Friday, September 23, 2005

Weight A Minute!

- Rightly or wrongly, I have to say that weight is a virtual zero factor for me in handicapping a race. I'm rarely even conscious of what the weights are. Even in handicaps, for which at one time the weight assignments for horses like Forego, who carried at least 130 pounds 20 times in his last three seasons and as much as 138, were back page news, you rarely see any weight spreads that seem significant anymore. If anyone tried to give a Bobby Frankel horse 130 pounds nowadays, he’d stamp his feet and threaten to export his stable to Dubai.

So part of me agrees with Jessica Chapel at Railbird when she writes skeptically of the indictments in the NYRA weight-gate affair, wondering if the attorney general's office isn't being just a bit overzealous in its prosecution of this case. She makes her point with some excellent blogger investigative work showing the results of a sampling of the races in which the accused jockeys allegedly, in the words of the indictment, “deprived bettors of hundreds of thousands of dollars by misrepresenting the jockey's weights and thereby tricked said bettors into betting on said horses." If you look at the odds on the horses in Jessica’s said sample, you’ll see that not many people were tricked, at least on these runners.

However, these accusations go far beyond the everyday insignificant 2 or 3 pound overweights that I think we all assumed this would involve when the NYRA offices were raided last winter. In fact, they border on the unbelievable – jockeys riding as much as fifteen pounds overweight?? A couple of writers from upstate New York weigh in on that (sorry) this morning. Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times-Union:

Most riders try to maintain weight of 112 pounds. Fifteen more would compute to an increase of 13 percent. I have to believe someone would notice if Jerry Bailey or Gary Stevens or John Velazquez were walking about with a beer gut…. Fifteen pounds seems absurd. Seven pounds is even too much for me to believe.

"It just sounds absolutely ridiculous to me," said [Ron] Turcotte, who rode Secretariat. "That's a lot of weight. You could tell the difference if a rider put on that much weight. You could see it."
And Nick Kling of the Troy Record pounds his point (I can't help myself) when he writes:
In Thoroughbred racing terms, that is the equivalent of loading the kitchen sink on the back of any horse ridden by the accused jockeys. Only the most fanatic believers in weight would suggest that a couple of pounds can influence the outcome of a race among 1,100-pound Thoroughbreds. Yet just as obvious is the notion that seven to 15 pounds can do just that. Change the weight spread between Affirmed and Alydar by seven to 15 pounds and we may be honoring the latter as the 1978 Triple Crown winner.
As for the accused riders, this could be extremely serious business if the allegations that they "tipped" the indicted racing officials that allegedly falsified their weights are proven to be true. I would think they could face harsh suspensions. One wonders why these riders were not indicted themselves – NYRA CEO Charles Hayward finds that “peculiar” as well. [DRF] It seems like the equivalent, if true, of a cop being arrested for accepting a bribe and the briber walking away free. And if the story catches on with the mainstream press, it could find its way to a Letterman Top Ten list - Top Ten Ways for Fat Jockeys to Fix Races (#1 – Take their mounts for a pre-race meal at McDonalds). Anytime name jockeys are involved in anything dishonest, all the public will hear is “fixed races.” It’s a direct blow to the integrity of the game, and that’s really serious stuff.

- If Jessica or anyone else has the time and means for some more investigative work, I’d like to see research into whether any of these guys who are being accused of riding 15, or even 10 pounds over rode in any other jurisdictions around the time of the races cited in the indictment. If they were really that much overweight, which, again, seems extremely difficult to believe (though the Times’ Bill Finley says they have it on surveillance tape), I would have to assume that you wouldn’t find any of them having ridden outside of New York during that time. If you do, it either casts further doubt on the government’s case, or it means that overweight jockeys were getting the wink and the nod at tracks other than those run by NYRA, and that would be the roots of a burgeoning national scandal.

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