- So, a reader emails with respect to the last post to say that the sentence from NY Times' columnist Michael Powell that I cited as being false is actually true. He pointed out that the milkshaking of A One Rocket by trainer Greg Martin did indeed become part of a wider-ranging federal investigation and indictment; and did also occur a decade ago. And also, part of the investigation involved big bets cashed on the horse...which I know is often referred to as "race fixing" or "rigging of bets." Though personally, I instead would define those terms as participants conspiring with each other to pre-determine a race's outcome, as in the superfecta scandal that rocked NY harness racing back in the 70s (which led to that bet being banned here for many years).
- By the way, and following up on the second part of that last post, drugs isn't the only way that horsemen can cheat. "Cheating" has become a euphemism for drug use, but there are surely other ways in which the betting public is deceived. Perhaps the most common one in my experience is when you see a horse running repeatedly on a surface, at a distance, and/or at a level that is clearly unsuitable for it; predictably, with little success. But then one day you see the horse entered for conditions that have suited it far better in the past.....sometimes a race or two after that good race has dropped off the running lines in the print edition of the Form. Then, we say that the trainer is "playing games"....that he/she is "trying"today, attempting to "cash a bet" or "make a score."
That's cheating as far as I'm concerned. If someone is running a horse in a race for a purpose other than trying to win, then one can usually say that the betting public is being deceived. In some cases the motive is apparent, and that betting public just needs to know better, such as in the case of, say, an Eclipse champion making its first start after a layoff in a race a few weeks before a big stakes it is aiming for. But there's no doubt that horses are at times entered in races for more devious purposes. And then of course there are the times when a horse "has a knee" and is dropped in class solely in the hope of getting it claimed.
However, in most of these cases (with exceptions regarding the latter scenario), we don't hear the kind of anger that is fueled by drug use. Don't hear people urging a boycott of tracks in which the stewards don't question trainers about why their horses are running in races in which they seem outmatched or unsuited, and reporting any pertinent information to the betting public (ha). Usually we shrug, shake our heads with a knowing smirk, think about what a cool, interesting, and fun game this is, and move on.
Now, I'm not equating those kinds of shenanigans with doping a horse. The act of inserting a hypodermic and injecting some foreign substance into a horse's vein crosses a red line. However, to those who claim that doping a horse is harmful to their health and well-being, I would argue that running horses in company or on surfaces that they clearly do not prefer can surely cause injuries and death as well, and is no less insensitive to the welfare of the animal. Additionally, I consider the matter of 'trainer intent' an element of a race which needs to be factored into my handicapping, and usually blame myself for missing it. But I don't expect to have to guess when a horse is juiced (however obvious it sometimes may seem based on the way a barn's horses have been over-performing).
And besides, the point isn't which form of cheating is the worst. It's the fact that horse racing is, always has been, and (hopefully!) always will be, a bit of a scoundrel's game. And to me, that was always part of the fun and the allure of the game....and it's surely part of its character, color, and history. I didn't start out my degenerate horseplayer career thinking that I was getting involved in a particularly honest pursuit. I started it standing on the apron at Roosevelt Raceway watching for signals we thought certain drivers might give when they were "going" (one I remember was when one of the Popfingers - Frank or William - would come back last when the horses started scoring after the post parade); or hanging around the windows where the big shots with the inside information would bet, trying to overhear some tips.
Again and as always, I'm certainly not saying that the industry shouldn't do their utmost to prevent
- Entries are in for Saturday's super Super Saturday program, and my first impression upon looking at the Jockey Club Gold Cup is this: based on the hype we're seeing about the three-year olds Orb and Palace Malice, any value to be found in this race is going to be on one of the older horses. Based solely on speed figures (especially with the TimeformUS numbers that I use), the two sophomores are going to have to improve quite a bit to beat horses like Cross Traffic, Flat Out, and perhaps even Alpha and Last Gunfighter. (The Beyers are closer, and rate Last Gunfighter slower than either three-year old.) If either of the three-year olds are going to improve enough to win, I think it clearly will Palace Malice, who, one day hopefully before he's retired, perhaps will be able to put together a couple of clean races and we'll find out just how good he is. As I've been saying, I don't think Orb will win another race this year, and will be all in against him.
Cross Traffic rather stands out here on the TimeformUS figs. While there may be distance questions as this son of Unbridled's Song out of a sprint-stakes winning Cure the Blues mare goes beyond a mile and an eighth the first time, I don't know that either Orb's Derby win aided by the pace meltdown and achieved with a final quarter of 26.07; nor Palace Malice's win at the freaky Belmont distance in a final half mile of 54.14, are particularly convincing distance answers either. Between Cross Traffic and the Belmont-loving, and defending Gold Cup champ, Flat Out, these three-year olds are going to have to run their eyeballs out just to have a shot here.