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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cheating Goes Beyond Drugs

 - 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).

So, I still think that the statement was deceptive - it wasn't NYRA that was indicted (though the helpful reader argues that it could be interpreted as an indictment of the organization running the show); it was a single incident (though the helpful reader certainly could have also have argued that it was the only incident that was actually caught, and was surely indicative of a more pervasive problem); and, as stated above, I don't really consider cashing a bet on a juiced horse to be bet rigging.  It's cashing a bet on a juiced horse.  But I'll have to retract the assertion that the statement was false and apologize to the writer....which I'm happy to do, as Powell does great work, as I said.  (He still got the part about the board members wrong.)

 - 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 cheating drug use.  But you could eliminate that tomorrow, and this game would still be one featuring shady characters doing their best to manipulate the odds to tilt them in their favor, at your expense.  And, given the nature of the beast, there ain't really anything anyone can do about it.  As far as I'm concerned, why for heaven's sake would they even want to?  If you want your gambling to be antiseptic and completely beyond reproach, then go sit in front of a slot machine for a few hours.

 - 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.


Figless said...

This Figless dinosaur has to point out that Palice Malice's Jim Dandy was 3 lengths faster than Cross Traffic's Whitney only six days later with not much change in weather that I remember. Traffic was noticeably tiring late that day, think his absolute limit is
9f with a close to perfect trip.

Pletcher appears to be using a rabbit here in Vitoria O and Alpha seems to have committed back to his front running ways, so should be enough pace to keep CT honest.

Flat Out will stay close enough to the pace to get the first jump and is obvious choice on the surface he loves, but I have a feeling Malice will run him down.

Last Gunfighter has a logical shot to clunk up for third and maybe add a bit of value.

Board will be interesting to watch, like you I am against Orb (finally) and hope he take money, just don't know how much "novice" money will be in this pool.

Figless said...

Agree with your premise that at no time in my wagering career did I believe I was gambling on a completely legit contest, and it was part of the appeal.

But I disagree with your comparison of running a horse in a bad spot with cheating by injecting a horse, two completely different scenarios.

There are many reason why a horse might be running in a non-perfect spot, and setting up a gambling score is way down on the list when you are paying $4000 per month to board a horse.

If you wait for he perfect race every time you will end up running your horse 3-4 times per year, unless you have a 6f sprinter on the dirt. And the only way to find out a horses optimal distance and level is by trial and error, it only becomes obvious well into a horse's career. There is much less of this than you believe, at least at the major tracks.

Figless said...

What, if anything, was the result of the A-1 Rocket investigation? Remember the trainer was ruled off for life but was anyone else punished?

El Angelo said...

Good call on Orb.

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