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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Of Press Coverage Incomplete. And Misleading (What else is new).

Corfu ($15) won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special on Sunday for Pletcher and the only real surprise about a Toddster juvenile coming off a front-running maiden win to take a graded stakes at Saratoga was the generous win price.  I'd been out and watched the race on replay and did a double/triple take when I saw the odds during the running.  Thought maybe I had the odds mixed up with the saddle-cloth numbers or something.  Because how could that have been?  He was the 5-2 morning line favorite off a maiden win at 1-2; impeccably bred (Malibu Moon out of a Forest Wildcat half-sister to the classy router Peace Rules), hailing from the Spa's perennial leading trainer, currently winning at a 35% clip that could raise suspicions if it were somebody not quite as well-dressed and groomed.

So, what happened?  Well, looking back after the fact, perhaps it shouldn't have been quite as surprising.  Maybe horseplayers were paying attention to their past performances instead of being wowed by the connections.  Corfu had graduated at five furlongs, was stretching out to 6 1/2, and was meeting rivals like favored Candy Dandy (5th as the even money favorite) and Wired Bryan, who he nosed out in a desperate drive of exhausted rivals, both of whom had won at six furlongs.  His last-out Beyer ranked only third in the field, and he was not amongst the top three selections in the Form's consensus box (the way I always used to measure odds against expectations in the old days; not sure how effective that is anymore).  BRIS had him even lower in the speed figure department; only 4th best.  So, given the fact that most of the field had also flashed early speed, maybe it's not too out of line that the bettors would gravitate towards Asmussen's colt, who had stalked and won at six furlongs.

But to that extent?  Since I missed the race, I don't know how the toteboard progressed; but I'd imagine that there was some feeding frenzy going on when bettors concluded that Corfu was dead on the board.  Still, the Pletcher factor is a commanding one at Saratoga, and one would think that the horse's human connections would at least mitigate, if not overwhelm, any doubts the betting crowd may have had.  The skeptics that contributed to the overlay (we can surely call it that in retrospect) must have been feeling OK when they saw Corfu set fractions of 21 3/5 and 44 flat, even though the main track seems to be favoring speed ever since it recovered from the slop of Friday.  And surely those who opted for second choice Wired Bryan figured they were in good shape as that one loomed in the stretch.  But Pletcher's colt hung on grimly even while slowing down drastically - 24 3/5 to the sixteenth pole, and nearly seven more seconds to stagger home.  (Despite the mere nose victory, he earned a TimeformUS speed figure of 97 as opposed to a 94 for Wired Bryan, since these figures take pace into account.)

What I think is strange is that almost none of the media coverage of the race (at least that I've seen) mentions the surprising odds at all.  I mean, this is a betting game, right?  I know it's a graded stakes, and that some try to elevate such races above the spectre of gambling.  But wasn't that a key part of the story here?  Isn't that what bettors were buzzing about before and after the race?  I can understand why stories in the mainstream press that actually covered the race, like the Times and the Post, the Daily News, and even upstate papers that cover stakes in more detail, like the Saratogian, might skip that bit of nuance.  But the fact that the odds were surprising wasn't acknowledged even in Bloodhorse, or in the Form.  (The only acknowledgment I've seen was by Mike MacAdam in the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.)

We heard Mike Mulvihill of FOX Sports speak at the Jockey Club Round Table about turning "casual viewers into 'everyday fans' by focusing not on the pageantry of the sport.....but on the intricacies of horsemanship and gambling."  I've seen widespread praise for those remarks; but here we have those very intricacies being ignored even by the racing press in the coverage of this race.  Having said all that, I don't want to make a huge deal of it; probably a small point in the scheme of things.  But I just find it weird that even the industry press covering a gambling game would ignore the gambling aspect when it's noteworthy, as it surely was in this case.  In fact, should Corfu ultimately join the ranks of long-forgotten Pletcher juvenile burnouts, the fact that he went off at such long odds will end up being the most memorable part of the race!

 - Speaking of the aforementioned annual exercise in hand-wringing and self-flaggelation known as the Jockey Club Round Table, I had to chuckle -- actually, it was Monday morning, and being the Monday morning grump that I am, it elicited only a smirk and head shake - when I saw the headline over Joe Drape's article about it in the Times.

Well, hold it right there.  We can all have our opinions on medication in racing and what should or should not be done about which ones.  But I don't think anyone can objectively say that the concerns over drugs in racing are still in the 'mounting' stage.  That's like saying 'As Concerns Over PED's in Baseball Mount.'  Or  'As Concerns Over Terrorist Attacks Mount.'  Or 'As Concerns Over An Obstructionist Republican House of Representatives Mount.'

We're long past that stage.  Would have been fair to say 'As Concerns Remain,' or 'Amidst Continuing Concerns...'   But by depicting the situation the way that it did, the Times is perpetuating a sense that the situation is still spiraling out of control.  In fact - and as the article notes later on - there has been progress in the form a long-awaited move towards uniformity of medication rules, the lack of which has long been cited as a main obstacle in establishing effective rules and enforcement.  
Eight mid-Atlantic states, including New York, have agreed to operate their racetracks under one set of rules restricting medications to treat illness and injury in racehorses to just 24. Those medications will be subject to strict limitations, and the laboratories conducting drug tests must be accredited under standards created by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which conducts medication and drug-testing research for the industry.

California, Kentucky, Illinois and Arkansas are expected to adopt those measures by the first quarter of 2014, ensuring that 85 percent of the money bet in America is at racetracks operating under stricter, uniform rules.  But 17 other states have not agreed to the new measures.  [NY Times]
But 17 other states have not agreed to the new measures.    Yeah, but, the new rules will cover 85% of money bet!   You just said so yourself, Joe!


Mitch said...

Nice job, Alan. The Times's agenda, whatever it is, has led to breathtakingly shoddy reporting on this issue - calling it "reporting" is even a reach. At this point, I feel like an idiot for even being surprised.

Anonymous said...

Alan - Terrific article. I was shocked at Corfu's odds as well. A Pletcher/Johnny V 2yo going off @ 6/1 at Saratoga is like manna from heaven. A Grade 2, no less! Enjoy your blog... Keep up the good work!

Figless said...

Candy Dandy opened short and stayed that way, for the record.

Since I loved Wired Bryan didn't matter to me but I did a double take at the time. And yes I was feeling more than OK at the top of the stretch.

Still cant believe Bryan didn't get by Corfu, thought he had the bob on the wire but apparently I was mistaken.