03/17/2014 1:48PM

Harness Racing: Bongiorno’s Freudian Slip


The hot topic from this past weekend was the removal of driver Joe Bongiorno from two horses on Saturday at the Meadowlands after he said on the in-house broadcast that he was instructed to race Shoobee’s Place and Code Word “conservatively” with an eye towards next week.

When I first heard the interview, I thought nothing of his comments other than I was glad Bongiorno was kind enough to inform me that I could give less consideration to both of those horses when contemplating my wagers. Now this is the kind of information that we need as handicappers—the truth.

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After finding out that the track officials pulled Bongiorno from the two horses in favor of Marcus Miller and Steve Smith, I was okay with the decision, but I wasn’t sure what the change accomplished. Were we to believe that the two new drivers would ignore owners’ instructions and drive aggressively?

The two horses, which finished fourth and eighth, were clearly flat on Saturday. If the Judges were looking to protect the public, wouldn’t scratching the horses have been the proper decision? The people who heard the comments knew that regardless of driver this might not be a good week to play those horses. But what about those that wagered early? What about the people who were watching without sound? What about the guy who went to the bathroom during the interview? Scratching the horse would have been the only true way to remove all questions from the situation.

One of the more mind-boggling aspects about the entire situation is that on paper both horses appeared to be in good spots. Both were morning line favorites and in fact, I picked both horses to win! Why would an owner forego a reasonable chance at winning $7,000 (half the purse of each race) for the unknown of possibly facing Foiled Again, Apprentice Hanover, Sweet Lou and others next week? Either horse would need to finish at least second to earn more in the following week.

Quite frankly, Bongiorno’s comments should be nothing shocking to any regular handicapper. I’ve written about it in my race analysis hundreds of times with comments like, “Is this horse looking ahead to next week?” or “He already made the final and might not be going all-out.” or “I’m expecting a conservative drive from the outside post.” Part of the game as a handicapper is figuring out which horses are “live” and which might be looking for better spots down the road. Though, I have to admit that it would have been difficult to peg these particular horses as bad plays.

We ask guys like Bongiorno, Yannick Gingras and Andy Miller to come on camera to talk about their drives, and then the first time they don’t pick their words properly we slap them on the wrist? Bongiorno’s only crime was perhaps lack of seasoning. If the 20-year-old up-and-comer would have gone on air and said, “Shoobee’s Place has been used hard on the lead lately and I’m going to try to get him a trip tonight. Code Word is only making his second start of the year and may need one more start under his belt,” would anyone be outraged? Absolutely not. But one thing is certain, if owners ask him to drive their horse a certain way and he consistently ignores those requests, he won’t be driving many horses. Though, it should be pointed out that Code Word is owned in part by Joe’s mom Barbara.

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Other than saying hello or shaking his hand, I don’t know Joe Bongiorno very well. What I do know is when I show up at the Meadowlands qualifiers 30-40 minutes before the first race, he is one of the few drivers actually on-hand checking out his horses and warming them up on the track. And while he might not yet be one of the best drivers in the country, the guy is typically aggressive on the track and puts horses in play when they are in winning spots.

Despite the fact that I was able to squeeze a 700-word column out of Bongiorno’s audio faux pas, to quote a line from the movie Naked Gun, “Nothing to see here.”


Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
Remember a few years ago before a breeder's cup race (flats) Jerry Bailey who was doing the color asked jock Johnny V how his horse felt, (one of the favorites), about 4 minutes before the race and Johnny said not good, something's not right. He tried to tell the track vet and no one would listen. The horse finished up the track and the stewards tried to blame the jock. Only in racing. Again, this should be public knowledge. How would someone feel betting a few hundred on this horse and not knowing the jock is saying she wasn't sound. The racing industry has to wake up; the truth is a good thing. Too many cute-pies.
Joel Weiner More than 1 year ago
Bongiorno told the truth and there is no way he should be in any trouble for doing that. He gave the public information that only insiders are usually privy to. Driving conservatively could mean that he was told to take back and look for a cover trip; it should not mean he is going to stiff his horses. The public should be entitled to this information if it is available. What I really find funny is that the Meadowlands replaced him with Marcus (4 /128) Miller and Steve (1/62) Smith like this was going to give these horses a better chance to win. Give me a break. Love harness racing but the game needs a complete overhaul. Why should the general public be attracted to something like this?
The Big B More than 1 year ago
The last thing you want to say to a disappointed newcomer to the track who just lost money on a bet is, "oh, everyone on the backside knew they weren't trying tonight, they were just tightening him up." Doesn't help when the track wants to keep it quiet yet knows it's happening too.
villaneu More than 1 year ago
The drivers parents tried to fix the race. ouch
Cyclops More than 1 year ago
Whenever someone brings up Bob Bongiorno the first thing I think of is his horse that died right after crossing the finish line at the Meadowlands years ago. Ill never forget it as I was at the finish line. Everyone was yelling criminal and animal cruelty.
Maryhand More than 1 year ago
I wonder who the parents bet ?---seems like a slam dunk lawsuit against the Meadowlands and criminal charges against these folks.
Jack H More than 1 year ago
what could this lawsuit possible be based on? How could a criminal charge be filed against a person who did not even race? Slam dunk against the track? For what? Suggest you watch judge judy maybe some legal knowledge will rub off on you.
Doug Kendrick More than 1 year ago
So a driver said he was asked to race “conservatively” with an eye towards next week? Then the judges took him off the horses in some lame attempt to protect the public? The only way to protect the public would be to ban the driver and owners. Over reaction? Maybe, but the only way betting works is if every horse can be considered "live". The sport is hard enough to handicap without trying to figure out who is and who isn't trying. How do we tell who's live? Look at the board? If that were the case one could never bet an overlay. I have more respect for the guy who goes flying out of the gate from the ten hole with an 80-1 shot, makes the top and then backs through the field than someone who drives the morning line favorite "conservatively" with an eye to next week. Having said that, this is the reason I would never bet an elimination race where the top 5 horses qualify for the final the following week. But at least in that case the bettor knows the driver may be conserving something for the following week and can choose to pass the race. In this case unless you are one of the owners, the driver, or friends with either you have no idea and can wind up burning a lot of money. My only question here is, having effectively told the driver to drive conservatively how are we to know if the owners, drivers or someone they know didn't load up on other horses in the race knowing their horse would be raced conservatively? Years ago my friend's horse was the favorite in the last race at Freehold. She was driven by a hall of famer who will remain nameless. She never moved off the rail and finished fourth and when said hall of famer got off the horse and handed the lines to the groom he was laughing and saying "nice training mile". I guess the more things change the more they remain the same.
grayposse More than 1 year ago
Nothing like Woodbine though. Where drivers invite drivers into the hole and open up a spot for them, no I won't keep you parked out c'mon in. I have seen too many races where they only race for the last 1/4 mile and the first 3/4's is a joke. A few years back Jamieson couldn't lose, they must have put the reigns on that cause all I see him do now is stiff horses left and right.
Alicia More than 1 year ago
Come on Feds---do your job ! Arrest warrants--crimes have been committed..
Art Brown More than 1 year ago
The kid told the public the truth yet there are those who are hammering him? I respect what the kid said and this only shows me that the races are fixed. That some people know which horses NOT to bet which makes it easier to place bets on the horses that will be in the money on trifecta and superfectas. If there are nine horses racing and 4 are not live then a 5 horse superfecta box is easy to do. Why do people think that the races aren't fixed. I knew a bettor for some of the drivers who placed bets at the garden state racetrack on meadowland races. He walked out the track some nights with anywhere from 20k to 50k. I knew him and his special cashier who told me this. The regulat Joe who places bets doesn't have a clue who the horses that will be in play for any given race yet it happens at every racetrack that we bet at. The owners and trainers know but Joe Blow doesn't and that's the game that the public doesn't understand. I wish there was a way to clean this sport up.
Jeff More than 1 year ago
When i travel to a foreign city for the first time,especially a city where i do not the language,I understand that I do not have the same info as a local has and will not get the best deal! When I take a taxi from the airport,the driver might take the long way.When I go to eat,there might be a better place at 1/2 price down the road.When I buy a train ticket,there might of been a better price if I bought my ticket in advance! Maybe these are not great examples,but i think that most casual horse players know when they make a bet that they are doing it somewhat handicapped.
Charles Williams More than 1 year ago
Art Brown you are one awesome guy for sharing your first hand experience. I've lived in Las Vegas and would weekly frequent race books. I have met some interesting guys mostly from the northeast. They would share similar stories like you did..There wouldn't involve as much money, but the point is the same. In harness I have routinely watch drivers drive too fast a pace and break horses or just set behind horses and then for the next 2-4 races after oen or more bad trips become live and avid mid to high odds part of wi-p-s and high exotic payouts. In Chicago I watched an ILL. bred that had run third in Sweden, finishing about 4 positions ahead of the great Mack Lobell, come back to Hawthorne and break at of course at 3/5 odds. I lost $75 of hard earned money and learned to limit how much I was willing to bet in harness races. THANKS so much for sharing your info..