08/22/2007 3:23PM

Nor Dark of Night


Letters, we get letters. During the first four weeks of this ongoing experiment, y'all have been kind enough to post 573 comments to this blog. They've been overwhelmingly smart and funny and informative, and one of things that has made this more fun than the static twice-a-week Saratoga Journal of old, and I hope everyone's reading them.

Beyond that, I admit I'm still at sea about how I'm supposed to be handling them and I hope no one's been offended by my not answering more of them. Let me at least catch up by giving you a few short takes on some of the more frequent threads, something I'll start doing once a week:

--Commenter push_the_button and others have asked about the need for greater transparency in stewards' decisions, and I couldn't agree more. At my Utopia Downs, the stewards would be required to issue a written report within 24 hours of every foul claim or inquiry, explaining what they were looking at, why they decided whatever they decided, and whether any further action was or will be taken. The idea that secretive judges issue rulings for which they have no accountability, affecting millions of dollars in a public market, is preposterous.

--Poster al_hattab asked about model medication rules that could be implemented nationally. That's actually one of the few bright spots in the medication morass. Model rules developed by the Racing and Medication Consortium and endorsed by Racing Commissioners International, have been adopted in 31 of 38 states. This cleaned up a lot of the old legal-one-place/illegal-in-another problems.

--"mike" raised a topic dear to my heart when he asked about breakage. One of my few tiny triumphs as a member of the Cuomo Commission over a decade ago was to slip through a provision for nickel breakage in New York on payoffs under $10. I've been amazed that no other state has followed suit. It's a simple fairness issue. In New York, we round $8.59 to $8.50 instead of the $8.40 it would be everywhere else. The giveback was that we agreed to round $4,998.59 to $4,998 instead of $4,998.40. Twelve years later, not a single complaint.

Breakage is nothing but government theft. How would you like it if the state decided to round your paycheck down to the nearest dollar to save the "trouble" of making change? Breakage is what ultimately makes place and show betting an unplayable proposition: A horse who should pay $2.59 to show is rounded down to $2.40, a 30 percent penalty on top of takeout. The old "mutuel clerks can't be bothered with pennies" routine is especially hard to swallow these days with so many people betting with accounts or on vouchers. There is no good reason that horses can't actually pay $2.59 to show.

--I'm SO glad I dismissed Todd Pletcher's cold streak at this meeting as a short-term statistical aberration best ignored. Sorry, Jim. The phenomenon has mushroomed into a highly disturbing trend that can not be ignored in daily handicapping. It's one thing when a guy doesn't dominate with 2-year-old firsters the way he once did, given that he had already cracked out his best ones before Saratoga and still dominates the division. But in recent days, some of his proven older horses have thrown in dismal performances at very short odds in spots where they figured to gallop. J'Ray couldn't have been worse in Saturday's Yaddo, and Wingspan was 1-5 on paper in today's third race and ran like she would have been an underlay at 5-1.

It's easy to pile on unfairly in these situations. You can't add Octave to the list because she ran her usual race and actually ran pretty well considering her trip in the Alabama. Lawyer Ron and Ready's Image couldn't have run any better than they did opening week. Still, when those two return in the Whitney Woodward and Hopeful closing weekend, bettors are probably going to be more skeptical than they would have been a couple of weeks ago. After performances like J'Ray's and Wingspan's, it's understandable.

Bochall More than 1 year ago
I have always bet against Pletcher horses training at Monmouth and running at Sar or Bel....they simply are not his best stock (see Three Lions earlier this week), but now I guess one can go against all of 'em. I agree with the anti turf sprint guys....Belmont ran more turf sprints than miles this spring- BLASPHEMY!!!
John O' More than 1 year ago
My buddy Bill ,a 70 year horse player who recently passed, always said the break is killing the game.There are cases where between the takeout and the break your getting 33% for a winning wager.Subtract another 6% off track and your at 25%.They take a higher percentage than you win. 6
Alex More than 1 year ago
You know Steve you better make plans to run a blog for the Keeneland fall meet. Between watching the replays after work and reading your blog, it's like I never went home. We come back on Travers Day and Labour Day weekend.. Great clubhouse seats as well as reservations at The Wishing Well (twice) and Chez Pierre. Life is grand! Severe withdrawal pains, they can wait.
Clinton More than 1 year ago
Steve, in the NY Area we have the AM Saratoga program and on Sunday D. Wayne Lukas was in the trainer's spotlight. Among the many things he said, he put forth the idea that when a trainer's horse tests positive not only shoudl the trainer take a hit but the owner as well. His reasoning was with the amount of money invested, he'd be more likely to protect his investment and insure racing integrity. Thoughts?
mike More than 1 year ago
Steve - Saratoga and throughbred racing are special. Your Journal notes are a treat. The only time I looked forward to reading racing as much was in Ray Kerrison's column in the New York Post in the 1980's. It is fortunate that the trustees or custodians of racing (those in control) haven't totally ruined the game for all of us. To actually profit from wagering is next to impossible. First you have to beat the takeout, generally 15-30%. Then you have to beat the breakage. Then, if you leave the track with more than when you came, at the end of the year, you'll turn over a % of your profit in the form of federal, state and local taxes. That's what you call a triple threat - takeout, breakage and income tax. So, it is very difficult to end up dining at Siro's rather than McDonalds. Actually, the published takeout rates are misleading and fraudulent, because the wise guys who bet in the Caribbean or who otherwise can wheel and deal, get the rebates, which are higher on the exotic bets, and can reach @12%. So the published takeout rates are really for the dummies. That's really what you call handicap racing - the bettors without the rebates are like horses running with a higher weight impost, making it more difficult to win. Of course, you won't convince Maury Wolff, Dave Cuscuna and others of that. Further, what have the bettors, those stalwarts of the equine world, gained from slots, which now permeate the racing landscape. Virtaully nothing. How many tracks, thoroughbred and harness, and even greyhound, now have video lottery terminals aka slots. Look at the purses at Yonkers or even the proposed Presque Isle Downs in Erie, PA. The tracks make millions, except for NYRA which is in bankruptcy. Look at Delaware Park, Chester Downs, Charles Town, Delta Downs, etc. Penn Gaming was just bought out for @$8 billion, with a big B. If bettors were organized, like when labor unions organized workers in the early 20th century, only then can the landscape be changed to give the bettors a fighting chance. The stock market rules changed twice to provide more fairness to investors; once in the 1970's, when commissions were deregulated, and then second, when securities began trading in cents rather than 1/8ths and 1/4s. Obviously racing is still a sin. Maybe if the tracks would let me, I could open up a loan company on the racetrack grounds and charge 15-30% on loans just like the racetracks charge for takeout. It's what you would call a new take on subprime lending. I'll write back to you when Charlie Hayward gives me the OK.
Green Mtn Punter More than 1 year ago
Steve, your Saratoga Blog has been a huge hit with DRF readers as it allows almost instant 2-way feedback- that's the genius of blogging. I think we all realize that you have much to do when at the Spa so your limited feedback is not, at least by me, taken personally. You have addressed many major industry issues and by blogging you have expanded the discussion. Based on the comments posted on your blog so far I would say that most readers seem to especially appreciate your knowledgable, straight forward approach to handicapping the Spa races. Your blog gives you the opportunity to hear what horseplayers and fans all over the country have on their minds and I have enjoyed reading their comments as have you. My only suggestion is that I would like to see more posts on the pending NY franchise award and what the new franchisee must do to keep NY racing at the top of the heap. Thanks, again, for choosing to blog this Saratoga season and I look forward to many more interesting posts before the meet is over.
Mike NJ More than 1 year ago
I think you should have "Stood Pat" ( I'm referencing one of your blogs issued during the current meet) with your analysis of random variation in prominent trainers' 'win' statistics (e.g., Pletcher.)
Bob Cordaro More than 1 year ago
Steve, I have very much enjoyed your postings from the Spa, including your commentary about restaurants and other aspects of life at Saratoga. Also enjoyed ''Betting on Myself'' and Exotic Betting''. Every time I visit Saratoga and see families enjoying themselves at the track, I ask myself why other tracks cannot learn a lesson or two from Saratoga and make a day at the races a wonderful family event. Along those same lines, why in the world does NY refuse to introduce a fifty-cent pick five or six ? It's an example of a tool that the tracks can use to raise the family entertainment experience at the track. Have fun and I hope to meet you some day. Bob
ron More than 1 year ago
bottom line,the game is all about people......
JD More than 1 year ago
The way to get the Stewards to publish their decisions is for someone, ideally the DRF or its publisher, to file suit with a losing ticket. Given that the hands of the government all over this revenue stream, the public would have a compelling right to know. The settlement with the Stewards would be a published statement in a reasonable time frame after each disqualification.