08/22/2007 2:23PM

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.