01/21/2010 3:23PM

Recountability

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There was a lot of bother about the fact that the announced result of the older filly and mare category in the Eclipse Awards was 231-1, with Icon Project, a darn fine mare, getting the one and Zenyatta the rest. The lone holdout was identified as being among the voters accredited by the Daily Racing Form, which of course caused a great storming of the offices in downtown Manhattan by inflamed Zenyistas. Because the culprit -- supposedly exercising his or her voting rights -- was not specifically named by NTRA spokespeople, out here in the West Coast branch office I was subjected to harsh verbal attacks in the local mall, my colleague Jay Privman had his nice new car egged (thank goodness for the rain), and Steve Andersen was refused service at his favorite pub. Furthermore, when visiting publisher Steven Crist headed home for NY after attending the awards dinner, a TSA official at LAX who happened to cash in the Breeders' Cup Classic forced him to submit not only to a full body scan, but also a stern psychological grilling and confiscation of his Swiss Army hairbrush.

Orange3 We were all ready to launch an internal office plan for enhanced interrogation (see photo at left), but then it was learned, through more conversational methods, that it was veteran editor Duke Dosik, DRF's vice-president of custom publishing, who inadvertently topped the older filly and mare selection boxes with "Icon Project" instead his intended answer. There was even a press release from the NTRA explaining how it happened (http://www.ntraracing.com/content.aspx?type=news&id=44415). We will now pause while Duke enjoys his 15 minutes of fame.

I suppose everyone feels better. But three things bother me:

--Who cares if someone might have voted for Icon Project anyway? To my mind, given the climate of controvery surrounding synthetic surfaces, there very easily could have been a voter out there who refused to consider any horse without traditional dirt form for one of the traditional main track awards, and Icon Project, a runaway winner of good races at Belmont and Saratoga, was a viable alternative once past Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet.

--What does this mean in the future if someone would like to submit a protest vote, or tab a sentimental choice? Will they be rooted out and their choices held up to similar scrutiny?

--And when will the NTRA devise a user-friendly electronic ballot that both mirrors the simplicity of the old paper ballots and eliminates the touchy quirks of so many digital forms. Dosik was guilty of a typo, on deadline, after having filled out his ballot once (with Zenyatta on top) and having the submission rejected. He was not the only voter who had to make more than one submission before a ballot was accepted.

The whole idea that there are still three voting "blocs" seems to persist as well, like a nagging infection, long after bloc voting was dropped and all votes counted on an equal basis. NTRA officials continue to issue a vote total breakdown, though, with separate sub-totals for the National Turf Writers' Association, the Daily Racing Form, and the NTRA (which includes racing secretaries and Equibase chartcallers) as if they hail from separate Balkan states. Of the three groups, only the turf writers eventually go public with who voted for whom--a prurient display of transparency, if you ask me. But the point is, either a voter is qualified to cast a vote or not qualified. If there are unqualified voters in the pool, there needs to be a way to weed them out. Public ridicule is not a good way.

The worst fallout from the whole affair, though, was the fact that in assuring the people from the NTRA he meant to vote for Zenyatta in her category, Dosik pointed to his vote for Horse of the Year as proof. It was for Zenyatta. He did not have to admit that, but now he has outed himself as an East Coast guy who voted for the California mare. Such an admission is sure to cause Duke more grief than his ballot misprint. Maybe he should have just stuck with Icon Project.

David More than 1 year ago
Kram, Like a few at the DRF and those with the anti-synthetic bias, you use anecdotes that mean little. It would mean more if you had proven data or objective studies that were done over an extended period of time on the synthetic versus dirt tracks. Right now, you can isolate just about any variable to back up any biased comment that you want. They try to make horse racing analysis or reporting sound like it is a science or objective but it is far from it. Is your main point that all horses are at a disadvantage only when they run first time at Santa Anita? Are you saying that all horses lost or did not run well only because of the surface? Mine That Bird already had raced and won before on the synthetic, so pointing out that he lost first time at the Santa Anita synthetic does not mean much, especially when you lump him along with the aggregate as you did before. Your point would mean something had Mine That Bird not run before on the synthetic. How his example can be lumped as a precursor to the others is baffling. If he did look like he was running in quicksand, maybe he was off form that day or needed a break, or was just outclassed by the older competition. Remember, the 3-year-olds last year were not the strongest divisions. That is why they did not win the Classic or the Ladies Classic. And why no one horse dominated in the Triple Crown. The whole Rachel Alexandra hype, in part, was based on her beating by many lengths not the most competitive horses last year. The one time she didn’t run against the 3-year-olds, she was all out to beat Macho Again, a good but not top-tier older horse last year. She never even ran against older mares, like Life Is Sweet, last year. Summer Bird never ran on the synthetic and he still ran a very good fourth in the Classic. It was his first race on the synthetic and at Santa Anita. His example proves the opposite of your original point about the surface switch. In fact, Summer Bird performed better than horses that had run mainly on the synthetics. Summer Bird finished ahead of Richard’s Kid and a few others that had prior synthetic experience. He ran better for not just one but maybe many reasons, irrespective of the surface. He may also have been the better horse that day. So what purpose does it serve to point out that he ran fourth in the Classic, especially when he beat other proven runners on the synthetic? It wouldn’t be pointed out because it makes the surface issue not as cut and dry. The main contribution of all the recent surface talk is that it resulted in Rachel Alexandra being given the HOY title. Had she run in the Classic last year she would have lost to Zenyatta and there would have been no debate about HOY. But she didn’t in part because of the narrow arguments made by mainly East Coast writers about the track surface. A few of the luddites who swear by the dirt kept writing that it was ok for Jackson to hold back the horse, since the Classic was on the synthetic. It gave him an out. Many others on the Eclipse vote-rich East Coast did the same. Also, we need to see the actual count, but maybe other voters/stakeholders on the East Coast and thereabouts wanted to reassert the dirt tracks. They gave up any sense of impartiality in order to keep the old school dirt tracks at the front of the line. RA was their dirt-track poster girl. The managers of RA cherry-picked her races and ran her against mainly the 3-year- olds last year. Their reason for ducking the Classic was like your description of Mine That Bird at Santa Anita; it’s the surface. This year, on the dirt, RA lost against Zardana. Even though Zardana was only a Grade II runner, she is not a 3-year-old and was probably more competitive than most of the horses RA faced all last year. As long as they keep the argument about the surface they distract from other points, such as the quality of the competition that RA faced last year. Let’s see if the handlers run the same clever campaign as they did last year, keeping RA running against lesser competitors -- male or female -- and avoiding the top-tier competition. That was a main point reiterated in many previous posts by several others as well. They already are avoiding Zenyatta, who came out of retirement to meet RA on the dirt track in Oaklawn. Where are all the whiners who complained about Zenyatta not running on their favorite dirt tracks. Well, they need to whine about their favorite dirt horse avoiding Zenyatta, on your favorite dirt surface. Without the synthetic canard, you will need to come up with other excuses, for now. Maybe they will sit RA on the bench again, like they did last year for the Classic, and run her next race after Zenyatta retires.
kram More than 1 year ago
David, I make the point re: horses who's last start on dirt compromised their chance for their first start on the fake dirt at SA. I then use the example of Mine That Bird and his first start at SA a few weeks PRIOR to the BC. Note that it is an example of what can be expected of horses making their first start on the artificial surface. The point is that Mine That Bird in his first start (not the BC) on the fake dirt looked like a horse running in quicksand. That was meant not to be a precursor to MTB's start in the BC (since he now had a start over the fake dirt) but a preview of what could be expected from OTHER HORSES who were making THEIR first start in the BC on the fake dirt. Horses that were 0- 40 something in the last two years.
David More than 1 year ago
Kram, “When looking at the race you could have immediately eliminated any horse who had his last start on dirt. As Casey Stengel used to say, "you can look it up". Horses who made their last start on dirt were 0-forty something in the last two years at SA for all BC races. So that tosses a good portion of the field. Case in point; did you see Mine That Birds first race at SA prior to the BC?” Your above quote does not follow its own logic from one sentence to the next. Mine That Bird raced at Santa Anita, not on the dirt, before he lost to Zenyatta in the Classic. He has won on the synthetic. Making anecdotal statements and then squeezing in other points proves nothing. Zenyatta beat the toughest horses last year. Rachel Alexandra beat mainly the 3-year-olds -- male and female -- a mediocre group. A few of these may be late developers, at best. Your main spin seems based on the “plastic” surface excuse. It may sound good, just like the jingles on the TV commercials, but “where’s the beef”, to borrow from your professor guide. I am not aware of any objective study on anything related to the synthetic versus dirt surfaces. Today, both horses ran. One of the two ran second, with no apparent excuse. The other horse, carrying 127 pounds and also coming off a layoff, ran at the longer 1 1/8 distance, encountered trouble but still found a way to win. Alexandra ran on your favorite “dirt” surface, in a race that I believe was meant to be a workout for her, at probably her best distance: 1 1/16. And she lost. What will be the excuses from the Alexandra faithful now -- the trainer, her long vacation, the number 13? Alexandra no longer can run in the restricted 3-year olds ranks, as she did in 2009. As stated before, Alexandra’s supporters seem to confuse quantity with quality. She beat X horses by 20 lengths, but they were the 3-year olds. The only time she ran against the older male horses she hung on to beat Macho Again (in a questionable ride by the jockey). That and the distance, as much as the surface, is why she avoided running against the toughest horses to race in this country last year (Breeders Cup Classic). The so-called next Ruffian got beat in a non-graded event. Remember, Zardana mainly raced on the turf and synthetic, so therefore she should not have done as well on the dirt, right? Your half-baked theories about the track surfaces, like a few writings from the old school traditionalists at the DRF and other East Coast outlets, are based on pure speculation and anecdotes. They can’t blame this loss on the “plastic”. It will be interesting to see the new spin by Alexandra’s supporters, including a few in the media. A closed and circular argument allows mostly a handful of East Coast writers and apparently many HOY voters to use the surface alibi when their horse loses or does not run on that surface (Alexandra in the Classic). A few in the media appear to be more like cheerleaders or shills for Alexandra or whatever the East Coast, dirt-run horse of the moment may be. Look at the East Coast regional rankings called the Watchmaker Watch or read in the DRF M. Hersh’s Fairgrounds pre-race excuse-making for Alexandra. It is just one race but Alexandra needs to pick it up and at least validate on the track why they voted for her, and her handlers need to stop the excuses, otherwise they will need to scramble the 2009 HOY letters to OHY, as in Overrated Horse of the Year; or Overhyped Horse of the Year, maybe decade. The person that makes sense in these last posts is blackseabass. To your statements: “RA had a much tougher campaign than Zenyatta no matter how you analyze it.” The only way you can make that statement is if you mean to say that RA faced tougher because she was pushed beyond her front-running speed, probably short-distance limits. The eight races, even though against lesser competitors, in the long run may have taken their toll. “I will agree with one point you've made. There is a definite geographic bias in the HOY voting. That is the only way to explain Zenyatta getting any votes and Rachel not being unanimous.” To your other statement above, the only reason Alexandra won HOY is because of the East Coast/dirt-track bias. It is obvious the vote is stacked, with the majority of voters coming from that region. Whoever runs the Eclipse needs to change the byzantine voting system. Zenyatta’s legacy may turn out to be as much a crusade to move horse racing in this country out of the dark ages to have a more transparent, less biased, and democratically run industry. Every time she runs she will remind the few pulling the strings that the center of the universe is not on one coast or on one surface. David
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
Curt and Kram and leon et al, how you gonna beat BIG Z when you can't even beat LIL' Z
kram More than 1 year ago
blackseabass Despite the exclamation point you put on the end of the sentence, you are wrong. Forty would have no statistical value if the sample was all the horses in the U. S. who have run on synthetics in the past two years. However when narrowed down to the few hundred who have run in the B.C. races, forty definitely becomes a representative sample. I won't even get into the different types of synthetics, since they are obviously not the same. RA won a race on synthetics, so what? Go back and look at MTB in his first start at SA. I don't care where he ran and won previously, he obviously did not handle the surface. I know dirt horses win on synthetics. But if one looks at SA the last two years, and specifically at the BC, why do grass horses have a much easier time making the transition? Could it be that the surface mimics grass more than dirt? RA had a much tougher campaign than Zenyatta no matter how you analyze it. I will agree with one point you've made. There is a definite geographic bias in the HOY voting. That is the only way to explain Zenyatta getting any votes and Rachel not being unanimous.
Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
blackseabass, Not good enough ? They were good & smart enough to win the last 3 HOY's. & no..DIRT horse's do not win often on plastic..& if U think 43 & 0 the wrong way, is not a significant #, then U wouldn't mind me considering being 14 & 0 as insignificant either. So, when UR horse makes it to 42 & 0{give her 1 credit 4 a DIRT win}, we'll talk.
blackseabass More than 1 year ago
kram, mine that bird has won 4 times over synthetic 1 time on dirt. the 2009 derby exacta were two so- called synthetic specialists. If you and your buddy curt are such professors you should know that a sample of 40 something has no statistical value! You would know "dirt horses" win over synthetic all the time. You would also know that no horse is bred for synthetic. Woodbine,Keeneland and Turfway have been racing on synthetic for years do no "dirt Horses" ever win there? There is a simple explanation for why 40 something so-called dirt horses didn't win a race in the '08 '09 BC, none of them were good enough!
kram More than 1 year ago
Dave, I've been reading your posts here on this page and am quite impressed. You are articulate and express your thoughts well. However, so much of what you say makes so little sense. You must be new to horse racing so I would suggest you pay attention when Professor Curt is holding forth in Horse Racing 101. The field Zenyatta beat in the Classic was one of the weakest fields in the history of the race. And a lot of that was due to circumstances. Take a look at the numbers. When looking at the race you could have immediately eliminated any horse who had his last start on dirt. As Casey Stengel used to say, "you can look it up". Horses who made their last start on dirt were 0-forty something in the last two years at SA for all BC races. So that tosses a good portion of the field. Case in point; did you see Mine That Birds first race at SA prior to the BC? I felt bad for the horse. It looked like he was running in quicksand. So what does that leave us with? Zenyatta got up in the final strides to beat a grass specialist- Gio Ponti and a third stringer from Europe in Twice Over. So who beat the better fields in 2009?
Curt A Vassallo More than 1 year ago
David, Since we can't convince U that running on plastic, against a true version of non-household names, is by any defintion, not worthy of a HOY award, let's deal in facts. The same "Unqualified" voter's, who didn't favor UR horse, 4 HOY, found it necessary to give Gio Ponti{no dirt wins} & SB {demolished by Rachel}, appropriate awards. & HOY award to Rachel. Somehow, U find that disingenuous. It seems that, unless UR version of a racing campaign is accepted, it is flawed. At what point do U give the voters the respect they deserve ? Let's see. U said, RA can't run past 1 1/8 on a fast dry DIRT track. POINT:Preakness, Grade 1, fast dry DIRT track. {Please do not even attempt 2 compare the Preakness w/Ca. Plastic female pre-BC races}. Last time I looked in my mathematics book, it said, 1 3/16 miles is LONGER than 1 2/16 ? {1 1/8 for U}. That computes to 110 yards, plus or minus. Even U can't dispute that ? Oops ! Maybe U can ? So, I truly believe U have now switched to watching reruns of Frank Gorshin, in "Batman Returns"....He played the "Riddler"... Jay, thanx 4 the time alloted, 4 allowing us to articulate ourselves in our quest 4 "Truth, Honor & the American Way"...Superman theme or something..
David More than 1 year ago
Curt, See my responses to your last 2 posts below. Your comments are in quotations: “Was it the same MTB that backed up in the 1 1/2 Belmont vs. SB, or was it the same SB that backed up in the shorter Haskell against the Rocket Ship{6 & counting}? So much 4 that theory. What were some of those horse's names UR horse ran against prior to the BC ? Not in my household.” It was the same Mine That Bird and Summer Bird that Rachel Alexandra defeated in the Preakness and the Haskell (in the slop). I guess when your horse beats the other horses they are in form and when other horses beat the same horses they are not in form; I think they call that having it both ways. As a matter of fact, MTB and SB were about the toughest horses RA faced since she ran, with one exception, against the 3-year olds -- colts and fillies. Unless you want to bring in Macho Again and any other older horse she ran against in the Woodward. You still can’t connect the dots about the level of competition each was facing and the fact that Zenyatta faced and beat the toughest horses to run in 2009; RA didn’t. Whether she did it in one race or 10 races, on “plastic” or dirt, in the daylight or at night, is irrelevant. “U'll have to take it up w/ Mr. Beyer about Y Rachel had the higher Beyer Fig. & as to the HOY award ? It's easy to dismiss that also, considering UR horse found a way to lose it 2 years & counting. Were those same voters, that voted in prior years 4 more qualified horse's from Ca. then, more unqualified then, or just now....?” The fact that Zenyatta lost HOY 2 times has to do with the East Coast bias; the vote is stacked; most votes are not in the West. You do not need to be Einstein to figure that one out. The only common denominator is that the winner of the HOY in 2008 and 2009 had the same owner and trainer. The past 7 years, the HOY selections have all been East Coast-based, which only shows that the voting, like most all else, has become highly partisan. “Finally, as to who shows up ? Rachel raced in every race she indeed entered. Can't say UR horse did, though. So, much 4 that theory, too, Mr. Checker....everyone has tried to remind U on this post, to no avail mind U, the award was 4, 2009, so whether UR horse ran on DIRT in '08 one time, & Rachel won on plastic, once in '08. renders that argument moot...” Rachel raced in every race that her handlers cherry-picked for her once they bought her. Kind of like what they did with Curlin in 2008; before he ran on the turf, they were going to run him in the Arc in France; then they tried the synthetic. At least when he lost both races they could blame the losses on the track surface (sound familiar?). Maybe they wanted to get the biggest bang for their money and ran RA the way they did. It appears she is no iron horse. It will be interesting to see if she runs 8 races again. Zenyatta, as a 4 year-old, ran and won 7 times. She is still running most likely because the handlers kept her condition at the forefront. The same whiners about Zenyatta’s 5 races last year do not have anything to say about the ½ year delay it has taken to get RA back on the track. “Since we can't convince U that running on plastic, against a true version of non-household names, is by any defintion, not worthy of a HOY award, let's deal in facts. The same "Unqualified" voter's, who didn't favor UR horse, 4 HOY, found it necessary to give Gio Ponti{no dirt wins} & SB {demolished by Rachel}, appropriate awards. & HOY award to Rachel. Somehow, U find that disingenuous. It seems that, unless UR version of a racing campaign is accepted, it is flawed. At what point do U give the voters the respect they deserve ?” Your scattershot approach means you get tripped up in your own finger-pointing. I did not say the voters were “unqualified”; I do not know who the voters are or where they are based or who they voted for. The Eclipse votes are concentrated in a few regions. If the voters voted by their geographic location RA would win because most of the voters are in the East/Northeast; or put another way, they are not in the West. Since all the votes are not transparent, it is just speculation. Until proven otherwise, the statement I used was that there was an East Coast bias in play. Based on a few of the articles written in the DRF, (not including JH), the writers, who also voted, were already cheerleading RA as HOY even before the Classic was won; they had to shift their tune once Zenyatta overwhelmed the other multiple I winners. They then asked that they split the vote. My comment on Gio Ponti was lost, like most all else is in the spin by the RA believers. The fact he was given 2 Eclipse awards doesn’t mean the voting is not biased. I think he ran most of his races on the East Coast, as well. (I know the 2-year award was given to the California run horse). If anything it shows the voters' own contradiction. They gave GP the award for best older male, in part, because he came in second to Zenyatta in the Classic. Yet they gave RA, who ducked the toughest race of the year, the HOY. “Let's see. U said, RA can't run past 1 1/8 on a fast dry DIRT track. POINT:Preakness, Grade 1, fast dry DIRT track. {Please do not even attempt 2 compare the Preakness w/Ca. Plastic female pre-BC races}. Last time I looked in my mathematics book, it said, 1 3/16 miles is LONGER than 1 2/16 ? {1 1/8 for U}. That computes to 110 yards, plus or minus. Even U can't dispute that ? Oops ! Maybe U can ?” The Preakness is longer than 1 1/8, but it is shorter than 1 ¼ and 1 ½; it is the shortest of the Triple Crown races. Most would agree that it is the one that favors front-running speed, which is most likely why they dropped her into that race. The handlers chose not to run her in the Belmont or Travers most likely because of the longer distances. Had RA run in the Classic, she would have answered any distance questions. Finally, if the “American Way” that you mention includes sloganeering, phonetic thinking, and nit-picking that does not allow you to see the big picture, I can understand why they can’t pass health reform and why they won't change the Eclipse voting system. Oh yeah, with all the cartoon and oldie references, someone in the household needs to turn off the tv and stereo, or at least change the channel and record. David