08/31/2007 11:20PM

Since You Asked

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chalkeater asked: "There have been many comments about the quality of racing this season and I am in a friendly argument with a friend about the decline (at least that is my position). It seems to have been taking place for a few years now. Do you think racing is generally down at Saratoga?"

I wrote about this very matter, at least in a roundabout way, in Sunday's column. "Quality" is a subjective matter, but it's a fact that Saratoga is running far more statebred and turf races than it used to and has introduced maiden-claiming, conditioned-claiming and starter-allowance races in recent years. I think it's fair to say that the meeting doesn't have the every-day-is-special quality it did when it was 24 days and a lot of the cheaper horses took the month off. I don't think racing is "down" at Saratoga, but it's certaiinly different. Having said that, it's still the best race meet of the year.

gary asked: " Steve, are you not going to take a shot at the $700k carryover at Del mar which should swell to about $2 million by post time? You once told me, you never bet Cali races and I'm curious if $2 million will tempt you enough.

No, I didn't play. The only California carryover I've played was the $5M one at Hollywood July 2. Doing so reminded me why I don't do it more often: I just don't follow the racing there regularly enough to feel I have any special insight or any edge. It's like playing poker with people who are much better than you. Who wants to be a fish? Some people might say, "Oh, have some fun, throw in a $48 ticket," but I really don't believe in playing the pick-six for small money. So many things have to break your way, and you're so swamped by people putting in more, that it feels to me like buying a lottery ticket, something else I don't do.

mikethedog asked: "Steve: Would you mind sharing your thoughts on a few subjects? 1) the racing franchise in NY--which organization do you think should be awarded? 2) trainer gets caught using illegal substances and gets suspended and then simply places his horses under name of asst trainer. 3) Del MAr vs. Saratoga comparison."

I've written columns about each of these subjects over the last year. In brief:
1)I don't think it's appropriate for me to endorse any of the bidders. I'll continue to comment on the situation as it develops and try to keep an open mind. Personally I'm in favor of whatever's best for the racing rather than what's best for politicians, real-estate developers, or casino and coporate interests.
2)This is a very complicated and tricky situation. Obviously a "suspension" is a charade if everything's effectively business as usual. But let's take the Todd Pletcher case. If you believe (as I do) that he got suspended for nothing more nefarious than an accidental or environmental overage, why is it fair to punish his assistants and owners by demanding that the horses be physically transferred to another stable? I know we all want to hang anyone who's actually cheating, but I don't see what punishing the innocent, especially for a suspension that may be more of a technical foul than a crime, really accomplishes.
3) They're both great places with very different charms. But even California racing loyalists would have to concede that the overall quality of the racing's better at Saratoga. The difference is that there's no infusion of new talent at Del Mar whereas Saratoga gets the Churchill horses on top of the NYRA regulars, not to mention shippers from half a dozen other places in the course of the meet.

marcel asked: Referring back to a previous blog entry, the paved highways that are the turf courses is affecting the turf figs, also. Just out of curiosity, how are fig guys adjusting their turf numbers?"

It's not a problem. Making figs is never easier than when you're dealing with a consistently fast surface unaffected by rain. The whole underlying point of making speed figures is to adjust final time to reflect the speed of the surface. So as the turf courses have gotten faster and faster, a higher and higher variant is applied to compensate for that. The biggest difficulty in making turf figures isn't gauging the speed of the course, but in considering the effect of sometimes very slow paces on final time.

david asked: I didn't have a dog in the fight but the nyra concept on purse only in inane. when you bet on the entry and the "wrong" half wins, you don't return the money do you ? part of the inherent risk in betting entries is that one half gets scratched - the ying to the wrong half winning yang."

I think there's a lot of (understandable) confusion around about the purse-money-only rule, which is actually a very good rule but with some poorly-executed aspects. The idea of it is that if part of an entry is scratched after people have been betting on the race, those bettors shouldn't be stuck with the remaining half of the entry. Let's say you bet on a race where there's a coupled entry of Better Talk Now and his pacesetter Shake The Bank. You think Better Talk Now's a good bet at 2-1, he scratches at the gate, and without the rule you'd be stuck with 2-1 on Shake The Bank, who's legitimately 100-1 to win the race. That wouldn't be fair and I don't think that's a risk one should have to assume in betting on an entry. Nor would it be fair to scratch Shake The Bank. So letting him run for PMO is a reasonable solution. The problem part is that pick-4 and pick-6 bettors get dumped onto a post-time favorite they may not want, and that gets particularly ugly if the remaining part of the entry wins for PMO and the favorite isn't second. Then you've bet on the winner and still lose.

One solution is to make pick-4 late scratches refunds rather than transfer-to-favorites, and to allow alternate selections in the pick-six. But the bigger question is whether to get rid of coupled entries altogether, and there's no consensus on that one. Some people think coupling protects the bettors, others think that's outweighed by the complications it causes. Not an easy issue.

elangelo asked: "Who would win a heads up race between Hesanoldsalt and Dollar Bill?"

Can we add Dubliner to the mix? And here's your Zen question to ponder: If they finish in a triple dead-heat, did they all win or did did they all finish second?