11/16/2015 11:03AM

Bergman: Blame the system, not Sears

Michael Lisa
Brian Sears was suspended 15 days for "lack of judgment in his driving performance" by the New Jersey Racing Commission.

Apparently there is a “catch” to being a catch-driver.

Those who by definition drive horses for a living but are not directly connected to the activities that span the 72-hours or so between entry box and race date, get the brunt of the credit and blame for the results of the contest.

Brian Sears’ drive behind Bee A Magician on Friday night at the Meadowlands left a lot to be desired. Especially if one expected the former Horse of the Year to regain her winning form racing exclusively against mares after some disappointing miles against the best open competition.

That said, in my opinion, the way in which Brian Sears raced Bee A Magician on Friday night was partly due to the instructions of trainer Richard “Nifty” Norman and partly due to the bigger payday scheduled this weekend.

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What we’d all like to point a finger at but only Brian Sears gets to pay for in a 15-day forced vacation, is that much of what goes on during the regular racing program is systematic. Systematic in a sense that the races are scheduled in a certain order and our horses just don’t have the capacity to whack out mile after mile on the front end without some residual damage being done.

The longevity of the racing season has taken its toll on many of the sport’s best performers. Maybe the owners and trainer of Bee A Magician are trying to squeeze the last drop out of the great mare before giving her a well-deserved vacation.

The number of horses that showed up for the TVG races on Friday and Saturday were dramatically low. On Saturday night, a $50,000 TVG Pacing leg was reduced to just four horses with the defection of Luck Be Withyou and Doo Wop Hanover (late scratches). Brett Miller became the Brian Sears of the night driving JK Endofanera without much aggressiveness and perhaps leaving something on the table for this Saturday’s $400,000 TVG Final.

JK Endofanera was 2-5 and could have brushed to the front at any point down the long backstretch and not likely received any resistance from pace maker Arthur Blue Chip. That is a fact that shouldn’t be overlooked by those watching these races. Sure Brett Miller was whipping and driving through the stretch so that his horse finished third, but how did that stretch exercise make up for his lack of action during the first three quarters of the race?

Realistically, we can try our best to make trainers more accountable for the performance of horses and the suggestion that the public would have been better served had they known in advance that Bee A Magician was having trouble tying up in previous races was vaguely logical.  Ultimately what we have in play are drivers, due to the fact that they earn 100 percent of their money driving for trainers, doing what’s in the best interest of themselves and their horses. Bettors come a distant third in the equation and no one should be surprised by that fact.

Brian Sears and Brett Miller earn a good living by doing right by those they drive for. Owners and trainers need to be happy when they send horses out on the track with these drivers and they need to be happy when the horses return. If either driver had overworked Bee A Magician or JK Endofanera needlessly this week, they could have lost the mount the following week. More worrisome for trainers is that they could have used up a peak performance a week earlier than one was seriously necessary.

That’s where scheduling comes in and that’s where we have to suggest that it’s not realistic to put a non-elimination race on the docket just seven days before the final event. Unlike the 2-year-old elimination races contested at the Meadowlands this past weekend, both TVG legs by nature were essentially tune-up miles for next week’s finals and a majority of the drivers performed with a modicum of interest in the outcome. Slow paces and little movement made both events discussed look more like morning qualifying miles than races bettors are supposed to wager on.

It would be nice to think that Sears’ 15-day suspension (whether he serves it or not) would send a message to other drivers, but that is unlikely to be the case. Sears gets the trophy in this one-of-a-kind effort to somehow add respectability after the fact. In reality, the judges at The Meadowlands, and pretty much every other racetrack in North America, hardly ever use the rulebook to deter drivers from perceived wrongdoing.

Sears gets vilified on Friday and Miller pretty much gets overlooked on Saturday. That’s not consistency in the judges chair and it won’t soon change the way the races play out.

The way races are conducted is what matters to bettors and their only perceived allies are the judges that rule over the events each night.

To subject trainers to weekly reports in an attempt to fill in the blanks of what goes on between races appears to be overkill. The trainers already do what is necessary to prepare their horses and they have very limited involvement (how many times have we heard leading trainers telling interviewers they don’t discuss strategy with drivers?) in what transpires on the track. To put an added burden on them to offer an “opinion” of a horse’s weekly training in my mind adds no clarity at all. Past performances spell out a horse’s condition and qualifiers assure bettors of a horse’s fitness should there be a gap between races. That serious players have access to watch past races should be more than enough to anyone interested in spending time or learning more details with credibility.

Brian Sears and Brett Miller did right by the owners and trainers this past weekend.

As Meat Loaf said, “Two out of Three Ain’t Bad.”

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