11/18/2015 1:33PM

Gisser: Keeping an open mind on trainer reports


I want to thank Jeff Gural, even though I had no intention of writing about him or his idea of trainer reports at The Meadowlands.

See, I had a great column planned. It was about an organization called Horse Country, Inc. This group of about 40 Thoroughbred breeding farms and other equine operations in Kentucky put together a formal series of tours for visitors. They had particular themes (the Zenyatta tour, for instance) and offered both guided tours that included transportation, and independent tours as well, with an emphasis on last month’s Breeder’s Cup Festival. I was intrigued. Were harness breeding operations included? If not, why not? Was it something our sport could offer during the two weeks of Grand Circuit racing at the Red Mile (which, ironically, was the starting point for many of Horse Country’s bus guided tours)?

[ MEADOWLANDS: Watch the TVG Finals + get analysis from both Friday & Saturday cards]

But Horse Country, Inc., founded in January, has no website. Its press releases appear to have no contact information. I can’t find a contact number for Executive Director Anne Sabatino Hardy. I tried. I heard about the initiative when I was in Lexington for the sale and have been trying to reach somebody through Horse Country ever since. But nada.

So, thank you Mr. Gural.

If you have been hiding under a rock, on November 14 the Meadowlands Media Relations Department announced, “…it has been decided that going forward every trainer will be obligated to give the race office an update on how the horse they are entering has been training so that information can be provided to our customers, who are the betting public.  Without them, we would not exist and they must be protected.  The information will be printed in our live program and will be available on our website as well.”

Fortunately, common sense prevailed and just one day later we were told, “After discussions with representatives of the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, The Meadowlands has decided to delay its implementation of the trainers reports on each horses condition until a meeting with the SBOANJ takes place. The purpose of the meeting is to determine the most effective and efficient way of implementing such a program.”

My initial thought was that this was one of the most ridiculous ideas ever to come out of a racetrack operator’s mouth. It was unreasonable and unworkable. What about a horse who does not train between races?  What about the horse who trains great and races poorly or vice versa? It happens, you know.  In fact, this requirement could jeopardize racing at the Meadowlands, already challenged for equine talent by several surrounding tracks with equal or superior purses. Why would a trainer put up with what is at the least an inconvenience and at worst, could lead to a suspension for a form reversal from a training mile to a racing mile?

And then I started thinking a bit more. I actually came up with a couple situations where this rule might make sense and I hope the Meadowlands implements it. First off, I am one of the minority who believes that we are often given too much information when handicapping, without any context. The simple change from a blind bridle to a Kant-See-Back means nothing. We have to guess how the horse will react. We may guess (logically) that the trainer did it because he thinks the horse will race better. But the horse may get more excited, making him harder to control and unwilling to sit in a hole. So we can’t evaluate it. Letting the hopples out an inch may mean the horse will go faster. Or it may mean he will make a break. So this information is really useless, since we have no reference point for it.

Perhaps the Meadowlands could require any horse with an equipment change to have trained with that change and then have the trainer report. The timing might not always work with the draw schedule and a particular horse’s training schedule, but with a trainer’s report we at least have a reference point on that equipment change.

Secondly, what if a horse has been scratched sick or lame and has not been off 30 days, requiring a qualifier? Perhaps that horse should be required to train and the trainer to report back. How did he finish his mile (critical handicapping angle)? Was he blowing snot back at the barn? In these cases, a trainer’s report might be helpful.

But here is the biggest problem, as with any database. What will be the quality of the information? They say garbage in, garbage out. Will trainers be truthful in their reporting? And even if they are being truthful, will they be accurate? As Bob Boni posted on Facebook, “Horse racing information, until actually given by the horse, cannot be compared to injury reports or such information provided by the NFL or any other organization.”

Others in social media have discussed a long-known truism. It goes something like this – talk to all the trainers in the race and six of the eight (eight of the ten) will tell you their horse has a good shot to win. Several of those horses will still be off at 15 or 20-1 and really have no shot at all. The other two will be realistic about their chances. Horsemen make some of the worst handicappers out there and while there may not be intent to deceive, they may simply not be as realistic as they should be. This may not be as big a problem at the Meadowlands as it might be at “B” or “C” track, but there will still be discrepancies.

So, Mr. Gural, while I generally do not think the concept of the trainer report policy will work, I will keep an open mind. If you and your staff choose to implement the policy, though, do not allow it to be in a knee-jerk reaction to a single event, but rather develop a comprehensive and fair policy for all involved. That’s it for this month. Happy Thanksgiving! Check out those trainer reports and go cash.