01/12/2014 11:44PM

Jay Bergman: Embracing the future

Derick Giwner
Driver Yannick Gingras is one of the most active horsemen on Twitter.

If you live in the past, you die in the past.

That has been my motto for some time and I must say there has been a growing risk to my life recently as I struggled with “tweeting” as a form of reliable information. It hit a fever pitch a few weeks ago when after seeing streams of “tweets” from drivers and trainers over the Meadowlands simulcast signal I read a tweet from an owner.

I was outraged. In as much as I had difficulty accepting tweets from parties that by the nature of the subject were guaranteed to have to say something positive (how can a driver slam a horse he’s being paid to drive?), I couldn’t understand who would sanction owners weighing in on the subject?

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I guess this is social media and what defines what gets said and what gets heard in this society. It has become a voice and people are starting to pay attention.

The Meadowlands has done a great job bringing the tweets to life over the course of the last few weeks and in doing so appears to be gaining momentum as more and more horsemen are embracing the ability to say something prior to a contest.

We are very far removed from past performances of generations past and I must say it is in most cases good news.

For those who haven’t been on the scene that long, Harness Eye, nee Sports Eye, had to struggle with state officials just to get a “short comment” printed in the program. The racing commissions both in New York and New Jersey didn’t want anything to go into the program that could be viewed as an opinion. They preferred the past performance line to include just numbers that were taken from a horse’s position on the racetrack at individual points. They wanted odds that were officially calibrated. Essentially they wanted only information that was based on fact.

When I started reading the “tweets” of drivers and trainers, I recognized immediately that I had to take some with a grain of salt since it’s always important when listening to “consider the source.” Yet the more and more I read driver Yannick Gingras’ tweets (@Gingras3), I become convinced that not only is he a superstar on the racetrack, but he’s a breath of fresh air in social media. Not only does Gingras come off as being honest and direct, he actually seems to know the horses intimately and puts out tweets that share characteristics in an open forum.

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I have found the tweets of some trainers to be a little bit more self-serving while at the same time incredibly positive. Again, consider the source. A trainer has to answer to owners and therefore if he or she is willing to speak before the race, it’s unlikely anything negative will be revealed.

I’m not expecting anytime in the near future that a trainer would indicate that the horse was coughing in the paddock or didn’t warm up well, though that kind of news would be a breath of fresh air.

Getting back to racing commissions being uncomfortable with opinions stated in the program, my first observation of the Meadowlands and Woodbine/Mohawk displaying tweets was negative, if for the very fact that only some of those participating in the race were voicing information while others were remaining quiet. Is this really fair to the handicapper or does it present some form of bias?

Yet over time, I have to say just having a few helped to break ground in an area unfamiliar to most but obviously growing in popularity. The fact that the Meadowlands and Woodbine/Mohawk began to promote the tweets will hopefully lead to more drivers and trainers speaking out before horses go to post. Just like handicapping past performances, bettors now must consider how valuable the information that is tweeted is worth to them when placing a bet.

Beyond tweeting, Friday’s Meadowlands simulcast broke new ground as far as I’m concerned and may have done so without intention. Ron Pierce, fresh and apparently fuming after Marty Party, his mount in the seventh race, was disqualified from a victory and placed fourth, had the microphone courtesy of Wendy Ross and let it be known he was none too thrilled with the judges’ decision. Quite frankly, I didn’t have an audio feed but have been told by those who did that the words “Salvation Army” came out of Pierce’s mouth during this brief, but biting interview.

Without sound I could see Pierce gesturing with his hands and just that alone led me to believe that he must have been agitated by the takedown.

To me, this was not only great entertainment, but displayed a side of the business that rarely gets public attention. The side where a bad call (for Pierce) shows the betting public just how serious our drivers are about racing and most definitely how inflamed they can become when victory is snatched by the judges. It was revealed to me by a reliable Meadowlands official, that Pierce suggested that the picture on the racetrack is far different than what the viewers see on the monitors. That is something that you have to believe and take seriously. Just take a look anytime an NFL replay shows the multiple angles officials can use to review a call on the field. Our judges have an incredibly difficult task to rule assessing space and timing from distant cameras.

The Meadowlands team should be applauded for catching Pierce at just the right time and letting him speak his mind. It was somewhat ironic that Pierce continued to speak while simultaneously his mount for the eighth race, Deadliest Catch, was walking behind him set to go on the track for the post parade without a driver.

Pierce did get in the bike in time but just knowing how hot and bothered he appeared to be, I had to question whether he could throw away what just happened in the seventh race and do an effective job behind the 3-2 public choice in the eighth race. Deadliest Catch got away well behind the field and broke stride while trying to catch up.

It was at that moment that it dawned on me just how powerfully information, whether tweeted or displayed on camera, can be towards making a gambling decision in modern times.

This is a present and a future I can live with.



Rob Key More than 1 year ago
Nice article Jay. As you may know, harness racing has started an overall social media marketing focused initiative that already is beginning to have an impact. New initiatives are close to being rolled out that will have an even greater impact. I applaud the USTA for helping to fund this and drive this initial work forward. The meadowlands has been one of the entities at the forefront of this, but that's just the beginning. Cheers.
Donna Smith More than 1 year ago
Glad to know others were watching the interview. Pierce has never been my favorite driver, but I'll certainly remember "It's not the Salvation Army out there" and take some judges decisions with a grain of salt. Low visibility on that particular night can't have made their job any easier, yet it's obvious the drivers have a much better view than any judges looking at replays from one or two camera angles. Thanks to Ronnie for providing some insight and also some surely unintended entertainment.
William Waters More than 1 year ago
Thoughtful post, Donna. You're right--a typical Pierce interview ends with insight and entertainment.