04/22/2013 11:31AM

Jay Bergman: Series finals rules need adjusting

Ron Burke dominated the George Morton Levy and Blue Chip Matchmaker series.

Whatever happened to it’s as clear as black and white?

The rules, spelled out in black and white on paper, and justice, as it was once known, no longer are clearly defined.

While all rules were theoretically made to be broken, the reality in today’s world is that shading the rules can allow one to profit while also avoiding punishment.

It’s got to be difficult in a society that once valued the law, to find so many of those who flaunt the spirit of the law, profiting while other “good” citizens are forced to watch and wonder what the true benefits are of abiding by the rules.

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The George Morton Levy series will offer its $450,000 finale on Saturday night. The series’ preliminary legs offered more than $1 million in purses thanks to 50 horses being nominated and wholesale divisions in the five rounds. Trainer Ron Burke started more horses than any other trainer by far and saw his horses earn more money as well. To say the series was ideally constructed for anyone of Burke’s talent and stable size is an understatement.

Some years ago, Yonkers management put into place its own rule for the final that prohibited any single trainer or owner from having more than two horses in it, regardless of whether they qualified among the leading point winners. The rule was challenged in a way a few years ago when an owner transferred a horse to one of his partners before the final. While that move may have looked shady on the outside, it didn’t prevent the extra horse from starting in the final.

This year trainer Burke made it clear well in advance that he is actively shopping at least two of his qualified finalists hoping to clear a path for Foiled Again to reach the final. He was able to unload point-leader Something For Doc at the 11th hour to trainer Mark Ford and his connections.

Burke and his stable have nothing to hide. They did what all capitalists look to do. They sold an asset that has added value (eligible for a $450,000 race within seven days), in a timely manner and profited from it.

In their way, they understood the rules and recognized that they couldn’t start all three and therefore must, if all horses are to race in the final, move one or two horses.

In drawing up the rules for the Levy final, it seems clear that track management wished for the best betting race they could find for the rich race.

Lost in the final rule, however, is essentially what has become of the preliminary legs. Burke’s dominance and his abundance of qualified horseflesh have left too many unbettable races, that is unless you could accept a $2.10 return. The highest win price in Saturday’s concluding leg was a paltry $2.50!

Rules requiring entries in stakes races were modified in some states (New Jersey, Ontario) a few years ago at the behest of track management. The desire was to achieve more betting interests no matter what the actual ties between two or more horses were. In my mind, the concept is flawed and will always be flawed, because it suggests that horses who have common connections will not work in concert to achieve the best outcome.


Yes, but that didn’t deter track management as they circumvented (forced its rewrite) the law while implying that horses would somehow race independently because of the size of the purse.

It’s hard to argue with that?

Again, what has become common about rules is that those on both sides of the fence will look to get around them when it’s in their personal or corporate interest.

The problem in today’s society is that it’s hard to achieve zero tolerance for rule-breaking, especially when added profit is generally the motive for those playing on the edges and there are so many “smart” lawyers to assist.

Is the answer to the dilemma more defined language in the rules? In the Levy, could next year’s rules limit the transfer of horses after the second leg of the series? This might alter the ability of stables to move horses in the manner we’re seeing today, but will it shift the balance of power in each leg or benefit the bettors?

Perhaps an even smarter move would be to not guarantee that one trainer has all of his horses split into separate fields. What if multiple Burke horses had to race against each other in the preliminaries? Burke would never enter eight horses in a series if the rules didn't allow for separation. Can you imagine having a race filled with only Burke horses? In the days that the Billy Haughton stable dominated and had the best horse in many stakes races, some owners, when shipping out of town to race, put the horses in Haughton's barn specifically so they wouldn't draw in against the best horse.

If any rules in the Levy or Blue Chip Matchmaker series need to change for the benefit of the gambler, it’s the implied restriction on field size. While there are no firm rules in the Levy or Matchmaker restricting field size, the track has seen fit to limit the number of horses in each leg and final to eight. Considering that there are an abundance of legs and incredible opportunity for horsemen to make money in this series, I can see no reason why an occasional nine- or 10-horse field wouldn't best serve the track and betting public. The track could even increase the purses in divisions that required nine or 10.

Why take such a major stance on just one race, the final, while showing less concern for the plight of 20 elimination races and the abundance of low-priced favorites.

Driver Changes: LOL

It’s hard to argue with success. The Meadowlands completed its first meet of 2013 with impressive handle numbers. Renewed interest in wagering on the product has given most everyone a positive feel about the mile track in East Rutherford, N.J. As we look forward to a new grandstand and the hope of attracting new live customers, we shouldn’t lose track of the established clientele.

That was essentially the feeling I was getting each weekend night as I watched the product at a simulcast outlet. How could the track that modeled itself on delivering an exciting product, with great audio and visual, somehow lose sight of its equipment changes?

In February, I began to notice that the Meadowlands graphics department had created a new “text-style” language to describe equipment changes. Instead of something like, “Add Head Pole Right Side”, the abbreviation would say +HPR.

The modifications didn’t become a concern to me until I started seeing abbreviations that I didn’t recognize. Such as “Plus 1/2 PR” on Feb. 9 or “chgdr and ovck” on March 16, then finally on April 12, “HN steel to none.”

On each occasion I contacted the Meadowlands director of television Sam McKee, and he explained what each abbreviation represented.

Finally after the last one, McKee moved into action and corrected the problem. He agreed that few would easily understand that the April 12 equipment change actually meant hind shoes from steel to racing with no shoes.

The very next night McKee went back to the original. Changes were spelled out in full form and anyone wishing to use them for wagering could at least understand them before placing a bet.
Shorthand has become commonplace in today’s society, and in most cases those tuned into the language can play along. In communicating information that people will use to wager on, shortcuts are not always the best way to go.

TTFN (Ta Ta For Now).