02/06/2015 11:40AM

Letters to the editor: 'Concealed' rabbits are affecting races

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In the 1967 Woodward Stakes at Aqueduct, Frank Whiteley Jr. used Hedevar as a rabbit to force Dr. Fager to use up too much of his great speed and thus ensure a very fast pace so that his come-from-behind champ Damascus would have a much better chance to win, which, as everyone knows, is exactly how the race developed.

Everyone also knew Whiteley’s strategy before the race, and the ‘67 Woodward remains a textbook example of pace handicapping when a rabbit is employed. But with or without a rabbit, the handicapping of every race involves an evaluation of pace, and especially its early speed. If there’s a lone speed, and if the horse has shown some ability in the past, the lone speed will have a much better chance of winning than he would when there are a couple of other horses who might contest the early pace.

This is Handicapping 101. But lately – let’s say in the last five years – something major has happened that has made this basic handicapping tool almost obsolete: the proliferation of “concealed” rabbits in races. They’re impossible to ignore at every level, including major stakes: Horses who are often at odds of 50-1 or higher, have virtually no chance of winning, and often haven’t even displayed much early speed in the past are constantly going for the lead in race after race, inevitably hurting speed horses who have a legitimate chance to win.

These longshots usually finish far back, but they have significantly increased the chances for off-the-pace horses to prevail. If you’re new to the sport, you might even think that this is a normal way for races to develop, but I assure you that this wasn’t the case when I first began betting races in 1960, and it has only become commonplace during the past few years.

Also, it’s getting worse. But why are trainers now using their horses this way? They’re not training other horses in these races, so there’s no obvious reason for their telling the jockeys to go for the lead, even though their chances of winning are slim, at best. Is it possible that there is collusion between the trainers or the jockeys? Is this a new way of fixing races?

I’d like to think that there’s another reasonable explanation for what’s happening repeatedly in races now, but surely everyone who handicaps races from a pace standpoint knows that what I’m observing has warped many races and is giving closers an unfair advantage that they never had in the past. With a hidden rabbit ready to jump out in any race, who can back any horse with early speed in any race now with confidence?

Joel Flegler
Tenafly, N.J.

Chapa deserves stiff penalty

Perhaps it’s being on my third cup of coffee or just wishful thinking ... Is horse racing really trying this time to clean up its act? I hope so because it’s long overdue. It’s about time that the culture of racing catches up with the rest of the sports world. Back in the day (as in last year), I’m positive that buzzers were turned a blind eye toward despite being deemed illegal.

Sam Houston Race Park and the state of Texas taking Roman Chapa to task with a felony charge after allegedly being caught with a buzzer is great to see and welcomed. Could it be that the “green shoots” of accountability are finally showing amid the vast number of issues that face racing? Or is this an isolated case of justice trying to be served because the evidence seems so blatantly obvious?

I’d like to think it’s the former, though it could be that third-cup-of-coffee optimism talking.

P.J. Orlando
Tucson, Ariz.

Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
I'm sure a few bucks under the table (collusion)as you call it to have a jock send.On top of that,they occasionally hang on for purse money.Speaking of rabbits i remember years back at Santa Anita(the stakes race name eludes me,maybe The San Bernardino Handicap)the great Charlie Whittingham entered Champion Pilot a decent Gr2-3 horse as a rabbit to press Precisionist.The tactic worked as planned and Greinton won the race.
Héctor Lebrón More than 1 year ago
A truly good horse should be able to run the early speed into the ground and hold off the late charges. DW Lukas sent five horses at Bayakoa and failed. It's part of handicapping!
Mike More than 1 year ago
Simply brilliant letter by Joel Flegler!
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
You bet/invest your money and take your chances ! Want to talk old times, Calumet in the fifties used to enter six in Hol gold cup, Citation Two Lea. Couldn't get near them, escorted around the track. The " Pumper " used a buzzer (fill in jocks name)
Jimmy Metzger More than 1 year ago
With all due respect, this commentary about "concealed rabbits" is a silly gripe. Sometimes a seemingly outclassed horse is going to take a chance to steal a race. What part of that doesn't make sense? It's part of handicapping a race.
Matthew Hood More than 1 year ago
I agree, I haven't noticed any difference over the past few years. Also sometimes trainers are trying to do something different with a horse who is struggling.
Jimmy Metzger More than 1 year ago
Yeah, that's pretty much exactly what I meant. Wasn't implying the horse took it upon himself, haha.