04/02/2017 9:36AM

Watchmaker: Horseplayers deserve better treatment


Before we get to Saturday’s stakes action, a rant:

Horseplayers put up with a lot, from onerous parimutuel takeouts to an overall lack of understanding and respect for the indispensible role we play in the game.

Purses are funded primarily through the money horseplayers bet. Without that money, purses would be a tiny, tiny fraction of what they are. If purses were a tiny fraction of what they are, really, how many owners of Thoroughbred race horses would continue to own horses? With no chance for owners to recoup their investment, let alone turn a profit, what incentive would there be for the vast majority to participate?

Think about the dominoes that would fall if owners walked away because horseplayer money was no longer there to fund them. Without owners, what market would there be for breeders to breed horses? Without owners, would there be any need for trainers to train, and for jockeys to ride? Would there be any further need for racetracks and simulcast signals?

Simply put, no horseplayers, no game.

I relate this, again, because on two occasions Saturday, Grade 2 stakes races at Fair Grounds and Gulfstream Park were run at the same time. The Gulfstream Park Oaks went off moments after the Muniz Memorial Handicap was underway. A little more than an hour later, the Louisiana Derby and the Pan American were run simultaneously.

Horseplayers are forced to tolerate this nonsense all the time. But the fact that this happened twice on Saturday, in the type of races involved and in such a relatively short period of time, really struck a nerve with me. And judging from the visceral reaction I saw on social media, it angered a bunch of other people, too.

I don’t care which party is at fault here. We all know that Gulfstream habitually makes a mockery of scheduled post times. But on Saturday, Fair Grounds brought a stakes field on the track with zero minutes to post. And I don’t really care about the underlying political motivations involved, either. But as a horseplayer, I do care about how I am treated.

The game is doing okay, but it’s not doing so great that tracks can show such a complete disregard for its most important audience. Running two Grade 2 stakes races at the same time twice within an 80-minute window was downright abusive, not only to horseplayers – you know, the people who pick up the damn check – but also to the type of racing fans the industry seems so bent on attracting. Imagine being new to the sport and just wanting to watch good horses perform, and being forced to choose which stakes horses you get to watch because the races are being run at the same time, as if there aren’t enough minutes in a day.

It’s absurd beyond words.

Saturday notes:

** Full disclosure: I was very much against Always Dreaming in the Florida Derby because I didn’t think he was fast enough. It wasn’t that paltry 71 Beyer Figure he earned winning an allowance race on the Fountain of Youth undercard, because that number was obviously dragged way down by a walking pace. It was all about the 88 Beyer Always Dreaming earned in a neck defeat to Blame Will last summer in his second career start, his top fig going into Saturday. Blame Will ran twice before that decision over Always Dreaming, earning Beyers of 66 and 61. Blame Will has run four times since, and his Beyers have been 65, 58, 66, and 71.

In other words, I read that Blame Will/Always Dreaming Beyer of 88 as an aberration. Until Saturday, it stuck out like a sore thumb on the records of both horses.

So I was wrong about Always Dreaming, but I do credit him with a fine effort Saturday, one clearly many lengths better than anything he had done before.

** Don’t, however, rely too much on the final time of the Florida Derby as a means to measure how well Always Dreaming performed. The official Florida Derby chart has a final time of 1:47.47 for the 1 1/8 miles after fractions of 23.28 seconds, 47.08, 1:10.75, and 1:34.94. But there was clearly something up regarding the time of the Florida Derby, which harkens back to the timing issues involved in the other big 1 1/8-mile Grade 1 main track stakes event at the meet, the Pegasus World Cup. Nothing was posted on the video of the Florida Derby after the first quarter mile split, and nothing time-wise was posted on the track video feed after the Florida Derby was over, either. So consider the fractions and final time put out there as best guesstimates.

** Gulfstream and Trakus really need to clean up what appears to be an obvious issue timing 1 1/8-mile main-track races there.

** Unreliable fractions and final times - Add them to the list of things horseplayers are forced to tolerate.

** Despite what fractions appear in the official chart, my sense is the pace of the Florida Derby was not fast. The horses running second and third early wound up running one-two, while the early pacesetter, Three Rules, is obviously not a route horse at this level of competition. And runner-up State of Honor has now lost ground in the final furlong of all six of his career two-turn starts, yet he still managed to clearly hold second over a too-late Gunnevera.

** Girvin is a nice horse. I’d love to own him. He was clearly best winning the Louisiana Derby in what was only his fourth career start, just like he was winning the Risen Star in his prior outing. But Girvin had another smooth trip Saturday. He beat an opponent in Patch who was coming off only a maiden victory and beat him by just 1 1/4 lengths, earning a pedestrian Beyer of only 91. Girvin still has every license to improve, but he’ll have to, and significantly, if he is to be a real contender in the Kentucky Derby.

** The Kentucky Oaks took a blow last week with the injury to the brilliant Unique Bella. But Salty and Farrell suggested with solid stakes scores Saturday that they will try their best to fill the vacuum.

Salty was very good winning the Gulfstream Park Oaks in just her third career start, her first outing after her maiden victory, and her first attempt around two turns. Salty put in a sustained, wide run from off the pace and won off, going away. And she’s only going to get better.

Farrell had the Fair Grounds 3-year-old fillies at her mercy all winter and she walloped them again in the Fair Grounds Oaks, her fourth straight stakes victory, all by substantial win margins.