HRU Feedback (2021-07-11)

RE: New crooks same as the old crooks

It’s been awhile since I’ve responded to Feedback but in the July 4 edition David Perry’s letter Meet The New Crooks Same As The Old Crooks (full story here) had me going. First off, I believe that everyone has a right to counsel and in many cases should be innocent until proven guilty, but not all crimes should be painted with the same innocent brush. How many times just in the past few months/years have crimes been committed and have been caught on video and yet these cases have clogged up the justice system? I truly believe that outside of a few that have already bargained a plea deal that were involved with this large indictment case of horsemen nothing substantial will come out of it and it will be “business as usual.”

Back in the day when racing had overflowing crowds if you won a race improving your best time by tons, the way we see now, you wouldn’t be there next week, the head judge would call you in and tell you to pack up your trunks and get going. The sport today has been very lax with their pass the buck attitude with their standard line of “not enough funding.”

Here is the real story, the accredited labs that do the testing, horse racing is not a big deal with them. They have better paying clients than each provincial or each state government which is the real reason why it takes weeks and in some cases months for tests to come back. The only fair game in racing is in the Far East where they protect their betting public by the strictest of pre- and post-race testing and the reality of prison time should you be foolish enough to try. I have emailed this government, the previous government and the government prior to them in Ontario and all of my emails have gone unanswered as to why years ago they washed their hands of racing but always were around for their piece just like the protection rackets of the ‘20s/’30s. The reality is all have a small piece, your favorite hockey player, baseball, football player and team owners, your trainers, drivers, jockeys all of sports have their piece. And to keep this running smoothly just like the old days they all have to kick a piece of their piece up to the top guy (government). Now you might think I have been hitting the sauce too much when writing this but just think about it the next time the heavy favorite breaks or backs through the field, or last year’s Super Bowl and don’t think it won’t happen again with another player and team, in fact that script is probably done just waiting for January.

Bob Adams / London, ON

Yonkers: To bet or to not bet

After reading Brett Sturman’s piece on the Yonkers No Contest debacle (full story here), one must wonder if transparency is of paramount importance at any track today. You have to ask yourself why Yonkers finds it necessary to create an aura of suspicion regarding how its racing is overseen. From a track that has had issues with finish line camera placement, passing lane-no passing lane and the Lou Pena saga, you’d think that getting things right the first time would be  #1 in lessons learned.

1. What we do know is that this is 2021 and the general public for the most part has an educational background far superior to the betting public of the ‘70s, meaning if it isn’t transparent and honest you’re going to get called on it.

2. Every racetrack has a Gaming Official on-site so the person THEY the track would normally defer to is already there in-place.

3. The computerized tote system used today is smart enough to launch a NASA satellite so betting transactions can be easily and instantly analyzed on the go.

4. Betting portals such as TwinSpires give me and my laptop access and ability to see real time pool and betting numbers moment to moment‚ meaning answers were available on the run. If I’m Yonkers then I’ve got an IT department that can instantly analyze irregularities in real-time so it appears something else is going on here.

5. The fact that Yonkers has all tools necessary for instant mitigation of issues and still went in the opposite direction is troubling and may indicate a systemic issue.

In closing I would add that I personally witnessed this kind of issue at a half-mile track here in Michigan. It was in the ‘80s-‘90s timeframe. Early on, the tote betting was shut down at the sound of the OFF BELL, all terminals and ticket sales were shut down with a system shutdown. In this case the hesitation in recognizing the system failure resulted in a few thousand dollars’ worth of sales, the track ate the mistake.

Now fast forward to today and with the available technology at the track’s fingertips and tell me if you think the tracks actions make any sense?  Someone once said when you put PEOPLE, OPPORTUNITY and MONEY together strange things can sometimes happen.

David Perry / Dearborn MI

Modern sulkies have greatly damaged the sport

The Meadowlands issued a press release this week announcing a driver’s meeting for July 16. It includes this statement: “We want to discuss the unfavorable comments we have received from our customers regarding the lack of competitiveness in many of the races. I’d like to talk about how we can improve the product.”

In my opinion, even though the Meadowlands racing isn’t anywhere near as good as it used to be, it still has the best harness racing product in the U.S. I give them credit for trying to improve it. Many racing fans complain about the lack of movement and action at harness tracks throughout North America. Those of you who are old enough to remember the glory days of the Meadowlands know that the action on the track was frenetic. The late and legendary racing secretary, Joe DeFrank, wanted the drivers to be on the move early and often, and they obliged. The result was the most exciting and action-packed harness racing the sport has ever seen.

Today you hear complaints that the race flow is stagnant. In many races at various tracks, the horses are lined up in single file until well past the half. Years ago, by the time horses reached the half mile pole, in most races, four horses were already out and on the move. On half-mile tracks, you’d often hear the words, “four in and four out at the half.”

So what happened? The drivers get a lot of the blame. You hear people say things like, “It’s the old boys club out there, the drivers are too friendly.” I have to admit, it does often look like the drivers aren’t aggressive. One of the most boring tracks is Harrah’s Philadelphia, a five-eighths track. The races are so dull there that it looks as if the drivers choreograph each race in the locker room before hand. Usually a horse leaves and cuts the mile, or yields to a quarter-mover who cuts the mile. There’s rarely a contested pace. Not surprisingly, even though the horses and drivers are top quality, very few people attend the races and the handle is modest.

But, I have to defend the drivers because I know that there’s more here than what meets the eye. The truth is, the lack of movement in the races has a lot to do with the faster times and faster bikes. Years ago, the Meadowlands was doing some interviews in the paddock, right before the races. Unfortunately, I can’t find them on YouTube anymore, but I remember seeing George Brennan and Brian Sears being interviewed on separate occasions. They were both asked about the fact that there wasn’t as much movement in the backstretch as years ago. I’m paraphrasing here, but they both said essentially the same thing: “No one wants to pull first over into a :27 third quarter.”

And that’s there is the rub. If you go back to the old days when there was a lot more action, the driver on the lead was trying to slow the pace down. That’s why horses were able to rush into contention during the action-packed third quarter. Now, harness racing has a severe speed bias. The drivers know this. Look at a track like Northfield Park. Year ago, Northfield had the most movement of any half-mile harness track. Generally speaking, they still have more movement than most half-mile tracks, but nowhere near the kind of action they used to have. Northfield’s driving colony is probably better than ever, so it’s not like the drivers aren’t talented. Northfield’s two leading drivers are Aaron Merriman and Ronnie Wrenn, Jr. Both are winning at over 21 per cent. Both have similar styles when they get the lead with a horse, they rate the half and then step on the gas during the third quarter, often opening up by a few lengths. When this happens, the first over horse gets left in the dust and the outside flow is backed up. You can’t blame the drivers for driving like that. They know that’s the smart approach to just try to bottom out the field, because the front runners don’t get tired.

The bottom line is, the sport has an extreme inside speed bias. Outside posts win half as often as they used to. Posts 7 and 8 on half mile tracks are essentially automatic throw outs. Mohawk just added a staggered starting gate because horses from post 10 hardly even won.

Part of the reason why there’s a bias is the modern day sulkies, which have greatly damaged the sport. Most of the bikes now are 10 inches offset, which is weird, quite frankly, and they have a design that’s simply detrimental to good racing. Years ago, the drivers sat close to the horse. Now, the drivers are far behind the horse, and their hands are so far behind the horse, it’s as if they were driving a car from the backseat. And, now almost all of the drivers lean far back. This means that there’s several more feet in between each horse. When you extrapolate this out, in a ten horse field, the horses sitting 9th and 10th are somewhere around twenty feet farther away from the leader than they were in the old bikes. If you don’t believe me, look at the charts from Mohawk and Hoosier Park, two tracks that use Trakus to record their charts. In 10-horse fields, many times you see horses 15 to 17 lengths behind! And you wonder why closers don’t win?

In today’s sport, to win from third or fourth over is almost impossible. Way too many races are won by leavers, either the horse on the lead, or the pocket horse. First over does pretty well because the driver doesn’t have to go wide. Second over isn’t usually a good trip anymore.

You can try to put the blame on the drivers, but the truth is, as long as we keep using these ridiculous speed bikes with the driver leaning way back, leavers and inside posts will dominant. Unfortunately, not only does this make the racing look less exciting, but the inside speed bias also greatly contributes to the low payoffs and high percentage of winning favorites. No one bets the outside posts or closers so a horse that would have been 2-1 years ago, now goes off at 4-5.

What’s sad is that everyone knows that the bikes suck, but no one does anything about it. Look at the racing from France as an example. The drivers are closer to the horse and sit up straight. The races are action-packed and the outside flow is strong. And, hey, look at the stands and the apron, they’re full of spectators!

It is what it is. Stop complaining about the product if you have no intention of fixing it. You can chat with the drivers all you want. It won’t make much of a difference because you’re not going to get a good outside flow with these speed favoring bikes.

Bob Pandolfo / Northampton, PA