The horse racing customer tells you what they’re thinking

by Dean Towers

Participants betting against their own horses, curious qualifiers and Big M driver interviews highlight a few do’s and don’ts of the past week.

We’ve seen several issues pop up over the last little while that illustrate how the customers of the sport and its participants are sometimes on the wrong or right page. I’ve always liked to examine what the reactions are on the other side of the pylons, good or bad, so let’s go.

First up, we saw jockey Mychel Sanchez banned for 60 days by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission for betting opposing horses in races he was riding. This is pretty basic – you can’t bet against yourself – but what caused the betting customer the most consternation was: “Why is this suspension only 60 days?”

I hear them. In a game with $12 billion of annual wagering where the integrity of the betting pools is of paramount concern, two months seems like a slap in the face to the betting customer.

Even when Sanchez’s attorney told the media his client has been suffering from “some type of depression,” it didn’t stop the criticism. Players were just left wondering why in 60 days they’ll be betting on or against a jockey whose own attorney says has mental health issues. Everyone feels for people going through problems like Sanchez might be, but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t admit customers have a point.

Over to harness racing, there’s not much more frustrating for some of the wagering faithful than seeing well bet horses who might not figure.

Last Thursday at Mohawk, a horse making his first pari-mutuel start in about 18 months qualified from the back in 1:59.1 coming 5th by 10. The horse had some back class and could surely win the race, but off that charted line and long break I wouldn’t excuse anyone for thinking he had three legs.

I doth protest too much. The colt was power brushed to the lead and won by six in 1:56 with a :26.4 kick home in -17 degree weather. And he was bet down to a miniscule 70 cents on the dollar.

Whether the above poster is right or wrong on this particular qualifier is irrelevant.

It’s not lost on me that these bet downs are much easier to see today because there is so little public money in the pools. And one of the reasons there’s so little public money in the pools is exactly because of events like this. It shouldn’t be lost on any of us.

The customers are asking the judges to do their jobs better. If something strange is happening in the betting pools, our judges need to call up the connections and let bettors know they are looking out for them. It isn’t 1970 anymore.

Flipping over to the positive (no, the news is not all bad!), from what I see, the Meadowlands is on the horseplayer happy radar. Recently, as most of you know, the flagship harness track has expanded their use of live video with participant interviews during the card.

I think the drivers and trainers are providing excellent information to the customer on what their approach is, on the health of their horse, along with how or why the horse qualified. The response from people I speak with has been encouraging.

As well, the Meadowlands new “mic’d up” segment has been well received. Again, the customer is taken into the race, and if they wagered on one of the featured horses, they knew what the drivers were thinking while carrying their money.

This feature spawned some chatter that perked my ears up – some have suggested drivers be miked during the post parade and score downs. Yes, the logistics of such a thing are near impossible, but to me it illustrates how much information the harness racing customer craves. Even last weekend, if you were watching closely, driver Andy Miller gave JK Will Power a couple of one-handers and scored him out aggressively. The gelding won and paid $61. Hearing his commentary would’ve been eye-opening and refreshing (and possibly lucrative) to listeners.

Customers are a finicky bunch, but they’re fairly consistent. When things they don’t like occur, you can bet your bottom dollar they will let you know. When it’s something they like, they’ll let you know as well. The industry should always keep its ears and eyes open.