Bettors Beware

The debate about the “No Tuck” rule continues to rage at The Meadowlands.

by Debbie Little

Top horses are returning to prep for the stakes season and bettors better brush up on the rules.

There was a lot of banter on social media after One Eight Hundred made his 2022 debut in March and when reigning Horse of the Year, Test Of Faith, returned to the track for her 4-year-old campaign on May 7. Both races were at The Meadowlands.

Some of the discussion was about what’s been labeled as the “No Tuck” rule, while others felt it was bad optics to have both One Eight Hundred and Test Of Faith not be forwardly placed as the 2-5 and 6-5 betting favorites, respectively.

The rule in question from the New Jersey Administrative Code clearly states that “Laying off a normal pace and leaving a hole when it is well within the horse’s capacity to keep the hole closed,” is a violation.

This rule is not new, but it is getting a lot of attention these days.

“I can tell you, it was called differently over the years from the time I went to The Meadowlands until I quit racing,” said Meadowlands’ all-time leading driver, John Campbell. “Sometimes, it was extremely strict and unreasonable and sometimes it was very lax and everything in between over the years. I will tell you, it was fairly strict the first, I would say, 12 years at least.”

Campbell started racing at The Big M in 1978 and won his last race there in 2017 before retiring to become president and chief executive officer of the Hambletonian Society.

To some it may be semantics, but to Campbell there’s a distinct difference between tucks and holes.

“Letting somebody in is a totally different thing, don’t confuse the two,” said Campbell. “All horses cannot get out of the gate and get to the first quarter at the same speed in the same fashion. They’re not cars. So, some can leave faster than others, some can accelerate on the turn faster than others, so there’s going to be holes depending on the pace. Some horses don’t travel as well in the first turn. There’s always going to be holes and that is different than letting horses in. There are two different issues.”

The question remains, does the betting public understand the rules when it comes to keeping holes closed?

“I don’t know who the average bettor is anymore,” said professional gambler Les Stark. “I think that most people that bet are much more sophisticated than if you go back 40 years ago. So, I think most of the people that play now probably have an understanding of what the “No Tuck” rule is.”

It’s not a surprise that long-time bettors such as Stark would have a good handle on the rules. However, right now those rules are perhaps not quite so black and white.

“The rule does not apply to 2-year-olds,” said Meadowlands president/chief executive officer Jeff Gural. “We told the drivers that we would cut them a little slack, because we recognize that these horses are valuable and they’re making their first start and if they draw the nine or 10 hole we don’t want them to necessarily be afraid to leave because they’re afraid they’re going to get parked. So, we did make a minor change for the month of May for the stakes races.

“But so far, truthfully, the stakes races I’ve watched, they’ve actually closed the holes. I think they’re getting used to closing the holes and, hopefully, the public recognizes that the racing is different and the goal is to give the horses coming from behind a better opportunity.”

Gural and his team have worked hard to put the best possible product on the track, but even with those efforts, there are still complaints.

“The biggest problem we have, truthfully, is people pick up the program and bet and yet we know that the trainer may be instructing the driver to race a horse easy, especially if it’s the first or second start, or if he’s getting him ready for a big race. And the betting public has no way of knowing,” said Gural. “And the betting public then complains and they’re right. And I get it. I own horses. I’ve been there. And at the same time, people bet on it so we’ve got to be cognizant of the fact that: a) people bet on it, and b) most racetracks are empty. So, if we’re just going to keep doing the same thing over and over again, we’re going to get the same result, which is the definition of insanity.”

The Meadowlands has done an exemplary job of keeping the bettors informed when it comes to whipping rules, which appear in the on-track program. However, there is nothing in there regarding keeping holes closed.

“I think you would be better served to try to educate the bettors than trying to manipulate how the drivers are driving the races,” said Nancy Takter, trainer of One Eight Hundred. “We have to teach people or inform people on a kindergarten level. I think we’re trying to teach them like they have a PhD and they don’t. We’re over complicating it for them.

“That’s why I went right out and said it in the [Dave Brower] race review [in the program] that the horse is going to race off a helmet. I didn’t spend four months to have my horse gutted to go fast to the half to get hung out there and have him stop again. I wanted him to pass horses finishing.”

Takter believes One Eight Hundred could have won that race if the fractions had set up more favorably for him, but even with her pre-race explanations, she was still skewered on social media.

“I got so much hate mail after his race,” said Takter. “He wasn’t even off the track yet and messenger was going off on my phone. ‘You and Dex stiffed that one. Thanks for screwing the public.’ And I was like, no, I informed you that was going to happen.”

Brett Pelling, trainer of Test Of Faith, thinks the rules need to be in the program so that every bettor knows what’s going on.

“Our business revolves around one thing, and that’s the gambler,” said Pelling. “And [The Meadowlands] needs to program that information so that Joe Blow knows about it. People need
to know.”

In regard to Test Of Faith’s first start, Pelling had no intention of having her leave and made sure he and driver David Miller were on the same page.

“David, there’s no frigging way in the world that you’re going forward out of the gate,” said Pelling. “You understand that, right? And he’s like ‘I know. That’s what I was going to do anyway. I don’t want to get parked.’”

Both Takter and Pelling would like to see drivers given more leeway to make strategic race choices.

“This may be a bad analogy, but if you have a performer like Madonna and you tell her, You have to do your routine this way,’ you’re taking away what makes her, her,” said Takter. “There has never, ever, ever, been a moment where I have questioned any of my drivers’ desire to win a race.”

“These are the best drivers in the world,” said Pelling. “They are the crème de la crème that know what they’re doing and they’re out there to win. They’re competing. There’s no losing driving fee in America. You don’t get a losing driving fee. The only time you get paid is you finish fifth or better.”

Takter also suggested that if a driver doesn’t keep a hole closed and a horse drops in, that driver should be interviewed live following that race to see why it happened.

Stark doesn’t think that The Meadowlands is obliged to take people by the hand and tell them what the rules are and what to be wary of.

“It’s gambling and we’ve been doing it for a long time and if you’re dipping your toe into the pools and you’re betting any money beyond a $2 show bet, you should have a certain understanding of what a horse’s first start out for a stakes performer may include,” said Stark. “If you analyze the Pelling and David Miller situation, they will almost always give one a fairly easy race first start, especially one of that quality.

“I’m not sure if I bet against One Eight Hundred, but I’m pretty sure I did and I certainly bet against Test Of Faith, even though she’s as good a horse as can look through a bridle. Only because she’d have to come so far and she wasn’t in by herself.”

In regard to properly explaining things to our fans, Campbell thinks you can never go wrong giving more information.

“We’ve done a terrible job about that over the years,” said Campbell. “We should have started that in the 1960s. My opinion and the participants opinion are really moot. It’s what the bettors want and expect. That’s who we should be listening to.”