By Jonathan Stettin
When talking about the wagering participants in the Sport of Kings, the term “hosed again” has become way too familiar. It’s like we’ve come not only to expect it, but to accept it. Nobody has more respect than I do for people who devote their lives to this great game in one way or another. After all, any real race tracker knows there are no jobs in horse racing. It’s a way of life. From hot walkers and grooms, to people who work concessions at the track, to trainers, riders, everyone involved in any way is making a commitment to a lifestyle. It’s a year round sport with no off season. With that well earned respect, let’s not forget for the moment there are primarily two groups that consistently put money into the game and keep the wheels turning. Those are owners and bettors. Not that things are perfect for owners, but today we’ll talk about bettors and a disappointing recent development. Non development may be a better way to say it. Say what you will, without the bettor, the game dies or moves to private backyards or farms.
There are many ways bettors get hosed. None worse than the one we’ll touch on today, but before that let’s brush past some of the obvious ways. Isn’t it fun when you bet against a favorite you don’t like in a multi race wager, and a late or gate scratch forces you to have it on your ticket. Maybe you preferred someone else, or maybe you had the favorite defensively already. Now you get stuck with it as opposed to someone you may actually want, or you get it twice when you could have added another horse. I can only presume the bettor, who puts their money in the game every day, isn’t important enough for the term “alternative selection” to be programmed into pari-mutual wagering systems. I think with your money you should be able to bet on who you actually want, under any circumstances.
Consistency is the main issue, and this has to be across the board at all tracks.
Some of the inconsistent and blatantly bad calls by stewards are tough to take. Consistency is the main issue, and this has to be across the board at all tracks. Take out subjectivity, make it objective, clearly defined rules on what warrants a disqualification and what doesn’t. The “it didn’t affect the outcome of the race” is too subjective, too inconsistent and ultimately unfair to bettors. Is there a better example than Bayern on our biggest stage? I miss the days when an inquiry went up and you watched the replay you knew what was going to happen. Today, not a chance. The other day there was an obvious bump in deep stretch at a track that shall remain unnamed here. No inquiry went up, no foul was claimed, and the bettors were left mystified. One such bettor on Twitter sent out a tweet he’d like to place a bettor’s claim of foul. That’s preposterous, after all it’s only his money they are handling.
I realize it’s expensive to put on the show, and racetracks need to make money to survive. Bettors put up with, and deal with, and factor in takeout, for just that reason. Nobody should complain about reasonable prices for reasonable items and services. Least of all me who has been comped for years at multiple tracks. With that I don’t see the reason to treat the daily player, and daily racetrack attendee as if they are attending The Super Bowl or World Series on some of our biggest days. There is a significant difference in these venues, people aren’t, as a rule, going to these sporting events to gamble. Racing is different, we are going to bet our money and should be treated accordingly. With ADW’s and more and more options, attendance will continue to decline unless tracks realize they need to treat players like Las Vegas does and not sporting venues. Sure an awful lot is bet on The Super Bowl, but how much of that is by people actually in the stadium. We should not exclude a lot of daily race trackers from the biggest days and events in the industry. Remember who butters your bread. We are a different animal. Treat us that way.
We all know the game is tough enough and I’m not even going to touch on drugs, larceny, cheating, or other similar type problems that are not exclusive to horse racing, but present anywhere money is involved. Make no mistake however, the bettor is hosed here too.
Now to the matter at hand. I was pleased to see Congress signed into law, tax incentives for horse owners and breeders including but not limited to, a three-year depreciation on race horses. This happened on December 18th. PATH as it’s called, The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act of 2015 allows a three-year period of recovery for purchases of racehorses through tax depreciation. The NTRA (National Thoroughbred Racing Association) fought long and hard for this as I understand it. Now at least we know it will be around for another few years. That’s great for the game and encouraging for both current owners and breeders and prospective ones as well. The provision allows for owners and breeders to depreciate racehorses 24 months of age and younger, when purchased and put into training or racing on a three-year schedule as opposed to a seven-year schedule. Obviously this is much more advantageous for the owner/taxpayer. There are also benefits for yearlings and broodmares in some circumstances. The NTRA is proud of the accomplishment and compliments Congress on the bill. There is nothing bad about this, it’s all fair and all good. But the bettor, hosed again.
Now I read a lot this past year or two how Congress, and The Treasury Department, and Internal Revenue Service were finally going to look at the IRS tax regulations as they pertain to horseplayers. This outdated unfair system has been hurting bettors and the industry as a whole, far too long. It started in 1978 as best I can tell and has not been changed or updated despite the drastic changes in wagering and wagering structures and exotic bets. I read the NTRA was pushing hard for this too. Nothing. I can’t find anywhere it was addressed or even complained about. I think The NTRA owed it to the bettors and industry to complain about this in the same manner they applauded the benefits for owners. Remember I said there were two, not one, groups that put money in. What about the other one? I also think every racing publication and writer who covered the tax incentive or whatever you choose to call it should have covered this “slight” as well. While admittedly I don’t read everything, I neither saw nor heard anything about it. It reminded me of the day John Nerud (RIP) won the last race in New York and every publication I know of ignored it until we wrote about it here. It’s worth reading about this man who did so much for the game and changed Florida breeding forever. You can read it here.
Under this current system, the IRS defines a large win as one that returns 300-1 odds or $300 for every $1 wagered. If you collect $600 or more from such a wager a W-2 is filled out right on the spot. If you collect $5000 or more, the IRS withholds 25% on the spot. Fair enough right? No, wrong.
Betting has changed significantly since 1978. Superfecta wagering, pick 4, 5, and 6 wagering, even triple wagering has changed the whole landscape. Under the current system you can actually lose money and be taxed as if you won. If you invest $6000 in a pick 6 that pays $5001, the IRS will tax you right then and there and withhold 25% of your winnings which aren’t even winnings. They don’t count the amount invested in the wager or amount you bet. They stick to that 300-1 rule even though it hasn’t made sense since exotic wagering changed everything. If a bettor boxes six horses in a superfecta on a $1 wager it will cost $360. If you do it for 10 cents it will cost $36. If the $1 payout is $6000 that’s about 16-1 on your money. That’s far less than 300-1 and not only will you be taxed but 25% will be withheld. By not counting the investment or amount wagered I’d argue the IRS is breaking their own rule at the bettors and industries expense. This is money that could be put back into the pools or player’s pocket. Congress ignored this yet again and not a peep about it. So yes thank you NTRA but what about the bettor?
What’s The Big Secret?
I recently got into a conversation on whether Eclipse Award votes should be public or anonymous. There were passionate opinions on both sides with some sound reasoning. It prompted us to do a poll on pastthewire.com. Well I can tell you of those who voted, 78% were in favor of public and 22% were in favor of private. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many people voted. We suspect a lot because it crashed our server and we had to take the poll down. I think they should be public. First off, we promote transparency. That’s transparent. It eliminates or at least discourages people voting based on venues, friendships and relationships, or even partnerships. It creates at least some accountability, which even though the votes are opinion in nature, we found out we needed when someone voted for California Chrome for turf horse. That individual might need their voting status reviewed. Voting is a granted privilege and should have some accountability, opinion or not. On the anonymous side were mostly arguments voters would be harassed about their votes. Comes with the territory.
It Can Happen to Anybody
Apprentice rider Gerardo Corrales took some heat for his ride on Enders Cat the other day in a maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park. Now I know how easy it is to get frustrated with riders. Especially after a losing bet. Remember though they have a hard high pressure job and deserve some slack. Gerardo didn’t realize or forgot it was a grass marathon and he opened a big lead under heavy urging on his horse. Even announcer Larry Collmus called what was happening. Ultimately Enders Cat ran out of gas and was dead last by many lengths. Well don’t be so harsh, it can happen to anybody. Way back when The Jockey Club Gold Cup was two miles and horses frequently raced marathon distances, Aqueduct had a series of marathon stakes they ran in the winter. One was The Display Handicap, run over 2 ¼ miles back then.
Back in 1986, Jorge Velasquez, one of the best ever, and a Hall of Famer, rode Southern Sultan, a Buckland Farm horse who was one of the favorites. I found it odd when Jorge went to the whip with another lap in the race and actually got the horse to the front at the finish line and stood up. The entire field passed him and he realized the error he made. There was nothing he could do at that point. I believe Erin Bright won the race but I’m going off memory. Jorge is a great guy and I knew him to talk too back then but never brought it up. The next day he went to Florida to ride for the winter. It can happen to anybody. I think some guy named Shoemaker (RIP) once misjudged the wire in some big race one day too.
The first high five this week goes out to Bruno De Julio and Corey Black. I think the industry and a lot of participants could learn from the straight up conversation they had and shared with the Elite Racing Network members on transparency and honesty in workouts. Not only did they share what goes on from an insider’s point of view, they shared how they feel about and handle individual situations that come up. The second goes to Danny Wolf for giving out an $8 pick 5 that returned about $650 for the 50 cent payoff. The third goes to John Mooney, aka Zenyatta John, who was on fire. Both on and off the show he had several top pick winners and some at very nice prices. Gino gets an honorable mention for tagging Prize Exhibit in the Monrovia Stakes at $17.80. Louis Masry was also hot.
As for me my pick 6 did not do well although my top pick Aren Vaughn won the opener at $13.00, and I had also used the second place finisher, Silver Summer, who was about 30-1. After that things went downhill as my single, Street Vision, never had clear sailing and was bottled up the entire stretch. It’s been a rough few weeks that way for me. Sometimes the game goes that way, no different than a run of bad cards. I feel like a horse on the wrong lead or a guy who forgot his glasses, and is up with two outs in the bottom of the 9th, with an 0 and 2 count, and Mariano Rivera on the mound. Those that know or follow me know it won’t last so no worries.
I joked to a friend I may relinquish the Pick 6 King name my Dad and some friends gave me long ago. Nonsense he said, when this is your biggest one at 540k, and you also have 143k, 126k, 123k, and 69k’s on your resume, you can keep the name for life. I can’t argue. Funny, of them all, the two I think of most are the two tough beats. I had it the day Awesome Again won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but was also alive with Swain, who finished on the outside fence losing several lengths, all the while under a left handed whip. That was a several hundred-thousand-dollar difference. Maybe the whole pool of over a million dollars? Frankie Dettori and I still aren’t straight on that. You watch it and tell me Swain should not have won. Make sure and watch the head on stretch run, they show it right after the race.
The other was Dancing House. That was just a few years ago. I singled her in the filly juvenile turf at 25-1, and Beholder to beat Princess of Sylmar in the Distaff. It was a $192 ticket I posted on Twitter which I rarely do. Beholder won easily but Dancing House wasn’t who I hoped she’d be. I needed her for 1.2 million. One horse for 1.2 million. I love this game. This is the life I’ve chosen. I can talk pick 6’s all day.
NTRA and all the racing publications who ignored the yet again slight by Congress and the IRS on the outdated gambling tax laws.