I Wish….Past the Wire’s Annual Christmas Wish List

December 20, 2017

The holiday season is upon us, and it is time for the first annual Past the Wire Christmas wish list for the Sport of Kings. Remember this is only a wish list, and I hardly expect any, let alone all, to come true. It is however, my wish list and wishes fall under the hope category, and hope is something in all walks of life nobody can ever take away from you.

I expect to be in both the majority and minority on these wishes as we can  never all agree on everything. That’s what makes a horse race and pari mutual wagering so much fun and so competitive. I do think and admittedly  I am biased here, that many of these wishes would be better for the game and industry as a whole. As this is the first list, it is rather long, but the more you ask for the more you get. Start high, you can always go down from there.

Wish 1- I wish racing would move towards a central governing body, made up of members from all aspects of the sport, including horsemen, bettors, officials, and businessmen. We would also need a commissioner and the establishment of one set of rules for all racetracks, states and jurisdictions to follow. Other sports that are played in multiple states and even countries have it, why can’t we? The governing body would need transparency, and a safeguard against conflicts of interest, being it is made up of industry people. 

Wish 2- Less drugs. A lot less drugs and more control and accountability. First off, let’s start with things like only actual bleeders being treated with Lasix. Many jurisdictions are “reportedly” free of race day medications, and I am a supporter of this. They seem to do fine. I grew up in an era when Lasix was not permitted in New York, and we had great horses with longevity and great careers. Championships went through New York racing. That pretty much trumps the argument horses “need” Lasix. History shows they don’t, however I am a reasonable man, and against anything that hurts a horse. That said, I can live with horses who truly need Lasix getting it. That can’t be 90% of them like we see today or something is really wrong here. I wish we had stricter rules about what is allowed in and out of competition and invested in state of the art drug testing. If a horse needs a lot of drugs to get to the gate it is probably not safe for the horse, rider or other participants in the race, hence not good for the game. Tying back to wish #1, the same fair rules across the board enforced without bias. 

Wish 3- Let’s get simpler with this one. Can we please, please stagger the post times? Can we maybe do this at the least with the major meets and stakes races. I’ve seen 4-5 minutes difference on the clock with post times and the horses being paraded almost as if they are waiting for the other race to start to run theirs, forcing you to go split screen, yuck, or chose which one to watch. Hello! I am not going to call out any tracks by name, we all know who they are but SHOT CALLERS, pay attention. We hate this! It is a big turn off. It shows a lack of regard to your customers. Stagger the post times. 

Wish 4- Know your customer. How about racetracks remembering who their actual customers are. I believe they’ve forgotten. Your “customer” is the gambler, or bettor, or whatever you may choose to call him. It isn’t the family who comes once or twice a year and probably doesn’t even bet. It isn’t concert goers who stick around after a show or come early for one. It isn’t channel surfers watching from home. It isn’t even the owners albeit owners and bettors are the only ones putting money into the game, it is the bettor. Act accordingly. Treat them like they matter and you recognize they are your customer, your bread and butter. Racing is not the only game in town though they have behaved and had the mentality they were for years and years. They are paying the price for that now, and so are all of us who love the Sport of Kings. Stop the big day gouging, stop charging for a cup of coffee and a program. This is different from most other sports. People come to bet, invest their money in your product, you get a take out or rake for that. Learn a business model that makes that work without alienating people and literally forcing them to play from home. 

Wish 5- If you are an ADW or network that shows races, DO NOT show the results before you show the race or force people to close one eye or hold their phone sideways to see the race before the result. See wish numbers 3 and 4, we hate this and know your customer. 

Wish 6- Keep horses racing longer. Find innovative ways to offset the commercial breeding values and provide incentives to keep horses, especially big name horses, racing. This develops rivalries, excitement, increased handle, and attendance. We realize we are in the simulcast and play from home era, but we can cut into that somewhat by making people want to come to the races and feel that electricity you get walking into Saratoga or Belmont with a Triple Crown on the line. We like rivalries, and we like betting on the outcomes and being right. The Pegasus is an example of this. It kept Gun Runner around for one more spin. Horses get better at four and five, so we are robbing ourselves of witnessing greatness in our game. I’d like to see more not less of it. 

Wish 7- Run ups, who needs them. We all get turf rails preserve the course, but run ups….please. The only purpose I can see they serve is to make times faster. After all who wants to see the Breeders’ Cup Sprint go in 11 or 12 and change. Breeders don’t, as faster times increase stud fees and sales prices but do they help the game or the bettors? No. Some bettors don’t even know what they are or look at how they affect pace and outcome. You’ll never convince me a pace projector (not that I’d use one anyway) that projects pace without knowing the races run up or all the past races runs ups is on the mark. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Time the races from the bell, accurately, and start them at the true distance. A mile is a mile not a mile and whatever feet. 

Wish 8- Do I ever miss the days of the 1 and 1A, and 2 and 2B. Entries, oh how I miss entries. Yes I love big fields, yes I get the value they add. Part of beating this game involves knowing when and how to bet and that includes knowing how to create value. There is no worse feeling, well maybe some but it is up there, than losing to the trainer’s other horse. Yes there are times you like  half of an entry that would be a bigger price alone, and vice versa, but in the long run losing to the “other” horse leaves a sour taste and creates an appearance of an outside edge you aren’t privy too. Entries are better for the integrity of the game, and if you are going to play this game you need to learn how to create and find value amongst them. 

Wish 9- The Daily Racing Form should be sold at every racetrack in the country period. It is a brand and staple of our game just like the Kentucky Derby is. This doesn’t mean other past performances should not be sold, or one is better than the other. Bettors, your customers should have the choice and we need more staples not less. 

Wish 10- The Daily Racing Form should stop the practice of charging people to read articles they click on or just try and read. They are not all that good or exclusive a lot of the time, and the same news is free in tons of other places. It’s annoying. 

Wish 11- Even on a wish list, I couldn’t bring myself to shoot for stewards’ rulings that actually made sense. I went for consistency instead. That should be an achievable goal. There was a time not really all that long ago when an inquiry went up, you saw the head on and pretty much knew what was going to happen. That changed when people started complaining about horses being disqualified who people felt would have won anyway. That’s a tough pill to swallow. What that morphed into however is a far worse land of total subjectivity applied with no consistency. I wish we put the objectivity back into stewards’ rulings. A clearly defined set of rules, identifying what a foul is and isn’t. If you foul you come down, if you didn’t well then you don’t. This whole didn’t affect the outcome nonsense, or didn’t cost another horse a “chance” at a better placing is way too subjective to be either fair or consistent. We can agree if a foul occurred. We can never agree if it cost a horse a chance at a better placing. Who knows? It probably almost always costs a horse a chance at a better placing. Let’s stick to what we can agree on and is fair in the long run for all. Yes out of the gate counts. It used to count. When did it stop? 

Wish 12- There is a lot of good and real time technology out there today. When the races are drawn, if you are in the business of publishing past performances, publish the final editions within an hour or so. Remember your customers, the bettors, well some of us like to work with final editions and like to start early. 

Wish 13- Perhaps no wish is more important and crucial to our game than this one. All racetracks, barns, bettors and owners should have to contribute something towards the aftercare of our thoroughbreds when they can no longer compete. No horse should end up in a kill pen or be sold for slaughter. We, as an industry, need to work together and end this by finding the resources and team spirit and compassion to get it done. We are the Sport of Kings, let us act accordingly. We have billionaires willing to spend millions on a whim in a game where horses are abandoned and aftercare is struggling to find funds. If you can’t see something wrong with that picture you are like a race horse who hangs and stays a maiden because they don’t have heart. Take something out of every bet, bill, sale, salary, purse, and every other transaction in our game, as those transactions would not have occurred without the horses we leave to unimaginable fates then lay down to sleep as if it is OK. It’s not OK and we all need to do our part proportionately to end this. No slaughter or kill pens for any racehorse. None not ever. ❤️💔

Wish 14- Zero tolerance towards cruelty or abuse. A trainer leaves a horse with a broken leg in a stall untreated like we saw recently, they should be banned, and reported to the proper authorities with a comprehensive investigation from the racetrack security. If you don’t feed your horses, you’re out. No excuses, no exceptions, no nonsense. Punch, kick, whip, or use an electrical device on a horse, there’s the door. Don’t like it, don’t do it. Of course due process applies, but if you did it, you are done. 

Wish 15- Learn the difference between a bad ride and a bad trip. Bash riders less for bad trips and if you feel the need to bash for a bad ride, do it with some taste. Don’t discourage interaction on social media with the stars of our sport. You want respect, give it and earn it. 

Wish 16- Stop listening to networks, handicappers, and ADW’s who seem to think the Pick 4 is the only wager around. There is often great value to be had in exactas, triples, and superfectas. Don’t lose winners to multi-race wagers without capitalizing on them in single race wagers. This is better for you and racetracks and the game as a whole. Why the SHOT CALLERS don’t get this remains a mystery. All the major tracks have their handicappers post their Pick 4 plays. Most people alive in multi-race wagers don’t bet the other races while they are still alive. This cuts into the handle and churn. I don’t know …..Business 101 or Economics 1 or something like that. I dropped out in the 9th grade and get that. I love and bet Pick 4’s but I don’t pass up the other smart plays just because I may be alive. I used to, but it is a different game today. Stop cutting into your own handle SHOT CALLERS and churn, promote single race wagers too. An ice cold exacta multiple times is right up there with the best of hits!

Wish 17- Throw a little love and some financial rewards to the backstretch workers that help make the wheel go around as much as anyone. 

Wish 18- Never go on to the next race without showing a clear image of any photo finish. 

Wish 19- Check out every rider who doesn’t ride his horse out to the finish and blows a placing. This hurts owners and bettors. If you wrap up, have a good reason. 

Wish 20- The major racing publications and networks should cover the “Beemie Awards” with the same vigor and enthusiasm as the Eclipse awards. They are fun, good for the game, and make us laugh at ourselves and others in a harmless way. They are probably just as relevant nowadays anyway. 

Wish 21- That they stop modernizing and changing Saratoga including extending the meet which waters down the quality of racing. You don’t buy a vintage red Ferrari and put a Walmart after market spoiler on it. 

Wish 22- Leave Belmont be. It’s historic. Keep the Clubhouse open, enclose and heat it, and leave the Grandstand alone as a historic site. Our game has lost enough history. 

Wish 23- That our industry learns to band and work together on a daily basis the way we did for the most part following the tragic San Luis Rey fire. 

Wish 24- That we see far less tweets of pictures from “journalists” of the Kentucky Derby favorite getting a bath in Louisville Derby week. 

Wish 25- They ring a sound similar to the loose horse siren when the pace on the grass is 25, 50, and your horse is inexplicably 10 lengths off the pace and your jockey seems fine with that. 

Wish 26- The Free For All! A Cool million to the winner of a cash only buy in tournament with no $2 win and place qualifying nonsense. No awards, no trophies, no Eclipse, no titles, just winner take all. Two big days, like Breeders’ Cup or the Oaks and Derby, or two major cards run at two tracks the same day. You bet your bankroll anyway you want. No minimums, no maximums, no required races, just play the cards as you would. Play through any ADW, or simulcasting facility or live at the track. Keep your winnings and take the cool mil if you have the biggest pile at the end. I’d be all in full throttle. That’s the sharpest player in the room. 

Wish 27- I would love to see the Kentucky Derby go back to 12 starters with two also eligibles in one starting gate. It will always be a huge handle race, always offer tremendous value, and it would be nice to take the cavalry charge factor out of it a bit and make it more of a true handicapping challenge. 

Wish 28– Real time odds……..stop the changing of prices/odds after horses leave the gate. It’s annoying.

Wish 29- Do something about the late scratch rule in multi race wagers that is actually good for the bettor. If a horse I used scratches, I may already have the favorite, or not want the favorite, and that should be the bettors choice alone. Don’t ram any horse down my throat. Give me an alternate selection prior to the running of the race, the option to cancel my ticket, something. Have you ever had a single scratch in a large bet on a multi race wager that was NOT the favorite who you were specifically betting against? Now you have the favorite alone who you didn’t like on a large play. It is like getting held up without a gun. Technology is out there, use it. 

Wish 30- Rick Dutrow gets reinstated. He got a raw deal.

As a gambling man by nature, I’d make the over under 1 on my wishes. But hey you can’t take away my hope.

HIGH FIVE : All the heroes and the poor victims of the San Luis Rey fire, our prayers, hearts, and thoughts are with you all! Jason Beem and the Beemie Awards team, you guys did a great job again.

LOW FIVE: The Santa Anita stewards for the preposterous disqualification of Solomini costing him a Grade 1 win and robbing the bettors who backed him without a gun. That was one of the worst calls in the history of the game.

@jonathanstettin Wonderful article! You’re a great ambassador for the game! We’ve been spoiled with elite equine athletes in recent memory.

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