A letter to the Editor, by Bob Jones
Derby Fever: Fair Odds, the Lack of Transparency, and the Domino Effect
Derby Fever has me still hot, and getting hotter by the minute
Bettors Deserve Better
At Past the Wire we do not receive many letters to the Editor. We believe this might be our second or third one. Previously we declined to publish them. We felt we owed it to the bettors and industry to publish this one. Past the Wire
When Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher lobbied the Kentucky State vets to allow Kentucky Derby favorite Forte to run in the race despite wincing when touched by a Vet, and being treated for a bruised hoof, they were aware of something many were not aware of. Forte had a positive test pending in New York. The positive test went all the way back to the Saratoga meet and The Hopeful Stakes which Forte won last year.
Forte was not allowed to race in The Kentucky Derby. He was one of five (5) pre race scratches this year along with:
Forte was the last of the five, the morning of the race.
In this year’s Kentucky Derby, the favorite once again failed to win. Between the victories of Orb in 2013 and Justify in 2018, we had a string of six consecutive favorites win the race. One question I would like to address is: who should have been the favorite in this year’s Kentucky Derby?
#14 Angel of Empire went off as the post-time favorite at odds of 4 to 1. Many people thought that #15 Forte would have been the favorite in the race if state veterinarians had not forced him to be scratched on the same day of the race due to what was reported to have been a painful bruise.
My question is whether #15 Forte should have been the putative favorite for the Kentucky Derby. The winner, #8 Mage, went off at odds of 15 to 1, and he was offered at 75 to 1 in some of the future wagering pools. Should he have been that high in the odds?
A case could be made that #8 Mage should have gone off as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby. In his previous race, the Florida Derby, Mage finished second to the 2-year-old champion Forte, who passed him in deep stretch after Mage made a thrilling run from the back of the pack and passed the entire field, only to be caught by Forte.
At some point, we should be asking the question of whether Forte should even have been allowed to run in the Florida Derby, and certainly we should be asking whether he should have been allowed to dominate the betting odds in the future pools leading up to the Derby.
On Wednesday, May 10th, 2023, we, the betting public, were finally informed that there was an non-adjudicated potential violation of drug regulations stemming from a race eight months earlier – The Hopeful Stakes on September 5, 2022, in New York.
Thanks to a story leaked by the NY Times, we learned that Forte had tested positive for a substance “used to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.” I heard rumors that the substance was Meloxicam, commonly used to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling. It belongs to the class of drugs known as selective COX-2 inhibitors. Meloxicam is often prescribed to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other musculoskeletal disorders. It works by inhibiting the production of certain chemicals in the body that cause inflammation and pain.
For some reason, the New York Gaming Commission allowed the potential violation to be swept under the carpet until today, May 10th, when Todd Pletcher, the trainer, gave testimony to the racing stewards in the first formal hearing on the matter.
According to the Daily Racing Form, representatives of the Gaming Commission attributed the delay to being unable to find a laboratory capable of doing the split-sample tests, as well as to the repeated requests for postponements by the lawyers for Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Forte.
In the meantime, while this potential violation was swept under the carpet, Forte became the Champion Two-Year-Old, winning four more races after potentially benefiting from illegally administered medication, and after he might have been disqualified, and after his Trainer might have been suspended and prevented from racing in the Kentucky Derby – which, of course, is what happened to trainer Bob Baffert this year. Would Forte have been able to race and win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile? Was Cave Rock denied a fair shot and an Eclipse Award? Several Eclipse voters publicly stated they would not vote for Medina Spirit over Essential Quality because of the positive test. Were they aware of the Forte positive?
Readers might recall that Bob Baffert was suspended for using an externally administered ointment on the former Derby Winner Medina Spirit, and all of his horses are blacklisted from Churchill Downs, the owner of the Kentucky Derby race. That apparently did not prevent the name Bob Baffert from appearing on the KHRC Vet list. Was he even on the grounds? Those savvy enough to check the Vet list prior to wagering after it became common knowledge just about all the Brad Cox horses racing Derby weekend were on the vets list for who knows what, what would they think seeing the Baffert name and a Baffert horse? Should Forte have been on it prior to Kentucky Derby morning? Was he? You can’t tell, the list in Kentucky appears to be purged when horses fall off it virtually erasing the history. As bettors we have to demand better. If not for us for the horses and the sport itself.
Meloxicam is administered orally as I understand it and is not available as an ointment. However, it is not a corticosteroid like Betamethasone, which was the substance for which Baffert was banned.
Regardless, we must question whether Mage would have lost the Florida Derby if Forte had not benefited from illegal treatments with a drug used to combat inflammation.
We must acknowledge that the betting community was not provided with full disclosure about the circumstances surrounding Forte’s past performances and whether he had received illegal levels of medication.
We must acknowledge that we did not have all the necessary information when estimating the fair odds of Mage winning the Kentucky Derby.
Perhaps Mage should have entered the Kentucky Derby as the uncontested winner of the Florida Derby. What effect would that have had on the fixed odds given in the futures wagering pools?
We must acknowledge it is highly likely that the New York Racing Association, the New York Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Racing Commission, and Churchill Downs Racetrack were all aware of the potential violation that was kept quiet before the Derby.
We must acknowledge that Forte was possibly already on the vet list before the Derby, not just after it. There are rumors that the treatment for inflammation could have been the reason for his presence on the vet list.
We must acknowledge that while Todd Pletcher and Mike Repole lobbied the State Vets to allow Forte to race and transparency in the sport was being widely floated around they were aware of the colts history and the positive test following his victory in The Hopeful at Saratoga.
We must acknowledge that the controversy surrounding Forte being scratched from the Derby would have been viewed differently if we had known about his history of needing medical treatment for inflammation. Moreover, if we had known that the state veterinarians had more information about Forte’s prior health problems than the betting community, it would have further impacted the context of the situation.
We must acknowledge that as the betting community, we have a history of being taken advantage of, whether through high takeouts, sweetheart rebate deals with betting syndicates facilitated by racetrack owners like the Stronach Organization (which might even control some of the computer-assisted wagering syndicates), or unfair rulings by stewards and commissions.
We must acknowledge we probably still don’t know all the facts about Forte and his history and the late scratch.
Correction: We must remember Life at Ten, who was attempted to be scratched from a Breeders’ Cup race during the warm up. She raced and trailed. She was trained by Todd Pletcher.
We must remember Quality Road, trained by Todd Pletcher, scratched in the gate from the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The 3-year-old refused to enter the gate at Santa Anita. The gate crew tried everything to get him loaded, leading him in circles and even placing a hood over his head. Once in he bucked, scratched his leg and scratched. Why was the colt so headstrong to not enter the gate? You’ll never know, just bet.
There is inconsistency, and sometimes decisions are simply wrong, such as the cancellation of betting on Charles Appleby’s entry Modern Games in the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf Championship at Del Mar.
We must acknowledge that we, the bettors, are routinely deceived about the Value of our bets when syndicates are allowed to pour thousands or even millions of dollars into pools after the betting public has no chance to respond.
This is equivalent to a poker game where the same highly skilled player is always allowed to have the button, giving them an insurmountable advantage by betting last in every single hand.
We must acknowledge that the key stakeholders in the racing industry force us to play with a stacked deck in every possible way.
Yes I am mad and if you bet, own, or love the sport or the horses you should be too!
And someday, we must take action to address these issues. Is HISA? Time will tell.
Transparency in a business or governance context refers to being open and honest. As part of corporate governance best practices, this requires disclosure of all relevant information so that others can make informed decisions.
I bet my money, I have every right to be mad, and so do you. Bob Jones