IS THE HORSERACING INTEGRITY ACT WORTH PASSAGE INTO LAW?

The “shot heard round the world” was the name given to arguably the most famous home run in baseball history.  Coming in the bottom of the ninth inning with one out, the New York Giants Bobby Thomson hit a 3-run blast to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a 1951 pennant playoff game at the Polo Grounds and sent his team to the World Series.  Herman Franks, a Giants coach in 1951, claimed on his deathbed that he was stealing the Dodgers catcher’s signs with a telescope in center field and Thomson was tipped off on what pitches were coming. 

Whether Thomson was the beneficiary of sign stealing is likely, but debatable. What happened in the 2017 World Series is not in question: one of the biggest scandals in baseball history.  Alex Cora, Carlos Beltran, A. J. Hinch, and Jeff Luhnow, all of whom were part of the Houston Astros organization in 2017, were fired for their role in an elaborate sign-stealing scheme, which helped the Astros to win playoff games and to defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.  (When the cheating became public in 2019, Cora lost his job as the manager of the Boston Red Sox, Beltran was terminated as manager of the New York Mets, and Hinch (manager) and Luhnow (general manager) were suspended and then fired by the Astros.)

As periodic incidents in Major League Baseball, cycling, track and field, and other sports have demonstrated, some athletes will cheat to win.  Horse racing has had its share of high-profile scandals, from rigging of the betting system in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Pick-6 to medication disqualifications, including in the 1968 Kentucky Derby. 

Having a fault-free sport is an ideal objective that can never be attained in practice.  Somebody, somehow will find a way to game the system.  Nonetheless, especially in a sport like horse racing that depends on wagering, fans must be confident that rigorous procedures are in place to detect and punish rules violations.  People involved in the racing industry would widely agree with this assertion.  The divergence of opinion occurs when it comes to how to police the industry.  One camp believes that federal legislation is needed to replace the hodgepodge of state regulations pertaining to medication, whereas another group, for various reasons, is opposed to a centralized bureaucracy, citing, for example, that a central authority did not prevent cheating by, say, the Houston Astros or Lance Armstrong in cycling.

A federally-mandated organization to regulate medication (i.e. the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority)  would not be a panacea.  The question is whether it would be a significant improvement over the status quo, a time in which racing’s image among the general public has been badly tarnished.   With American pari-mutuel wagering in secular decline, and the sport under attack, the federally-mandated option seems worth the risk.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

MY FIRST HANDICAPPING CONTEST

Handicapping tournaments at racetracks and casinos have been around a long time.  These events attract skilled horse players and tend to be expensive to enter.  But for people who don’t choose to compete at this high level, the alternative is informal handicapping contests that are similar to office pools on, say, the National Football League or NCAA March Madness.

Although I have been betting on horse races for many years, I had never entered a handicapping contest of any kind…until this past Saturday.  An acquaintance invited me to participate by picking winners on the card at Tampa Bay Downs, and I found it to be interesting and challenging.

Over 20 people put up $100 each to enter and the best four handicappers received a monetary reward, based on a sliding scale in which the first-place handicapper got the largest payoff.  One could bet $200 in play money on any or all of eight races on the card (races 4-11) and choices had to be made by 11:30 a. m. Saturday, which was 1 ½ hours before post time for the first race.  If a person selected an entry that was scratched after 11:30 a. m., he or she was assigned the post-time favorite, which is not usually a good outcome in that a heavy favorite that wins does not pay enough to take the pot.

The majority of the players typically bet the entire $200 on a single horse in a single race, in an “all or nothing” strategy.  Participants are not allowed to bet on two horses in the same race and betting is restricted to win and place.

I made three bets, each to win.  One of my choices lost by a nose, another, a favorite, did not win, and the third horse I bet on won.  My bets were $50, $100, and $50 on these horses, respectively.

Of the 23 handicappers, 14 won no races at all.  Of the nine who had a winner, I came in ninth.  The top finishers were predominantly women, whereas the usual handicapping tournament at a track or casino is overwhelmingly male.

Office-pool types of handicapping contests do nothing for racetrack handle because no money is actually wagered for real.  Yet they have the potential to attract new fans to horse racing and to get more women involved in male-dominated handicapping.  A new fan is likely to eventually find his or her way to betting at a racetrack or online.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business

ONLY ONE MONTH TO THE CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL

The annual Cheltenham Festival is the most prestigious jump-race meet in Great Britain and its feature, the Gold Cup, is its crown jewel.  The Festival is a staple on the British social calendar and offers racegoers music, food, and shopping in addition to four days of racing, which is why it attracts blue-ribbon corporate sponsors. 

Cheltenham Racecourse, about 95 miles from London (toward Oxford) and only minutes away from the Cotswold countryside, is one of 14 racetracks owned by the British Jockey Club. Cheltenham describes itself as follows:

“The Festival epitomises and encompasses everything that is great about Jump racing, whilst delivering an unbelievable occasion as the finest horses, jockeys, owners, and trainers battle it out for the highest racing honours.”

Following tradition, the 2020 Cheltenham Festival features four days of racing, on March 10-14.  Seven races are carded every day and the feature races on each card are all Group 1 events:

The Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, March 10, is open to horses 4-years-old and up.  The race is contested at a distance of 2 miles and ½ furlongs and the purse is £450,000.  The current 4/1 favorite is Epante.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday is run at 1 mile and 199 yards.  Its purse is £400,000.  The 11/5 favorite is Defi Du Seuil.

The Rynair Chase is for horses 5-years-old and up.  It is run at 2 miles 4 furlongs and 127 yards and offers a purse of £350,000.  The 6/1 favorite is Faugheen.

The Gold Cup on closing day, Friday, is a coveted win for owners and trainers, the most exalted race of the National Hunt season.  Its inaugural running was in 1819, when it began as a race on the flat.  In 1924, the Gold Cup was changed to a jump event and it quickly became prominent.

Cheltenham Festival 2020 tips provides the latest news about the Festival, betting information, and a guide on where to access live streaming.

The course for the Gold Cup covers 22 jumps spread out over 3 miles and 2 ½ furlongs.  Horses must be at least five years old to be entered.  The purse is £625,000 or approximately 808,000 U. S. dollars. In the 21st century, just two horses have managed to win the Gold Cup twice—Best Mate and Kauto Star.  In 2020, this feat could very well be repeated, as the 2019 winner, Al Boum, is returning to defend his title and is the current favorite at 9/2 odds. 

Al Boum is especially formidable in that his trainer is W. P. “Willie” Mullins, who has won 65 races at Cheltenham, the most of any trainer in the storied history of the racecourse.  In 2015, the Ireland-based Mullins had eight winners at Cheltenham, an all-time record that he now shares with Gordon Elliott, who also trained eight winners in 2018.  Elliott’s 2020 Gold Cup entry is Delta Work, the current third choice at 6/1.

Other live contenders for the Gold Cup include Santini at 5/1, Lost in Translation at 7/1, and Clan Des Obeoux and Kemboy, both at 8/1.  Kemboy is a second Mullins’-trained horse in the race and gives him a powerful one-two punch.

An enticing element for bettors in almost all of the races at the Cheltenham Festival is that the odds are usually generous even for the favorites.  Jump races are more challenging than flat races for two reasons:  the former are generally much longer in terms of distances and much harder to navigate because of the obstacles the jumps pose.  A favorite in a large field can quickly become a non-factor if he or she falters at a jump.

Copyright © 2020 Horse Racing Business