ARCHIE’S NOTE – This article by prominent USA harness identity Bob Marks is highly instructive, and a must read for all integrity officials working in the sport of harness racing. People inside the industry bubble often forget that if it were not for people betting on the trots, they would be racing for a ribbon and a bag of feed at the local showgrounds. If the industry doesn’t wake up to itself soon and take a look at the plummeting wagering turnover figures, it will be again before they know it too.
Initially as a kid, I was so awed by the goings on at Roosevelt or Yonkers that I felt it was privilege to be allowed into the place. After the initial euphoria was replaced by the sober light of losing money, I no longer felt that way.
It was my job to learn the ropes so to speak and as an apprentice handicapper and bettor, that meant many a losing wager until one could figure out what was happening out there on the track.
Sort of like starting in the company mail room before you’re entrusted with any degree of responsibility. It’s called the learning curve.
Needless to say, I made more than my share of ridiculous bets on horses and drivers that realistically had little or no shot at winning that particular race.
More than once, I had to exit the southbound Meadowbrook Parkway at Merrick Road for I no longer had the 20 cent toll needed take the loop to Point Lookout and Long Beach.
But that was the life I had chosen. Nobody forced me to attend the races. And if I did, no one forced me to visit the betting windows. I could have watched every race every night without wagering and nobody would have been be the wiser.
But I bet and after much time had elapsed, I became a proficient handicapper and would win more than just occasionally.
I remember betting this horse who had won his last two starts via the wire to wire method. In other words, he went to the front and led throughout. This time however, in a race where it seemed nobody wanted the lead, the horse ducked to the rail and never moved out even though at times there was ample clearance.
When I mentioned this to one of the seasoned veteran opinions, I was told “He probably didn’t try”.
Aghast, I stammered why not? The maven explained that the horse had won consecutively in class B2 and class B1 and a second win at the B1 level meant an automatic promotion to the tougher A3 class. Therefore the horse not winning this race while nursing and/or milking the class for purse (place) checks made sense. At least to the connections!
Hmmm, that was a real eye opener. You mean they allow this to happen? It’s like playing cards with a marked deck? Nowhere on the program does it say, number six will be “raced easy” tonight.
Being a quick study, I learned to incorporate intent into a my handicapping process and probably saved myself a few bad bets by anticipating just which horses might not be giving it the old college try that particular night.
This little process was not limited to the ABC system as under the conditioned system of money earned within a number of last starts, one could also discern the occasional horse that might benefit from not winning and/or earning on a particular night to warrant a class dropdown.
It didn’t mean, I could pick more winners it’s just that I was now able to eliminate some very obvious losers from time to time.
A bit later when I mastered the art of clocking pre-race workouts, the stopwatch became a virtual tattle tale as far as some stables were concerned. One could often forecast just how the horse might race by the manner in which it went its last trip.
The key here had nothing to do with which horse may have worked the fastest but had everything to do with its workout pattern as the sophisticated “clockers” kept records which could be compared with actual race performance.
(Archie’s note = ‘Clocking’ is no longer possible now that the major trainers work horses at their own properties and perform pace work on their own tracks. Not coincidentally, drug cheating has increased rapidly since horses have been no longer stabled at the tracks)
Amazing how I caught Hal Sampson going his last trip in 2:15 with a last quarter in 30 seconds flat when the week before at 7-2 he did a 2:19 and home in 32. In that race the horse never left the rail and finished in the middle of the pack.
Now he’s 15-1.
Oh yes, the little black bullet turned for home third over (three back and wide) and flew down the stretch to up at the wire (finish line) returning a $30+ Mutual (tote price).
One week later in the same class, he goes his last trip in 2:17 and change and finishes out slower than a 32 second last quarter.
Funny, how he got boxed most of the mile and maybe finished fifth.
One week later in the same class, I catch him in 2:14.4 with final quarter in 29.4 seconds and guess what he’s 10-1 at post parade time? Hmmm.
At post time he’s 15-1 or so and as you might surmise, he pulled at the half for cover, went wide in the stretch and was up in time well before the wire (finish line).
Needless to say he got promoted to a higher class but someone other than yours truly probably cashed a nice ticket. Again!
A few years later I witnessed a little incident that happened on the second floor clubhouse after a hotly contested race. During the replay, one irate chap was verbally castigating the driver of the favorite for not pulling on the final turn when he had ample room to do so.
Another chap, the owner smugly countered with “we didn’t want to win for it meant a class upgrade if we did”
The irate bettor then rather strongly suggested to the owner that he shouldn’t mind reimbursing his now useless tickets for nowhere on the program did it say number two wasn’t “going” tonight.
The owner laughed it off. A few epithets were loudly offered and what ensued was a right hand Rocky Marciano would have been proud of.
The bettor flattened the owner, shoved his tickets in the guy’s mouth and by the time security got there nobody saw NUTTIN….
Any discussions with track officials about this sort of stuff always proved exercises in futility. Unless somebody blatantly interfered with somebody else, the official sign was quickly posted. It should be understood that the judges were not professional handicappers thus were not trained to discern form reversals.
Even if a suit actually granted audience, the burden of proof was on the bettor who was speaking in what seemed a foreign language as the suit had probably never sampled the product in which his income might be determined by the number of winners he could pick. It wasn’t like the supermarket exec that actually visited the rival store to personally gauge how they stacked the shelves.
It happened. It shouldn’t have but it did and one wonders how many tens or even hundreds of thousands of loyal fans gave up the game because of perceived shenanigans. We’re not talking about a boat race in which the result might have been preordained but the simple process of horses racing easy for whatever the reason.
You see, some players become good enough to intuitively sense these things and bet accordingly. The overwhelming majority of players (punters) left to their own devices will perceive whatever evils their eyes may suggest.
And therein is the problem.
You see, I the player am the bottom line and if I choose not to play (gamble or bet) for whatever the reason, you Mr. Racetrack (Racing QLD) will ultimately have no handle (betting turnover).
Unfortunately, you should have realized that decades ago.
If you had, we still might all be there.