I am not the first to note, nor will I be the last, the difference between us and the rest of the world when we look at judges inquiries. In Australia recently, the driver of top 4 year old Auckland Reactor drove him in a way that made the public say, what? The judges are on this, and they will be reporting back. When you drive a favourite without purpose, it is looked into.
In Hong Kong this is taken to another extreme - the rulings and or questions on rides are placed in the newspaper. On their website they have full, almost real time, judges decisions. Watching the racing in the thoroughbreds in Australia I was flabbergasted to see a (real time) judge and jockey meeting on the feed for a suspect ride, where the public sees that the judges are responding to their hard-earned dollars at laser-speed.
In North America? Nah, not so much.
Friday night at the Meadowlands, 2.6 million dollar winner Darlins Delight was making her second start of the year in the Overbid. In her first start, from the eight hole she closed in a whopping 54 flat to come second. Handicappers easily factored in the bad post, and the lack of effort, because it was her first start of the year. Regardless, if she had better flow, driver Gingras put her in position to win. On Friday of this week, making her second start, one would think it was 'go' time.
Sitting in fourth as the even money chalk, the opportunity came to pull, to give the horse a shot, and give the fans their money's worth. Yannick Gingras chose to sit and get boxed. She was bottled up, boxed in, and did not extricate herself. When she did she flew home in 26 flat, coming fifth.
4/5T 4/4Q 6/4T 7/5T 5/4H 1:51.4 26 *1.00
When the race was over all we saw was dead air. No comments from anyone. Just silence, while in simulcasting centres around North America, at the track, and in bedrooms and living rooms people were all saying "what the hell was that?" Racing had no answer.
The next evening, like clockwork, Brian Sears sat in a similar position with a heavy chalk in a 50 claimer. The week before he quarter poled from third, brushed to the lead and won in 149.4. This week, in virtually the same position he sat (yes, I know he was up in class), got boxed and came flying late to come fourth in 151.4 - a full two seconds slower than his last race. Again, dead air.
3/3H 3/2T 5/2Q 5/3 4/4Q 1:51.4 28 *1.70
I in no way think, or imply there was funny stuff going on in these races, and I am the first to admit that horseplayers will complain about drives and rides when it is not warranted. However, in these instances the public demands quick and noticeable respect. There needs to be an interviewer in the paddock after these races asking questions that the public is asking. They can not ask themselves, so they need someone in their corner doing it for them. It is not too much to ask a response on something as simple as a favourite not being driven like one.
If the drivers are put off by these questions, well my response is simple - tell them to go drive somewhere else. Bring in drivers who will answer the public, and who respect the people who pay their salaries by explaining themselves.
Media training is no doubt needed so they can answer these questions better (everyone is not John Campbell), and educate the public, but that should not be overly difficult.
This goes on today with drivers who know where their bread is buttered already, so to say this is undoable or unworkable is nonsense. On the Score last year driver Luc Ouellette was driving a horse from the ten post. The plan was to give him an easier one from off the pace and look for some flow, as the previous couple weeks saw him on the front. He won the race, but he did not go right to the back, he left a little and got cover. He said in his interview after the race (paraphrasing) that he went by the odds board and saw the horse was 3-2, so he realized that he had to give the public a run and get the horse in early position. He showed bettors respect and drove the horse with them in mind.
We often ask, what can harness racing do to stand-out, to be a purple cow. Well this is one way we can - give the bettors a brand new way of looking at our sport by being honest with them. Drivers at the top of this sport make many hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. I don't think it is too much to ask of them to answer a couple of questions from the judges, on camera, after a race.