Sunday, August 28, 2016

Sword Dancer Shenanigans Proves the Public's Point

Ask any random person who has not watched a horse race, or maybe have seen one or three : "Is horse racing fixed?"

They'll probably say, sure it is; common knowledge.

At that point, racing folks get excited to defend their sport. 99% of the races are clean, there is too much money involved to fix races, etc etc. 

"Hurry, come on through!"
Then we have yesterday's Sword Dancer, where not one of us can blame anyone for thinking like they do about the sport.

It's probably bad enough that a "rabbit" was entered for an old-time form of race fixing, but that the horse was ridden like a quarterhorse made the optics look terrible. That another horse - Roman Approval - had to be physically restrained due to the cowboy style race riding of the horse sent to destroy him, is probably just as bad optically.

But that was just the beginning. The real story had just begun.

At the head of the lane, this rank, spent, heart-ripped out rabbit, needed to do even more work for the 1-9 shot. He had to move over, to let his stablemate through, to ensure his victory. In the process - safety and integrity be damned - he bumped the horse he dueled into submission.

For those who remember the Hambletonian about ten years ago now, your memory banks flood with what happened with driver Trond Smedshammer. He, like these connections, wanted to increase his chances of winning the race with his two horses. He moved over, let his stablemate through, who ended up coming third, picking up a nice slice of the purse.

Trond was suspended 45 days and given an $18,000 fine.

In thoroughbred racing, with these connections, with these owners, there is no way that's happening. Too big, too powerful.

 When you and I enter a horse to race, it is incumbent upon us, as owners and participants, in trust with the people who pay everyone's salaries - slot pullers and bettors, as well as fellow owners - to have one sole goal, and that's to try and win the race. When shenanigans like the above happen, it shows there are others who play by a different set of rules. That horse was not entered to win, he was there so another horse could.

I read a little on social media as this happened, right in front of our eyes on national television.

"It's horse racing"

"It's the way it is"

"It's gone on forever"

In case you haven't noticed, with foal crops down, handle down, and all economic racing indicators on life-support, forever isn't looking so good.

Yesterday's Sword Dancer was a travesty, and the people in charge of this sport should never allow it to happen again.


That Blog Guy said...

Wonder if there is a rule out there equal to an 'unsatisfactory drive. If so, the jockey should be given a serious fine and days off to give pause to any other rider looking to do this again.

Also, if the rabbit doesn't come back in decent shape, the trainer should be taken to task.

BitPlayer said...

It is not clear to me what you think the rule should be. Should "rabbits" be prohibited, because they are entered, not to win, but to ensure a pace helpful to a stablemate? In that case, the Lady Eli race was also a "travesty." Should riders be prohibited from considering how their tactics will affect a stablemate? In that case, Bejarano leaving the rail open for Arrogate in the first furlongs of the Travers, rather than grabbing it for American Freedom, would also come into question.

My own view is that the trainers of rabbits should be required to declare their role at entry time, and horses so designated should race "coupled" with their stablemates. If either half of the entry commits a foul, both halves are disqualified.

I think you are overstating the rabbit's culpability turning for home. He did drift off the rail and let Flintshire through. It was only later, however, that he bumped with Roman Approval. It is not uncommon for tiring horses to become erratic when the field runs by them. And Roman Approval had no chance of holding off the closers at that point.

Sal Carcia said...

Not only did Gryder open a path for his stablemate, he pushed his horse further off the rail interfering with the horse outside of him and causing the 2nd place finisher to alter path. It looked similar to offensive line play in the NFL.

I'd guess Flintshire does not win the race otherwise. Without the inside run, Flintshire would have had to do some serious angling to find a clear lane.

Why not just make the stablemate culpable without coupling them? It's definitely a hole in the system that needs to be patched.

Tinky said...

First, you are conflating two distinctly separate issues. If any horse causes interference, then it should be dealt with by the stewards. Whether or not the culprit was a rabbit is irrelevant, aside from questions related to coupling.

More importantly, I am shocked that you would characterize the use of a rabbit as a form of "race fixing", which is absurd on its face. Furthermore, there is nothing "old-time" about their use in Europe.

The purpose of rabbits has typically been to insure an honest (or strong) pace, making it likely that the best horse under those circumstances is likely to win. That is nothing remotely like fixing a race.

In cases in which rabbits are used to harm the chances of free-runners that would otherwise be likely win if able to control a comfortable pace (e.g. Dr. Fager), they have the effect of exposing limitations. Horses that are tractable enough to be rated under such conditions prove their versatility, while those that require the lead have that limitations exposed.

Now, you may argue that it is somehow artificial to enter horses whose sole purpose is to alter the complexion of the race, and that races would be more organic without them, but given that the original point of racing was to discern the best horses, a point that obviously remains very important to this day, insuring truly run races actually helps to accomplish this.

Anonymous said...


Under NY rules, if a stablemate interferes with another horse in the field, and it helps his stablemate get a better placing, the stablemate gets placed back, coupled or uncoupled.

Rabbit use is against the rules of North American racing, under the best efforts rules. The horse should never have been allowed to be entered with his intent. If something is against the rules, used to benefit another horse, I'll call a spade a spade.

Tractability, best horse, all buzzwords. A rule was broken, clearly once, and most probably twice. The stewards sat on their hands. Fans are wondering if they're playing a mugs game. Just another day in horse racing land.


Sal Carcia said...

Anonymous is correct about the rule for uncoupled entries. In that case, I believe that Gryder caused enough interference to take both horses down. The stewards chose otherwise. I don't remember the possibility of the disqualification of Flintshire being discussed in the broadcast.

As far as the use of rabbits in a race goes, they have always been there. Frankel had a rabbit in the U.K. It is just that the rabbit should not act as a blocker.

Tinky said...

Best efforts rules? Please. If they were enforced to the letter there would be sanctions every racing day, as horses are frequently ridden into suicidal speed duels, or given too much to do in slow paced races, etc.

Furthermore, there would be an obvious way to avoid sanction by using horses that perform best up on the pace as rabbits, and arguing that they were ridden to their best advantage in an effort to win.

No remotely sophisticated fan is going to be turned-off by the odd use of a rabbit, anymore than they would be by a (wise) trainer "giving" a first-starter a race. In fact, to use just one of countless examples, Charlie Whittingham violated the rule many times with top stakes runners, including giving Perrault a race in the Eddie Read (finished third) as a springboard to the Million (which he won).

As to neophytes, they need to be educated. This has nothing to do with race all.

Pull the Pocket said...


No, this is not the same as an every day race. This is a horse who is entered not to win. And the track is accepting money on the horse, in this case, upwards of $200,000.

The world has changed, and I don't think racing realizes it. Bettors are important, but so are voters. I am particularly astounded by the sharing and replies to this post. Traffic is massive, and it has been on facebook, where I usually get one share or like, I have 110 so far.

I actually took some time to read facebook comments from casual fans and others who don't know a rabbit from a glue on shoe. 'Fraud', 'fix', 'the races are all fixed', 'horse racing should be banned', 'how can people bet a game like that'.

In the old days, when Charlie was around, the stands were pretty full, handle was up, the future was bright, there were few places to gamble. Having "helpers" could happen in a vacuum. It's not like that anymore.

The old axiom 'that's the way we've always done things and the public needs to be educated' has left the building. Long ago.

It's actually the opposite in my view - Racing needs to be educated from the public, because in the end, voters are the ones who will allow this sport to continue, or be more of a shadow of what it once was.


Tinky said...

Sorry, while I am (as you know) largely sympathetic to your thoughts on the topic, you simply cannot allow grossly uneducated public opinion to shape how best to train and race horses.

It should be obvious to all but neophytes that at least some runners found in most maiden race are not "entered to win". Not because there is any "fixing" going on, but because it is the right thing to do for the development of the horse. And, ironically, given the context of this discussion, such conservative management greatly impacts the game in a very positive way (e.g. horses have longer, more productive careers, stay sounder, etc.).

What you are suggesting is that every first-starter, and every horse returning off of a long layoff should somehow be required to be ready to win, even when it would clearly be to the longer term detriment of the animal, and the game.

If there is bewilderment and/or anger to a rabbit being entered and ridden properly, it is due to ignorance. If fans understood why such horses were entered, it would be very easy for them to identify them, and adjust their handicapping accordingly. It is similar to using advanced stats which, to use one example, might show that a certain trainer does poorly with first-starters. Bill Mott won with first starters at Saratoga at a rate of 8% from 2005-2009. Eight percent? How could he have been "entering to win" if his rate was so low (10 others won at rates of 2-8 times that rate during the same period)?

Well, you and I know the answer to that question, as do the vast majority of handicappers. So, why aren't they up in arms about that? Because it is one of the many nuances of the game that help to make handicapping the uniquely interesting challenge that is is.

Pull the Pocket said...


Maiden races from trainers with poor maiden records are apples to grapefruits. A maiden may be entered for education, but if presented with the proper fractions, race shape, or circumstance, the rider of the horse will try to win. His/her goal, despite education, is to win the race if the opportunity presents itself. This is why maidens who are not well-meant, with bad trainer records, will, can and do win.

A rabbit is there to not win; at all costs, do not win the race. Set the race up for another horse, but do not win the race yourself. If a rider chooses to ride a rabbit to win and not to set it up for someone else to win, the blue-blooded connections will fire him.

"Rabbit" is not mentioned in the trainer stats, maiden records are. The public who bet $200,000 on that horse on Saturday, were cannon fodder, and racing should never, ever condone that.

Once again, the world has changed. The public, who supports the sport with legislation, does not stand for funny stuff. We see it with the comments about this race, outside racing's bubble. When a 100M hurdles race lines up at the blocks, they expect every participant to race without help. NFL games -- growing in popularity -- scoff when officials make bad calls to "help" a home team. There are countless other examples. We want our sports on the square.

You can talk about rabbits and helping and how it's a wonderful thing until you're blue in the face, the public will think you're crooked. Racing doesnt need that.

I think in the racing beltway we have too many who make excuses for the sport, rather than modernizing it to today's world. It's one reason, imo, the sport is in the shape it's in.

As always, I enjoy debating you on these issues. It's a breath of fresh air.


Unknown said...

If it were my horse being used that way I would go bullistic .... How can a horse learn to win when they are used in a race to loose. What does that do to thier psyche ?????? Teaching a horse to loose is pathetic

Unknown said...

Very wise and true to point

Tinky said...

Why no publication of my last response?

Pull the Pocket said...

H Tink,

Nothing in the pending box from you. I delete piles of spam, but no deletion of anything of yours.

Tinky said...

Well, that's disappointing, as I spent a fair bit of time on it. Oh well, let's try again...

First, you are wrong on two of your assertions presented as facts. Rabbits do, in fact, win on occasion. They are such an anachronism in the U.S. that perhaps you are unaware of it. One example:

Godolphin’s pacemaker Summoner pulled off a 33/1 shock in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes when, ridden by Richard Hills, he led from pillar to post with the field failing to come back to him. The four-year-old prevailed by a length and a half from stablemate Noverre and the duo’s trainer Saeed bin Suroor said: “Everybody thought about Noverre before the race but at the same time Summoner is a nice improving horse...

Hills added: “I’m just pleased to win a Group One. He’s a nice horse and I’ve done it in this race before on Maroof (66/1 winner in 1994). A lot of times pacemakers have won before and I was there to ensure a good pace - my orders from the trainer were to make a good gallop and not look round".

Next, rabbits are indeed employed in (human) track events, and sometimes at the highest level. From a March 2015 Brisbane Courier Mail article (to use one of many examples; bold emphasis mine):

Meet Sammy Tangui, the man behind Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha. Actually, his job is to be in front of Rudisha for the first 400m of his races as his own personal pacemaker.

On Saturday night at the IAAF Melbourne World Challenge at Lakeside Stadium, Tangui will be the long-striding Kenyan scorching out the first lap. He will then step off the track, leaving Rudisha to his own devices over the final 400m. It’s a formula that has resulted in world records, a world title and Olympic gold medal in London three years ago.

Beyond those corrections, it is ludicrous to argue that anywhere close to all maidens (or layoff horses) are "entered to win". It has never, and will never be the case. Should all runners be ridden to gain their best possible placings? Sure, including rabbits. But again, reading, let alone enforcing the American "Best effort" rules in literal terms is a non-starter.

As to those who are/were upset by the use of a rabbit, your basic argument falls flat when the topic is expanded to include jurisdictions in which they are actually used with some regularity. In both the U.K. and France, pacemakers are used, as they have been for over a century, and there is zero discernible concern about them amongst horseplayers. As in none. Why? For the very reason that I have been emphasizing – because fans are educated to their purpose, and are quite capable of factoring their role into their handicapping and wagering.

Most Trafficked, Last 12 Months


Carryovers Provide Big Reach and an Immediate Return

Sinking marketing money directly into the horseplayer by seeding pools is effective, in both theory and practice In Ontario and elsewher...