Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Wonky, To Say The Least

In discussion with a friend who has qualified for next weekend's National Handicapping Championship (NHC XV), he expressed comfort in handicapping some tracks that he regularly plays, such as Gulfstream Park, and classified others, such as Tampa Bay Downs and Golden Gate Fields, as "wonky" -- a term I have often equated to politics but seems appropriate for horseplayer parlance.

Certainly the term "wonky" is not meant to suggest that certain race tracks, or (broadly speaking) thoroughbred racing, by literal definition are "crooked" or "off center," but I totally got this player's point, and it got me thinking about Tampa, specifically, and how contest organizers need to be cautious about designating tracks to play for handicapping contests.

At stake in NHC XV is roughly $1.5 million, so every race outcome matters almost more than within the course of, say, an online bankroll-builder or small-dollar cash tournament.

All of the roughly 500 NHC XV contestants will be in the same boat, having to handicap an exorbitant number of races over 2-3 days, including many at tracks outside their comfort zone.

As contest players, we can all appreciate this scenario.

So much data, so little time.

The "wonky" factor raise some concern, however, as highlighted by questionable stewards decisions at Tampa within the past week.  This is not to knock the track's integrity, but having watched a fair number of races there and played the track for two recent contests (one online, another on-track), it seems to me there are more than the normal course of stewards inquiries and jockey objections at Tampa, almost to the point where I would rather avoid playing the track for inconsistent stewards' decisions.

Granted, I have no training as a race steward, but I watch enough racing to have an opinion.

Race 7: Wednesday, January 8

The No. 2 horse, Ziptomylu, takes the 10-horse maiden field wire-to-wire at a mile on turf and, after an objection lodged by the ultimate third-place finisher, Maggies Applause, is declared the winner.

Courtesy of Bloodhorse.com, here's the replay.

In watching the replay for the first time, and without knowing the race result, I thought for sure that Ziptomylu would be taken down after moving 4-5 paths off the rail (with left-handed encouraging) into a fast-approaching Maggies Applause (41-to-1, I might add) and runner-up Bump Bump.  

In my humble view, the horse certainly impeded Maggies Applause and set off a chain reaction that led to another jockey filing an objection against Bump Bump for interference.

The stewards made no change without much explanation and even as the head-on replays seemed to indict Ziptomylu for interference.

Rewind To Race 5: Saturday, January 4

Apologies in advance, as I could not locate the full race video (here is the pan shot from 4NJBets), but based on the head-on replays shown during Simulcast Series Challenge #1 at Monmouth Park, it seemed the infractions in this race were not nearly as severe as Ziptomylu's in the aforementioned January 8 race.

In Race 5 on January 4, the stewards disqualified winner Lil Escape Artist for claims of "interference in deep stretch" lodged by Brian Pedroza, jockey of 19-to-1 runner-up Butterdish, and ruled Butterdish the winner by DQ.

To anyone who can find the head-on replay, and even based on the side angle of the stretch run, I challenge anyone to find what Lil Escape Artist did to Butterdish that was any worse than the alleged foul by Ziptomylu against Maggies Applause.  

Details in the steward's notes were terse, at best, further obscuring the DQ on Lil Escape Artist.

No Bias

The outcome of the January 4 race meant little to me (I had neither horse for Tampa Race 5, one of 30 carded for SSC#1), but provided the biggest winner to that point in a contest rife with low-priced winners.

I can accept defeat under any circumstance, and in fact did so last year in a race (from Tampa) where my horse, who went off at high odds, came out on the short end of a claim of foul.

However, with the stakes that much higher for an event such as NHC XV, contest players and organizers alike should be wary of tracks with a seemingly higher incidence of questionable stewardship.

Within the two-day sample I have provided, there were objections and/or inquiries in 4 of 19 races.

If anyone has the data to show that there are claims of foul in more than 1 of every 5 races per track, then my apologies to Tampa.

Until such time, however, let the two races from Tampa serve as a cautionary tale about picking tracks where the horseplayer will get at least a consistent shake in seemingly wonky stewards' decisions.

There would be nothing worse than to lose out on a $750,000 first prize as a result of a questionable race disqualification at a second-tier track.


  1. Objections and inquiries are a very tough part of this game, because you can make a argument on either side and have enough evidence to back it up.

    About 10 years ago I had a very bad beat IMO it cost me a lot of money, not nearly as much as my reckless play after that on the same day. I couldn't believe how foolish I gotten for something that didn't go my way.

    So from that day on as soon as the inquiry sign goes up and it involves me, I just walk away until it's over and except the result good or bad

    1. Great advice, anonymous, and apologies for the defeat. True, too, that it's best not to let anger spur you to make reckless plays after a rough beat. Sounds like you have a good handle on it now.