Push a button...Pick a winner.

My Photo
Location: Stockton, California, United States

Some call me OlRailbird.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Bother with Horse Racing?

Joe Hirsch, racing's inimitable chronicler, died three days ago at the ripe old age of eighty. Mr. Hirsch was an unflappable fan of thoroughbred racing who reported only the bright side and never focused on the unseemly.

Yes, Joe was a cheerleader for the sport. He was a bright ray of hope even as the industry declined before his retirement in 2003. He struggled with the infirmities of Parkinson's Disease, but never let it dim his positive image of the sport he loved.

Joe was an admirable man, but was he racing's Pollyanna? He always saw the decent side of horse racing, the noble spirit of the animals and the good-natured competition between racing people. His writings reflected great truths of racing while ignoring its great lies.

Sometimes, when I get depressed (which, I admit, is quite often) I wonder why I would care which rich man's horse is faster than other rich men's horses. Ultimately, in the big picture that is human civilization, does it really matter how fast an animal ran or who it beat? For that matter, does the Super Bowl or the World Series matter a smidgen in the greater scheme of things? No. No, of course none of these things truly matter.

Do the starving millions matter? Does it matter who is President or who wins an Academy Award? Does it matter if you pray or who you pray to? Is there anything at all that matters except what you will eat next and where you might lay your head tonight?

In the larger scope of things, it wouldn't really matter to the Universe if the earth were rendered lifeless by a massive plasma discharge from the sun.

In the end, nothing matters. Most scientists believe the universe is expanding to infinity and no life will be possible once we're positioned into the cold expanse of space.

So, what do we do? We diddle around with sports and politics and literature and history and science and we pretend that what we concern ourselves with is somehow meaningful, despite knowing it is all just illusion.

Well, the world is not ending tomorrow despite what you read about Wall Street. So, we have this time to fill with idle pursuits. Mostly, we pursue what fills our bellies and fulfills our desires.

We look around and wonder how to invigorate our curiosity and fill our wallets. We realize that horse racing can possibly do both. We can gamble on the outcome of competition between the horses of rich men and possibly enrich ourselves. The sport entices our avarice!

I mourn the passing of Joe as I mourn the passing of all things. Times seem more complicated now, and I wonder if a cheerleader such as Joe Hirsch would find success today. I wonder if a Pollyanna view of the "Sport of Kings" is even beneficial given the difficulties we now face.

I love racing. I love the mental challenge of picking not only winners, but the formulation of structured bets on exotic wagers. I doubt there is a drug that can compare to the mental rush of cashing a high payoff. If I lose today, I play tomorrow, convinced my insight into the sport will prove profitable.

As much as I love it, I know the pitfalls of being involved with a game that is designed to take my money and give it to other people. I know the takeout is way too high and that critical handicapping information is purposely withheld. I further understand that the combination of poor information and high takeouts leads to the financial demise of 99.9% of handicappers. If that weren't enough, there are the cheaters and all the new ways they find to cheat.

Still, I play.

Am I a fool or an optimist? Either way, maybe I'm not so different from Joe Hirsch.

Beat a Dead Horse

First, read this.

Santa Anita might be bankrupting me, but it is killing horses.

I'll tell you what I think -- I think synthetic racing surfaces have a narrow temperature band where they are viable. Maybe 65F-75F. European temperatures?

Above the band, the horses slosh around the track, seeking traction on rubber-coated ball bearings. Below the band the junk clumps into a minefield of chunks and stumbles.

No wonder the results seem random...the surface is so bad it equalizes the odds. The only thing worse than asking bettors to gamble on this surface is asking horses to run over it.

As I see it, we have three choices:

1. Regulate the sun.
2. Only race in May and October.
3. Return to real dirt.

Carryovers prove my theory

The track at Santa Anita sucks.

The Pick Six carries over most days, with 1.2 million on a 3 day spurt last Saturday. Oddly, the horses were formful that day resulting in a modest $9K or so payoff.

Still, the track just seems really, really weird to me.

Sure, management points to 1/3 of winners being favorites last year, but that was a different track. Even if it were the same track, having one third favorites win doesn't mean the track is fair or normal. You know what Mark Twain said about statistics.

If I had two eyes, a nose and a mouth you would think I was normal until I told you they were all on my ass. Now you know from whence I speak...

Still, I soldier on, trying to make sense of the senseless.

Today, Bob Baffert had three horses entered in the feature race and won it, of course, with the longest odds of the bunch paying $51. Explaining the failure of one of his well-backed entrants he casually remarked that the horse is "better on dirt." The horse that won was entered via showing some promise on grass.

Bob must think this synthetic ain't dirt, but it ain't grass neither...