Imagine the advantage you would have if you could bet on a race after the horses had left the gate. You would be able to see if the favorite stumbled, if one of the speed horses didn’t get away cleanly or if the best closer dumped his jockey.
The results of a Jan. 16 harness race at The Raceway at Western Fair in Ontario suggest that certain bettors might have been enjoying such an edge and exploiting it.
Here’s what we know:
The winner paid $46, which was all well and good until you looked at the other payoffs: The exacta paid only $43.60, even though the 9-1 second-place finisher was the fifth choice in the seven-horse race.
Track management alerted the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency and the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario to the unusual payoff, both of which launched an investigation. The track also issued a statement saying, “Our tote provider provided us the pertinent wagering information which showed that the bulk of the winning tickets were sold at a tote hub in Kentucky.”
The statement said there had been previous wagering anomalies traced back to the same hub and that a prior investigation “found no evidence of collusion or anyone driving in a questionable manner in that race.”
Neither agency responded to calls from the Review-Journal seeking comment, but Raceway racing director Greg Blanchard said he expects the results of the investigation in the next week or two.
While we await word, Garnet Barnsdale of Harness Racing Update published some informed speculation that the Kentucky bettors were able to bet during the period when the motorized vehicle carrying the starting gate folds up the contraption and the point where the timing of the race actually begins. He noted that bets similar to the winning wager of approximately $150 to $200 were made on all combinations of the 2, 4 and 5 horses, which broke first, second and third off the gate.
“It makes sense to conclude then, that the Kentuckians making these bets are watching to see which horses are leaving the gate and hammering the combinations involving those three horses at the absolute last second before wagering gets cut off,” he wrote.
It sure does. And if that turns out to be the case, it’s time for racing’s powers that be to finally address the late odds fluctuations that are driving players away in droves. A relatively simple fix would be to cut off wagering two minutes before a race is run. I also would suggest that bettors still be allowed to cancel wagers during that two-minute window, to prevent the late odds changes from simply occurring earlier.
I’m sure that system could be manipulated as well, but players at least would be able to back out if they decide the odds are not to their liking. In the long term, I think the sport needs to shift from the parimutuel system to an exchange-wagering scheme such as is being tried in New Jersey. That enables players to know their odds with certainty when they lay their money down.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The Triple Crown races no longer are specks on the horizon, so the #RJhorseracing handicappers will be focused on 3-year-old action over the coming months, beginning with this week’s featured races: the $350,000 Holy Bull Stakes (Grade 2) at Gulfstream Park and the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes (Grade 3) at Santa Anita, both to be run at 1-1/16th mile.
In the former, the crowd ’cappers are squarely in the camp of even-money morning line favorite Maximus Mischief, with Mihos (5-2) and Federal Case (6-1) filling out the minor placings.
I’ll take a shot with Epic Dreamer (15-1), who looked good breaking his maiden at Belmont last fall and then had plenty of trouble in the Springboard Mile at Remington Park in December. I’ll use Maximus Mischief and Federal Case in the lesser slots.
In the Robert B. Lewis, which is likely to be run over an “off” track, the crew narrowly likes Gunmetal Gray (9-5) over 8-5 morning line favorite Mucho Gusto, with Nolo Contesto (5-2) a distant third in the balloting.
“I’ll take Gunmetal Gray to look like Zenyatta against this short field,” crowd ’capper Michael Kaczer wrote of the group’s pick, referring to the John Shirreffs-trained mare’s late running style.
I think the Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto has a big pace advantage and won’t be denied. I’ll use Magnificent McCool, who prepped for this on the turf, and Gunmetal Gray in the second and third slots, respectively.
Last week’s picks: The crowd ’cappers correctly selected the winner of the Pegasus Turf Invitational Stakes, Bricks and Mortar ($7.60), while I had the winner of the Pegasus World Cup Stakes, City of Light ($5.60).
And you can always check to see how we’re doing at http://bit.ly/2HxxwwB.
Ellis Starr’s Holy Bull analaysis
Mihos will be my top choice to win this year’s Holy Bull Stakes. The winner of the Mucho Macho Man Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month showed maturity when rallying from fifth on the far turn, Mihos was still second, 2 1/2 lengths behind the leader with an eighth of a mile to go before grinding out a victory by a neck. Improving from an 80 EquibaseSpeed Figure in his debut last fall, to 99 in his second start, then to a field high 105 figure in the Mucho Macho Man, Mihos appears to have all the tools to win the Holy Bull. His sire, Cairo Prince, had his first crop of foals hit the track in 2018 and to date they have fared very well. Six of Cairo Prince’s progeny have run in stakes at a mile or more to date, with two winning and another finishing second. Improving and already a stakes winner over the track, Mihos looks tough to beat in this situation.
Federal Case may not yet be a stakes winner but has similar credentials to Mihos in that he won at a mile over the Gulfstream main track in his most recent start. That was near the end of December and in that race Federal Case improved considerably to a 92 figure. Although he has one less race under his belt than Mihos, 3-year-olds can improve markedly from one race to the next early in the year. As such, Federal Case could jump up and be competitive in the Holy Bull. Additionally, a STATS Race Lens angle shows when trainer Todd Pletcher makes a jockey change to Javier Castellano, as is the case here, it is a change worth noting. Over the past five years, this has occurred 372 times, with 26 percent of those starters winning. In both starts to date, Federal Case has relaxed in second in the early stages. It’s likely there will be a contested early pace as both Going For Gold and Gladiator King are stretching out and have led in the early stages in recent races. In this scenario, Federal Case could find himself in the catbird seat and ready to pounce in the stretch for the win.
Maximus Mischief is a perfect three-for-three in his career. All were powerful efforts in which he led by two or more lengths at the top of the stretch and continued on to win by wide margins. Starting with an 87 figure effort last September, Maximus Mischief improved to a 97 figure effort in October before proving to be one of the top two-year-olds in training last fall when easily winning the Remsen Stakes and earning a 104 figure. The Remsen has turned out to be a “key race” as two horses behind Maximus Mischief both won their subsequent starts and improved their Equibase figures in doing so. If there is one concern, it is Maximus Mischief hasn’t run for nine weeks, whereas eight of the other nine, particularly Mihos and Federal Case, have had the benefit of more recent races. On the other hand, Maximus Mischief’s morning workouts since coming to Gulfstream last month have been superb and indicate a horse in top physical condition. Maximus Mischief could pick up in the Holy Bull where he left off last fall, with a graded stakes win.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.