Commentary: Right to Know

Commentary: Right to Know
Photo: File Photo
Dan Liebman, Editor in Chief
Bettors have every right to be incensed after hearing owner Robert LaPenta say that following War Pass’ last-place finish in the March 15 Tampa Bay Derby (gr. III), the colt had run a fever earlier in the week.

Thoroughbred racing would not exist without those who wager on the races, and at a time when the industry is battling integrity issues on several fronts, it is little wonder confidence is eroding in the product.

Many of those whose dollars support Thoroughbred racing would not have wagered on the unbeaten champion had they known he had been ill the week of the race. War Pass had trouble early in the race and may not have won anyway, but it leaves a bad taste in the collective mouths of the betting public when it believes it has been misled.

There are numerous things trainers are required to report, like equipment changes, such as the addition of blinkers or a shadow roll, or the use of medication. But they are not mandated to notify anyone when a horse runs a fever, has a rash, or is in the midst of a myriad of other veterinary conditions. Still, when one of the clear favorites for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) runs a fever the week of an important prep race, the public should be informed.

Bettors on- and off-track made War Pass the 1-20 favorite for the Tampa Bay Derby, the lowest price that exists in pari-mutuel wagering. That he was flawless in five starts by a combined 22 lengths, including the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), made handicappers feel extremely confident in the son of Cherokee Run’s chances against six opponents, only one of whom had even won an open stakes.

War Pass had never been headed in his previous races, so when he acted up in the gate and was then bumped at the start, it certainly compromised his chances. The public is wondering if the fact the Nick Zito-trained colt had been sick the week of the race also was a factor.

As would be expected when a 1-20 shot runs last, it caused for huge show payoffs—$25.20, $27.80, and $76.40.

As stated, trainers must report certain equipment changes. But what about the most significant equipment change of them all? That is, when a colt or horse becomes a gelding.

The day before the Tampa Bay Derby, Anzisong’s past performances showed him as a 5-year-old horse for the eighth race at Santa Anita. After six races in 2006 and 2007 in Cal-bred maiden special weight events—his best finish being a third—Anzisong showed up after nearly a year since his last start in a Cal-bred $40,000 maiden claiming contest. He also showed up as a gelding.

An announcement was made on track, but considering 85% of money is now wagered off-track, few knew of the equipment change for Anzisong, who won the race by a neck in his first start for trainer Rafael Becerra. He paid $23.60.

With the sums of money being wagering today off-track and over the Internet, an on-track announcement is not enough. Anzisong should have been scratched, and his past performances updated to correctly inform the wagering public. Just as first-time Lasix and first-time blinkers are important for a handicapper to know, so is first-time gelding.

The National Basketball Association no longer states which referees will be working games because some are prone to call more fouls than others. Major League Baseball announces umpires, but not which one will be behind the plate because they all have different strike zones. In these cases, too much information leads to wagering patterns.

Horse racing is different. Information is everything. In less than 24 hours, bettors were deceived twice. Some may decide they have had enough.

Who can blame them?

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