Horseplayers at Laurel Tuesday might have felt they would be better off flipping coins than trying to handicap.
In the fourth race, they could only guess the ability of a first-time starter namee Right Hearted, whose past per-formance showed no workouts in nearly two months. The colt won and paid $128.40.
In the seventh race, bettors could only guess at the condition of Mr. Boomerang, who had not raced since mid-October and showed no workouts. He won by five lengths.
In the eighth race handicappers confkronted a horse named Side Board, who had been idle since June, and might reasonably have concluded from his slow workouts that he wasn't fit enough to win. Side Board won with ease and paid $37.60.
This is an old story for local racing fans. When a horse has not raced recently, his workouts are the best gauge of his current condition. Yet in Maryland the published workouts are so notoriously inaccurate and unreliable that most bettors know it is wise to ignore them.
Bettors in other states do not have to be so cynical. Californians can assume that published workouts are accurate, because racing officials have taken steps to insure that they are accurate:
Exercise riders must identify their mounts to the clocker as they come onto the track for a workout.
A horse who has not raced recently must show three or four published workouts before he is permitted to start.
Clockers are paid by the racing association -- instead of the Daily Racing Form -- so the state and the tracks have some control over the accuracy of their work.
In Maryland, none of these safeguards exist. So Maryland workout listings abound with inaccuracies.
One of them touched off the state's worst racing scandal in a quarter of a century. In the notorious fixed triple race at Bowie on St. Valentine's Day, a first-time starter named Mike O. was favored on the basis of a pair of six-furlong workouts in 1:14 1/2 4/5 and 1:15. These would have made him a cinch to win a $7,500 maiden claiming race, if only they had been his workouts,
But jockey Eric Walsh knew that Mike O. was a hopeless bum, and so did other jockeys in the race. The knowledge that the favorite could not finish in the money was a potentially valuable piece of information, and the jockeys collaborated to capitalize on it.
Whether the result is a major scandal like that one in 1975, or merly a day of unforeseeable results like the one at Laurel Tuesday, the inaccurate reporting of workouts defrauds the betting public. The blame lies with the members of the state's thoroughbred racing board.
The racing commissioners always move with alacrity to safeguard the economic well-being of race track owners, and to grant the wishes of horsemen, but they rarely make even a token gesture for the public's benefit.
The commissioners could pass a rule requiring first-time starters and horses who have been oaid off to show a reasonable number of workouts. They could require that horse be identified before they go to the track for workouts. They could hire a clocker who would bear responsibility for the accuracy of published workouts.
Until these things are done, the inaccuracy of workout information will remain one of the most glaring symbols of the racing board's indifference to the public it supposedly serves.