People who are constantly subjected to indignities eventually start to think that their downtrodden condition is the natural order of things.
The 6,930 customers at Pimlico Tuesday doubtless thought they were witnessing a normal, unobjectionable day of racing. Probably I would have, too, if I had not recently returned from Santa Anita. There, I learned that it is not the natural order of things for bettors to be uninformed, that they be given zero or misleading information about horses' workouts.
By California standards, or by any standards of fairness, Tuesday's races were an outrage.
In the third race, the filly Tameel was entered after a four-month absence from competition and did not show a single published workout. A colleague liked her, for cynical reasons. "They must be hiding something," he said.
He was right; Tameel won at 4 to 1.
In the sixth race, a first-time starter named Never Cye showed a series of workouts that were laughably slow: six furlongs in 1:17 2/5, six furlongs in 1:19 1/5 and five furlongs in 1:03 2/5. But some bettors, including, presumably, the clockers, knew that the colt was a little quicker than that. In fact, a lot quicker. Money poured onto Never Cye just before post time and he ran away to a four-length victory at odds of 5 to 1.
In the seventh race, handicappers could only guess at the condition of the best horse in the field. Casual had not raced for three months and showed no published workouts. Bettors guessed that she was ready, making her the 8-to-5 favorite, but they were wrong. Casual finished out of the money.
The eighth race was another guessing game. Platinum Belle, who would have been a standout on the basis of her best form, had not raced since June and showed not a single workout in the interim. The crowd guessed that she was ready, making her the favorite, and again guessed wrong.
It is frustrating to handicap and bet while knowing that the most vital information about a race is being withheld from the public. And it is infuriating to contemplate the reason it is being withheld.
The Maryland racing industry couldn't survive for a day without us horseplayers, and yet that industry has nothing but contempt for our interests.
The Maryland Racing Commission frequently looks after the well-being of the various interest groups that constitute the state's thoroughbred industry--trainers, breeders, track owners. The commission ought to demonstrate its concern for the public interest, and nothing it could do would be more significant than the creation of a system that would insure accurate workout information.
Ideally, either the state or the racing association would hire clockers and oversee them, make them responsible to someone. But even if the commission rejected that course on the grounds of expense, it could pass some rules that would cost nothing:
When a horse comes onto the track for a workout, the exercise rider or the trainer must tell the chief clocker the horse's name and the distance he is going to work.
Any horse who has not raced in the previous 45 days must show at least one published workout.
The stewards have the discretion to scratch any horse if they are not satisfied about his or her physical condition; if, for example, a solitary three-furlong workout is shown after a six-month absence from competition.
Such a rule did once exist in Maryland, until horsemen fought to have it expunged. If the commission did try to pass rules governing workouts now, the horsemen would doubtless scream about all the hardships it would cause them. And to them the commission should respond that the betting public has rights, too.