As if bloated takeouts, the dwindling horse population and the threat of footing the bill for federal oversight of the sport were not enough, racing has found a new way to put one over on horseplayers. Actually, it is an old way.
When jockeys Katie Davis and Trevor McCarthy got married the week before Christmas, that led the New York State Gaming Commission to dust off a rule that came from a time when we dreamed that it’s gonna make it that much better when we can say good night and stay together.
Rule 4025.10 (f) says “all horses trained or ridden by a spouse, parent, issue (“issue”?) or member of a jockey’s household shall be coupled in the betting with any horse ridden by such a jockey.”
Translation: When Davis and McCarthy ride against each other in the same race, they will be considered a coupled entry. They were entered and drawn into the same races three times late this week at Aqueduct – Friday’s fourth and fifth and Saturday’s sixth. In each race, one of their horses will be number “1,” the other “1A.”
Just what horseplayers did not need. Unnecessarily smaller fields.
“I don’t know when the rule originated,” McCarthy’s agent Scott Silver told VSiN on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod. “In these days and times it shouldn’t be the way it is. People are not happy about it. They’re saying it doesn’t make any sense. They’d like for the rule to be changed, but I guess it’s not up to us to change it.”
Of all the things to use as an excuse to protect bettors from the illusion of collusion. The days of coupled entries with common owners and trainers have become the exception when they used to be the rule. Remember when D. Wayne Lukas used to have so many horses in one race that there would be a saddle cloth with the number “1X”? The unloading of a single stable full of horses into one entry box still happens, but the alphanumeric silks are as rare now as races with firm odds on the last click.
Players have grown up to figuring out what to do in those cases. Granted, there are still disillusioned bettors in recent years who have railed about the Ortiz brothers. Try to find a race in the east or on a big stage that includes Irad Jr. but not José.
Should they be a coupled entry, too? Or should bettors just pull up their adult pants and accept that there may or may not be some gamesmanship the way there may or may not be with competing friends who do not have common surnames?
“Knowing Trevor and Katie, they are very competitive,” Silver said. “They’ve been riding against each other for a long time, and they’ve been together for a good while now.”
While the gaming commission has eschewed media reaction to the backlash, it has provided an explanation through intermediaries charged with carrying out their bidding, namely the New York Racing Association. The rationale is that since Davis and McCarthy are now married, they share a common financial interest.
The question, though, is what fiduciary wand was waved over Mr. and Mrs. McCarthy when they said “I do” that made them competitively different from the months and months that they were merely living together as Ms. Davis and Mr. McCarthy?
Never mind that modern tax laws have evolved to recognize this conundrum when couples co-habitate without troth. As a California prosecutor told me when I was covering crime and courts nearly 40 years ago, “There is nothing magic about oath.”
This is not to suggest that horseplayers should not have some commonsense protections against fraud. But isn’t that what the stewards are for? A bureaucratic fiat to govern the perception of a conflict of interest is not looking out for gamblers. It is a canard – just as frisking frail, elderly passengers after 9/11 was an illusion of airport security.
What’s more, the unnecessary coupling of the Davis-McCarthy party of two removes one more precious commodity in racing. That is a betting choice at a time when field sizes have eroded faster than sports dynasties in the San Francisco Bay Area.
“The wagering in New York, when they’ve got to couple them all the time, they’re losing money in revenue, in handle,” Silver said. “It doesn’t make much sense.”
The Jockeys’ Guild is trying to get the rule changed, but it could take months, unless the NYSGC takes the unlikely step of declaring an emergency to hasten a resolution.
“It’s difficult to do an emergency,” Jockeys’ Guild CEO Terry Meyocks admitted to Horse Racing Nation. “They’ve made exceptions before and put it to the stewards’ discretion, and hopefully that’s what they can do.”
For now Davis and McCarthy are merely victims riding out the firestorm in New York. Silver said the rule has not cost his client any business. Yet.
The December wedding was actually supposed to have been in April, but COVID got in the way. It was only last month when McCarthy announced that he and Davis would move their tack to New York. It was only a matter of days after that when the NYSGC put down its big foot.
If owners and trainers gradually resist calling them for work, the newlyweds might have to move their tack all over again – all because of the same anachronistic thinking that had Rob and Laura Petrie sleeping in double beds on “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
That was in the 1960s, when horse racing was a major sport that was not complicated by panjandrums who are solely in the business of turning perfectly good bridge material into unnecessary barriers, especially for horseplayers who do not need faux authorities pretending to be their protectors. I did not need them when I bet on Serena against Venus. I do not need them if I think Trevor is on a better horse than Katie.
To paraphrase someone else who hated big government – New York State Gaming Commission, tear down this wall.
Racing notes and opinions
Goldikova’s death in France at age 16 on Tuesday brought me back to the most eventful day of racing I ever witnessed on a single card in a single day. At least that is what my aging memory bank tells me. That was Nov. 6, 2010, at Churchill Downs, when she won her third consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile. And she was not the big story. That came two hours later, when Blame upset previously unbeaten Zenyatta in the Classic. I stood on the backstretch one day that week and waited for Zenyatta to take her daily gallop around the main track. There were a lot of people out that chilly morning, including Goldikova’s trainer Freddy Head. I had interviewed him many times on either side of the Atlantic, and when I saw him among the horde that craved a glimpse of the then undefeated American mare, he said, “I’m here to see the star of the show.” While Zenyatta was that day’s Gal Gadot, Goldikova was Kristen Wiig. Every bit the star, just not that week’s big name. But she deserved to be. No horse had ever three-peated in the Breeders’ Cup. Only Beholder has won three since, and that was in two divisions across five years. Head called me back from France after I left him a message Wednesday, and he said Goldikova “was extraordinary. Great character. Very special in the way that she was always doing the best. She was very keen. She was a wonderful, wonderful animal. Very, very strong and tough.” It was sad seeing her bow out with a loss going for four in a row in 2011 at Churchill Downs. It was sadder yet to hear the news this week from France.
As promised here are my votes for the 2020 Eclipse Awards. Please feel free to respond, compliment or especially criticize on Twitter @ronflatter. In each category we were required to fill in a first-, second- and third-place vote. They are shown here in that order.
Horse of the Year: Authentic, Monomoy Girl, Improbable.
2-Year-Old Male: Essential Quality, Jackie’s Warrior, Fire At Will.
2-Year-Old Filly: Vequist, Aunt Pearl, Dayoutoftheoffice.
3-Year-Old Male: Authentic, Tiz The Law, Charlatan.
3-Year-Old Filly: Swiss Skydiver, Gamine, Shedaresthedevil.
Older Dirt Male: Improbable, Maximum Security, Vekoma.
Older Dirt Female: Monomoy Girl, Midnight Bisou, Ce Ce.
Male Sprinter: Vekoma, Whitmore, Volatile.
Female Sprinter: Gamine, Serengeti Empress, Guarana.
Male Turf Horse: Channel Maker, Zulu Alpha, Gufo.
Female Turf Horse: Rushing Fall, Starship Jubilee, Tarnawa.
Owner: Spendthrift Farm, Klaravich Stables, Sackatoga Stable.
Breeder: WinStar Farm, Godolphin, Peter Blum.
Jockey: Joel Rosario, Irad Ortiz Jr., Luis Sáez.
Trainer: Brad Cox, Bob Baffert, Chad Brown.
Following my usual pattern I abstained from the steeplechase and apprentice-jockey divisions, because I do not follow them enough to cast informed votes. There was also an incident involving a chest-puffing publication six years ago that hectored us voters into believing we were idiots in one of those categories. Under unique circumstances that are still sensitive, a public response in that case would have been tacky, so that particular category has had a big loss of voters since. When the pandemic is over, find me in a bar, get me drunk, and I may fill in the blanks.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. It has been 20 years since the book Seabiscuit: An American Legend was published, and author Laura Hillenbrand talks about it on this week’s episode. Agent Scott Silver discusses a controversial New York rule that requires married jockeys to be coupled as one betting entry if they are in the same race. VSiN’s Vinny Magliulo will handicap weekend races. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.