Suspicious horseplay? Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge under review

By Ron Flatter  ( 

November 10, 2017 02:21 AM
Mickaël Barzalona rides Talismanic to win the Breeders' Cup Turf, a pivotal race in Nisan Gabbay's disputed victory in the Breeders' Cup Betting Challenge.
© Eclipse Sportswire photo provided by Del Mar Thoroughbred Club

LAS VEGAS — It was sure to happen, wasn’t it? With the rising popularity of handicapping contests in horse racing, there had to be growing pains. And you had better believe the news that broke late this week from the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge is a pain.


“I have full confidence that there was nothing amiss there,” said Nisan Gabbay, 40, the San Francisco software entrepreneur whose first-place finish last Saturday in the $1 million BCBC was brought into question. What’s more, Gabbay told VSiN that he gets why he is being investigated for collusion.


According to The Daily Racing Form, 11 horseplayers signed a letter Thursday to the BCBC organizers saying they believed there were “multiple irregularities” in the betting patterns of both Gabbay and Eric Moomey, who finished ninth. They claim that Gabbay did not make a bet until the bankroll of his friend, Kevin McFarland, shrank to $1. Gabbay then played the last three races – scoring big with win bets on Talismanic (14-1) in the Turf and Gun Runner (2-1) in the Classic.


“Both Breeders’ Cup Limited and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club take such allegations very seriously and have temporarily withheld prize payments and initiated an independent investigation,” the Breeders’ Cup said Thursday night in a written statement. “Until the results of the investigation have concluded, neither Breeders’ Cup Limited nor Del Mar Thoroughbred Club shall comment on the investigation in fairness to all parties involved.”


Appearing to win the $300,000 first prize when his bankroll ballooned to $176,000, Gabbay said that he had nothing to do with the crux of the investigation.


“My understanding of the main complaint is that there was another player uninvolved with myself who had pooled a number of entries with friends, and they had all backed one race together the full amount of $7,500,” Gabbay said. “The idea being that if they covered enough horses on the win end in one race that they would be able to hit that race and jump out into the lead. That’s what they did, and they had some success, and that riled a lot of people.”


Rules against collusion look noble in writing, but in reality they beg the question of where to draw the line. Friends have been allowed over the years to pool their knowledge and resources on multiple entries. Gabbay has made no secret of the fact that he and McFarland have been betting partners for years.


So where does that sort of relationship end and collusion begin?


“The intent of the rule is not to say that friends can’t play together,” Gabbay said. “For example, how do you police something like a husband and wife playing together in the tournament? Each of them have their own entries, but certainly there’s financial gain whether a husband or a wife ends up winning. At that point you say, well, are they playing them simultaneously together? Is there one or another opinion? This idea of being able to police what is done on one or two entries is pretty difficult, and I think people have to understand that going in.”


If the Breeders’ Cup pulls on this thread, it runs the risk of trying to enforce the unenforceable and look bad doing it. What is to stop horseplayers from having coded communication among themselves in any handicapping contest? Short of putting every player in cones of silence or isolated soundproof booths, the idea of a crackdown on this behavior is folly. Besides, isn’t any strategy dependent on certain horses winning? The last time I checked, there are still no such guarantees in this game.


Whether Gabbay is being disingenuous is an argument for others to decide. (Judge for yourself by listening to him on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted at Taking him at his word, though, he sounded ready for whatever the Breeders’ Cup may decide, even if it meant losing his shot at a $3 million bonus for winning both the BCBC and the National Horseplayers Championship in February here in Las Vegas.


“Ultimately, it’s their tournament,” Gabbay said. “They write the rules and decide what is fair and what is not fair. My own personal belief in our case in this Breeders’ Cup is that it wouldn’t have made any difference to the outcome.”


The change of seasons, racing style


Somewhere between Del Mar and Las Vegas – on the 5½-hour drive that unfailing pauses for an eternity through Riverside – I got to thinking about the change of seasons.


Not so much autumn-to-winter, which is merely a rumor in the desert compared with my 10 years in New York. This is more about the change of racing seasons – and there are really only two: Breeders’ Cup and Triple Crown.


Before anyone gets hot and bothered to think that I am somehow blowing off the rest of the year, come see me about my annual pilgrimages to the Arlington Million and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the three years I lived and breathed racing in Australia. But they are to the big events on my racing calendar what the Fourth of July is to Christmas.


Around now is when I start putting together my worksheets for the Kentucky Derby. I will also be reading clocker reports and chasing past performances and making bets and watching preps and watching them again after downloading videos and reviewing charts and reading chart comments.


Or I could simply skip all that, dive into the Kentucky Derby futures and be done with it.


William Hill this past week joined Wynn Las Vegas in posting odds for the Derby. Despite his third-place finish off an awfully wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Bolt d’Oro is still the favorite at both books, although his price has drifted from 10-1 at Wynn to 15-1. Good Magic’s victory in the Juvenile makes him an 18-1 second choice at Wynn and 16-1 at William Hill, which lists maiden winners McKinzie and Montauk at 12-1.


Here are the shortest prices at each book to win the Kentucky Derby:


Wynn Las Vegas

15-1 Bolt d’Oro

18-1 Good Magic

22-1 Montauk

30-1 Solomini

35-1 McKinzie


William Hill

10-1 Bolt d’Oro

12-1 McKinzie

12-1 Montauk

16-1 Good Magic

25-1 Solomini


After what I saw at Del Mar last weekend I do not find myself wowed by any 2-year-old – at least not yet. I suppose Bolt d’Oro had his chance, but even if he had delivered an eye-popping run, I was not going to jump into the pool at 10-1.


So it is back to the PPs and bets and videos and charts. The only difference this year is that I will not be looking out of the corner of my eye at the snow piling up on a fire escape in Manhattan.


Racing notebook


Did Gun Runner’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic make him the best racehorse in the world? Or is it three-time Cox Plate winner Winx in Australia? How about Arc winner Enable in Europe? Would you believe none of the above? The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities has – brace yourself – kept Arrogate at the top of its standings on the strength of his Dubai World Cup victory, even though he lost three of his five races this year. This has led to renewed questions about the usefulness of the rankings, which measure each horse’s best race of a given calendar year. Timeform does much the same thing, but it has not updated its rankings since June 30. For what it’s worth I would rank Enable first, Winx second and Gun Runner third on the basis of their accomplishments and not their single best races.


Let me stir yet another pot and raise the issue of whether Arrogate was retired as the richest racehorse of all time. Against a tide of wishful declarations, it says here the answer is no, and that conclusion has been seconded by Equibase. Its ranking of the top three reads Orfèvre $19,005,276, Gentildonna $18,468,392 and Arrogate $17,422,600. The top two were Japanese champions from the first half of this decade that collected most of their earnings in yen, and that is where the problem lies. Gentildonna actually won more yen than Orfèvre, but that was when Japanese currency was not as strong on the world market. Either way, though, the two Japanese horses still rank ahead of Arrogate when using contemporaneous exchange rates to the U.S. dollar.


Rekindling (14-1) became the first 3-year-old in 76 years to win the $4.6 million Group 1 Melbourne Cup, finishing a half-length ahead of Johannes Vermeer (12-1) in the two-mile turf handicap Tuesday at Flemington Racecourse. Joseph O’Brien, 24, became the youngest winning trainer in the 150-year history of the race. His father, Aidan, trained the runner-up for his best finish yet, but he remains winless in nine tries over six different runnings of Australia’s most famous race.


A new drug scandal is percolating around the Melbourne Cup. According to a report from Australian-based journalist Brendan Cormick, stewards in the state of Victoria have cracked the code on cryptic text messages that have been used for perhaps three years by racing insiders to tip off bettors about illegally drugged horses. The report said that phones have been confiscated by investigators from “licensed persons,” presumably meaning owners, trainers and/or jockeys and even racing administrators. No charges had yet been brought as of Friday.


Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod every Friday morning at, this week featuring Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge winner Nisan Gabbay, who offers his side of a collusion investigation of his entry, and Twin Spires’ Ed DeRosa.

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