My love for the sport of Thoroughbred racing was born on a gray, August dawn at Saratoga. The great Texas sportswriter Blackie Sherrod had written that Saratoga was “the granddaddy of American racetracks,” so I had to go. I had heard that one could watch the workouts in the mornings, and there was a chance that Cigar, fresh from his 16th victory in a row and prepping for the record-breaking 17th, might be working. I couldn’t sleep I was so excited.
I arrived at the track at a ridiculously early hour—something you can’t do today because of a short-sighted New York Racing Association policy, but that’s another story. The stars shined on me that morning because the “big horse” indeed came out with Jerry Bailey in the saddle and Bill Mott running interference. There were maybe 30 of us along the fence, besides all the workers on the racetrack, and all of us stopped dead in our tracks to see the great Cigar. Man, did he play it up, prancing and bucking, absolutely the king of the realm. I was within touching distance of this magnificent animal at the very peak of his power. I’ll always think kindly of Mott for giving us fans a few minutes close to Cigar; he didn’t have to do that.
Cigar began his work on the backside and we heard the hoofbeats before we saw him running alone through the mist and fog down the stretch—it was an unearthly feeling.
Cigar finished his workout right in front of us, and I heard Mott say, “One-twenty-seven and three.” When I got back to my room, I called my father in Colorado and told him who I just saw, and he said, “Are you kiddin’ me?” He was as knocked out as I was. Daddy later made the trip with me to Saratoga before he died, and horse racing became a bond between us.
The point of this is that I am not a fly-by-night fan, I have it in my blood. I have been a serious horseplayer, wagering in the high five figures every year, and twice qualifying for the Daily Racing Form National Handicapping Championship. Over the last year, however, my participation has dwindled to a trickle as the range of playing opportunities shrunk to almost nothing because of the advance deposit wagering disputes. Quitting the wagering side of the game altogether is the next step.
I live far away from a decent racetrack, and account wagering is my only practical option for play, except for the yearly trip to Saratoga. I subscribe to both TVG and HRTV, and playing from home was once very convenient. I followed the game with passion. It was part of my lifestyle.
I played the California tracks for years, but they were withdrawn from my ADW provider early this year. I did sign up with another ADW service, but the deposit process was more cumbersome and it did not work for me. Besides, my original service performed just fine, so I drew my line in the sand there. The second provider has now lost access to those tracks, too, so what’s the use anyway? I will not flit from one service to another. You can count me out if that’s the best business model you can come up with.
Let me give one specific example of how the ADW dispute wrecks the handicapping process, besides the more obvious ones: I have an extensive “Horses to Watch” list, and it is a cornerstone of my play. Much of the list became useless when California racing was withdrawn from access, and the few “valid” horses left are moving to other tracks I can’t play. Handicapping is hard work, and to have it all wasted is infuriating.
I know many horseplayers who are angry about the pulling of service, but they got sick and tired of the story and have moved on to other pursuits. (I’m sure this mess is proving to be a real boon to the golf industry.) Anger turned to apathy. If the sport is losing longtime, passionate, and devoted horseplayers, then what about the people who are just learning about the sport, or the weekend players? This self-inflicted fiasco is poisoning the well for now and a long time to come, and this big ol’ pie you can’t seem to split is going to be the size of a thimble a lot sooner than you think.
One final note: In my case, and that of many horseplayers, I suspect, the state of the economy did not make one iota of a difference in what I wagered. The loss of my handle was completely your doing. If you manage to wreck the sport entirely, don’t go blaming the economy, stupid.
Jay Jones consorts with animals in the Texas hill country.