A Dark Day For Racing
The Needle & the Damage Done
Definition of a Handy Workout
Definition of a Breezing Workout
Rolling with the Wiseguys
Mucho Trabajo, Poco Dinero
The Day the Music Died Biography
To celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary, the wealthy owner and his wife embarked on a five week fishing and pleasure cruise. They left their trainer with this directive: "Can't bet on vacation in a boat out at sea, so wait until we get back to do anything serious." Facing a five week ordered lag in performance period, the trainer strolled his shedrow that evening. He was going down into the trainer’s hole for five weeks. Surviving the hole is the sternest test trainers face.
His first move was to decide which horse to set up for the owner's return to the betting ring (and his release from the hole). The trainer checks the first stall outside his barn's office door. A stable’s "big horse" always occupies that stall.
The feed tub of an unraced maiden is now hanging in that stall. This firster never leaves an oat in his feed tub. He is thriving in training. His muscles are beginning to bugle. His belly is tucking up. The trainer's top groom's rubbing has his coat splashed with dappling. The aroma of ointment greets anyone who gets caught sticking his or her head over his webbing. With all four legs done up from ankle to knee in white cotton wrappers the maiden stands in a bed of glistening straw surrounded by aged wooden wall, a color combination that is so pleasing that anyone who looks into our firster’s stall imagines only good things. The straw crackles when a horse resting mid-stall acknowledges a visitor leaning on his webbing. The maiden approaches with his nose, the softest part of his body.
This maiden has non-descript breeding, and thus was purchased cheaply at the “two-year-olds in training” sale, and potentially could be offered first time for a maiden claiming tag (without drawing attention).
Under light training at Caliente, this horse had been deemed advanced, quick of foot, and aggressive, without having any workouts attached to his name when shipped north. A perfect candidate for a double payday at the mutuel windows. The first payday would come from his having crushed a maiden claimer field at a fat price due to his poor breeding and a trifle of slow works showing. With that winning effort not sapping his energy tank, he'd be wheeled right back, within seven days, to score at another price by stepping up in class to a non-winner (other than allowance) for the second payday.
All trainers must operate under an unfair burden. They are held responsible for reporting to official clockers the names and the distances of all their horses working out in the morning. Official clockers, however, are not held responsible for recording that information. So jeweled workouts get lost, even after the name and the distance a horse is scheduled to work is reported by the trainer to the official clockers. Some fast works just don't make the official workout tab. An official clocker can simply claim that a pearl of a workout was missed, when actually he has pocketed it.
A clocker-heavy gambler relationship spawns from this quote from a California based pick six player: "I have confidence in my selections that can be derived from handicapping. I need a clocker's assistance with 'New Shooters'; first time starters in a maiden field; a recent claim's first outing for its new connections; an older horse, whose form has soured and now is returning fresh to the racing wars off an extended holiday."
On a day with a huge pick six carryover, if a clocker can confidently and correctly inform his heavy betting client, "you can single this new shooter in the fifth," that alone is worth $200.00. The hinges on the clocker-gambler relationship need some oiling after a maiden or older horse off the sidelines romps at a fat price (without any warning from the clocker) and thus breaks up his client's pick six ticket.
The mark of a crafty horse conditioner is his ability (in terms of appearance) to follow discriminating workout rules, which favor the official clocker, then stick it up the official clocker’s and his betting clients’ twitching asses by scoring at a fat price with a well disguised maiden or maiden claimer.
A usually stoic trainer will become quite animated the morning after he has scored convincingly with a straight maiden or maiden claimer, at a juicy price, especially if his victorious maiden claimer has not been claimed. That's as radiant a morning afterglow as I have ever seen surround a trainer from Mayberry to Whittingham to Jose Martin to Drysdale.
The wealthy owner's trainer had never revealed the true name of the new shooter to his crew. He had just given him the tag Big Tuna, claiming that his foal certificate, with his proper name, hadn't arrived from Mexico. Anyway, few horses are called by their formal names around the barn, but earn a handle for some physical or personality characteristic. Big Tuna was named after his wealthy owner’s fishing boat.
For the other runners in that trainer's shedrow, a non-turn period means continuing to work out and run at the usual spacings and levels, while their racing performances would suffer (far fewer visits from the vet and far more “poor judgment rides”).
So the racing drought lasted five weeks. The trainer even managed to emerge at the bottom of a cold trainer’s list by going 0 for 25 over that five week span. The trainer not only lost with favorites, but betting favorites from his stable were running out of the exactas.
He booked a top jock to ride a horse from his stable, a beaten favorite at a higher level, and who would be seen next outing dropping a few claiming levels with a bullet work between outings. He’d garnered some ink from the racing press for a horse his stable planned to drop by being quoted thusly after the bullet workout, "You can throw out his last race. He didn't handle the track."
Most trainers use the racing press to push a horse that isn't well meant when it is his stable's turn to go on a downward spiral. That stable's trainer will then use the racing press to assist him in taking down the betting public's money, as far and as deeply as possible.
An owner whose stable has gone 0 for 25 becomes furious with a trainer if he reads a glowing story tipping a horse of his that has been set up for the money run, in either the racing press or in workout publications. Every stable I worked for maintained silence with the press before a big score. That was Tanya's job.
Quotes in the racing press about contributing factors that had led to a horse’s win were always misleading. For instance, the vet, hidden works, how the form was darkened, the "turn system" or bets cashed by the stable were never mentioned. A turf speculator graduates a level in handicapping class when he confidently moves against a favorite whose name appears, in bold type, above his picture, accompanied by a glowing article quoting his trainer (all this pasted onto the front page of the racing press).
Grandstand Jack once told me, "Never ask a trainer for an opinion on one of his runners entered that afternoon. Never bet when you had to ask for or read about a trainer's thoughts on his horse. Either bet on what you had observed in the morning activities or during an afternoon of racing. Wait on a trainer, until he owes you a favor. Then, when a trainer speaks softly to you about a good thing, bet!"
Of course one has to be on the inside of the racing Mafia to earn a position of favor with a trainer. I've known writers who would swing it this way: A trainer would walk up to the writer and request a glowing article on a soon-to-be-beaten favorite. The writer would know something was amiss. Two weeks earlier, he would have approached the stable office of the same trainer, sensing he had a live horse entered that weekend. But, loosely reined growling stable dogs had met the writer. Now, in return for doing the trainer a favor by misdirecting the betting public, down the road a bit, on the morning of a bet by that same barn, the trainer will bump into the writer as he strolls the backstretch and deliver the "good thing." Too late to make any print deadline, but with plenty of time for the writer to get his money down.
Some writers developed a dependency on “Good Things” doled out by grateful trainers. They were known as backside whores. They willingly would turn the trick of pouring ink into a false favorite in return for a stable bet.
Trading the public’s trust for cash is common among (and demanded from) public information servers in the racing industry. I misdirected the public and was rewarded.
Laz works a team of sandy bays. The bay that explodes late to win the team drill has a medium star. He hits the wire, rushing so fast that by the time he closes in on my seat on the finish line, so I can positively id him (1/2°) and look down to scribble the identifying features in my notebook, he’s finished. When I look back up, his tail is past the wire. Wow! I adjust my clocking to 57-2. The loser is marked a bay none (58-4). Laz yells up to the official clockers, “What you get me fiv-8?” The official clocker yells down. “57-2 and 58-4.”
This team drill occurs on a Monday, the day I publish my weekly workout report. I wait in the racing secretary’s office for the tab writer to drop off the official workout sheet. I grab several copies of the worktab and hustle to my typewriter. I am confident in the sandy (1/2°) from Laz Barrera’s barn. I scan the worksheet for 57-2 and find one name attached to that extreme time. I paste that name on my “Top Ten”, the front page of my publication.
Laz wins the Los Flores stakes with a maiden first time starter who gets crushed late at the betting windows. I look down into the winner's circle. There stands Laz, with five giggling owners having their picture taken with a bay whose sole marking is a medium star (1/2°), and who has a 58-4 5/8th clocking under his name. The horse whose name appears on Clockerbob's Weekly Workout Report’s “Top Ten,” is the bay none who was given the 57-2 clocking for 5/8th. He races and finishes far back. I had misdirected the public.
The code among public information servers is that no matter what one sees or knows about a discolored fact, one never reports it. One follows the code. Keep the public barefoot.
Laz works Wavering Monarch a mile. (Apples said, that when he clocked he only bet on a horse who turned in a good mile workout. Forget the other distances.) After Wavering Monarch, who has lost his two previous prep races, works a mile, Laz tells me softly, “I win big race with this horse.” So, I paste Wavering Monarch on my “Top Ten” that week.
The wealthy owner’s trainer’s next starter, whose workout is praised in the racing press, goes postward the favorite when dropped in class and finishes well back. He is claimed. The bullet work under his past performance lines is actually that of Big Tunas' who is marked identically as the dropper, bay-none (meaning a bay horse with no visible markings). The dropper and Big Tuna look so similar that few realize Big Tuna occupies the dropper's old stall.
The owner phones the barn for the first time in five weeks, and announces that he and his wife are coming home. The trainer had good news, guaranteeing the owner that the dropper that had been claimed will probably never race again (or if he does, it will be after a long rest from a needed knee operation to remove chips).
The owner has earned a turn by running cold so long, and by taking down several favorites (to the glee of those betting into those pre-meditated outcomes). The cold period is over.
Now it is the trainer's turn to get his breadwinner ready for the money run for his freshened betting owner. With a steady series of hidden noteworthy flat works under his belt, Big Tuna is ready for his gate approval and gate card.
All firsters must be schooled at the gate, and must exit the starting gate in the morning and receive a simple "OK" beside their correct names on the gate sheet. The afternoon starting gate crew, who also mans the starting gate in the morning, deems a horse "OK" from their gates. A written record (called the Gate Sheet) is kept by the starting gate crew every morning, detailing when every horse enters the starting gate, what equipment they wear (bareheaded or blinkers), the stall from which they have entered and exited, their correct names, and whether they have been "OK’d" from the stalls after breaking.
To get an "OK" from the gate crew, a firster does not have to work far enough to get a recorded work (3/8ths), but needs only to prove stable, relaxed and calm in the stalls, and to exit cleanly, with no shimmies. Twice. A firster cannot start at a meeting without an "OK slip" or card from the starting gate crew in the racing secretary's office. For that reason, the true name of the firster had to be given to the gate crew to be OK’d from the metal monster, whereas with normal flat works one didn't have to provide the correct name and could still start.
This is when Bubbles, the private gate clocker, edges into the story. Private gate clockers worship those unraced maidens speedy from the gate to be of the nth degree for mutuel satisfaction at the betting windows, for these reasons: First is the stable's intention. If a maiden in training is asked or shows intense speed from the starting gate in his morning preps, being a “quick of foot” maiden who in his first lifetime outing will be racing the shortest distance of his career, one knows he is well intended. This contrasts with most maidens, who, during the course of a clocker's viewing their gate workouts, either take time to gather into their best strides or are slow footed from the starting blocks.
These “slow of foot” maidens are usually prepared for longer distances. Firsters with a "come from behind" style, in abbreviated dashes, are likely candidates to encounter traffic problems or be burned by a slow pace.
Secondly, since a maiden must receive approval or an “OK” from the gate crew to start in the afternoon, a trainer must give the gate crew the correct name of a thoroughbred to be placed on the Gate Sheet. The horse you view, time and evaluate working from the gate is the name appearing on the Gate Sheet. With flat works a variety of things can occur to misdirect a private clocker: No name can be given, or an incorrect name can be given; a workout in the dark or a cross-towel workout or a firster being cranked up with Caliente works. The official clocker pockets a workout. Thus, many a firster answers the bugler's call to post without an accurate record of his flat workouts.
So, with $100 pooled weekly from four private gate clockers handed to the starting gate crew, that informative Gate Sheet finds its way into the hands of private gate clockers so they know firmly the name of (let’s say) a speedster who peeled just a flashy quarter mile (1/4) from the gate fast enough that it will make a gate clocker stand up in his seat at the quarter pole chute (the starting point for 1 1/4 races) where the starting gate is located in the mornings (Hollywood and Del Mar), and get the gallop-out time to the 7/8th pole of a move that will never make the official workout tab because of its brevity (1/4 mile).
The big money clocking is in the gate drills, since the time of a gate workout is likely to be either missed or incorrectly posted because of the position of the starting gate, at the quarter pole chute. This location forces an official clocker stationed high atop the surface in the press box on the finish line to take his eyes from the main flow of traffic straight ahead, and lean and look left sharply.
Also, with a flat work, a horse will take a 1/16th or longer run-up to the pole (the poles are all in front of the official clocker's field of vision atop the finish line). A horse starting a flat work will be spotted cruising the rail, while a gate work starts as an explosion left of the official clocker, with no advance run-up. Sometimes the official clocker will miss the all important first 1/16th of a gate drill, and then just tack-on a standard 7 seconds. The true clocking could be a second faster. Or the first 1/8th will be missed. Then 13 or 14 seconds will be tacked on, depending on a split second visual impression the gate worker makes on the official timer.
So with about 50 percent of the gate works (especially those that are quick early) times are usually slower. Or, if the flats are busy, a gate move may be missed entirely. This occurs about 10 percent of the time. The pretty of a gate sheet is that if the gate work is mistimed or missed completely by the official clockers and does not appear on that morning's official workout tab, the horse that showed heat from the gate can still be correctly I.D'd and named from that morning’s gate sheets.
This is why private gate clockers sacrifice the flat works by taking the seat furthest left of the finish line, and take all the 1/4 mile and 1/8th of a mile poles out of their fields of vision by sitting virtually atop the starting gate so they never miss the first 1/16th, 1/8th or 1/4 mile of any gate move. Gate clockers can hear the bell ring when the stall doors slam, or literally see a horse break so eagerly that he beats the latch.
Big Tuna's gate drill has been planned to be far enough to be a recorded distance, since he needs a recorded work under his past performance lines and to exit the gate under his correct name to get an “OK” slip or card. So why not mesh the two with the trainer, hoping that since no one has seen his longer (six furlong and 5/8ths) brilliant flat drills, enough questions will surround his fitness that there should be no excessive takers first outing at the mutuel windows or the claim box?
The trainer has planned his workout for the busiest time of the morning, and tells the exercise rider to wait behind the gate with Big Tuna for other horses to break with, then gear him down to slow up the time. Big Tuna works from the gate on a day when twenty horses have already exited it.
Big Tuna breaks with a small gathering from the inside slot. He records the fastest first 1/16th of a mile (5-4) and also the fastest first 1/8th of a mile (11-2) of all the horses working that morning, easily clearing his grouping, then dusting them with a first quarter in 22-4. That starts the gate clockers buzzing. Big Tuna immediately becomes "Who was that? I hope the official clockers missed it."
Sometimes, a gate clocker can sit for three days, viewing 60 to 70 gates without timing a fuel burner laying down early splits like Big Tuna's. But with a horse like Big Tuna, everything plays right into a private gate clocker's hand.
The trainer had asked Big Tuna's exercise rider for a geared down time from the gate. Possible, if he works solo. But Big Tuna, being a fit and ready thoroughbred, became involved in a scrum with other horses from the gate, and instinctively propels himself away.
The trainer had given a call to the official clockers for a half mile time, and the official clockers had missed timing the first quarter (22-4), picking him up only at the wire, and timing the last quarter when the exercise rider was able to gear down the horse. Big Tuna gallops the last quarter in 25-4, which is all the official clocker had caught. So Big Tuna had a 25 first quarter, tacked onto his timed 25-4 last quarter, and 50-4hg is what appears on the worksheet beside the name of the fastest of twenty or more horses from the gate that morning.
One can tell when a private gate clocker has timed a speedy one, since the starting gate closes for training around 9 A.M, and the main track closes around 10:00 A.M. Instead of beating it home, Bubbles, the private gate clocker, can be seen lurking around the racing secretary's office, waiting for a freshly printed workout sheet to appear around 11:30 A.M.
Bubbles had already received a copy of that day's gate sheet from the gate crew, so he knew the name of the bullet that worked from the rail that morning (11-2, 22-4, 34-3, 48-3), but not the time he would be credited with on the official worktab. Waiting for the official worksheet, he thumbs back over his stack of old worksheets, looking for flat works credited to the bullet's name. He finds only one slow half on the flats in 52-4.
Bubbles is first to grab a fresh worksheet from the pile the tab writer has placed on the counter inside the racing secretary's office. Slowly, he walks to his car without looking for the name, just thumbing the sheet. Outside his car, he scans the sheet carefully. When he sees 50-4hg on the official worksheet beside the quick one's name, he opens his car’s trunk and reaches in for a towel; he has begun to sweat.
This is exactly what a gate clocker lives for: a firster who flashes more than enough heat in his morning gate movements to quickly clear a normal field of maidens in the afternoon, and who receives a bloated gate workout time on the official workout sheet (50-4hg) since the flashy first quarter (22-4) was missed, and a standard 25 tacked on instead.
Bubbles is sweating because he senses he has uncovered a maiden first time starter who has had his foundation of flat workouts either hidden at Bubble’s track or performed at another track. In popping the gate to get gate approval the firster displays blinding speed in a quarter mile rush. That maiden first time starter has tip his hat only to the gate clockers (having only one recorded flat work in 52-4). Bubbles is guessing that three days hence that firster name will appear in the entries. That firster’s past performance lines will come out showing a sparse worktab, one slow gate work (50-4hg) and the owner will be due. It’s time to take the rubber band off the bankroll.
Also, a decided edge is accorded the four private gate clockers who pay $100 a week for the daily morning gate sheet from the starting gate crew. A horse that works from the gate during the morning rush is not always easily connected to his official workout time by those other private clockers (roughly twenty in number at the current Del Mar meeting) who have no access to the gate sheets. The reason for this are: 1. Because Big Tuna only rushes a quarter mile (1/4) with the exercise rider finally able to gear him down at the finish line, and since most of the private clockers (20) would assume he hasn't been credited with any time or distance. 2. Because his gallop-out time was over two seconds faster (48-3hg) than 50-4hg no one will attach his name to that slow a time for that distance.
But with Gate Sheet in hand, Bubbles makes his name from the stall (from the wood) and the order in which he had broke from the gate that morning .... 21st gate horse... A final check, the 21st horse to work from the inside stall of the gate worked bareheaded, which Big Tuna had done. So after Bubbles dabs his perspiring face with the towel, he reaches into his car's trunk for his bottle of white-out to cover the name of the speedster on the gate sheet.
Then, when he makes three copies of that morning's gate sheet for the other three private gate clockers (all of whom chip-in to help pay for the gate sheet) they are blindsided.
On one cell phone, Bubbles calls his betting client. "I have a firster to bet and possibly claim,” he reports. On another cell phone, the trainer calls the owner. "Your baby is ready," he says.
Now the wealthy owner has suffered through a drought, one which has benefited many backside. But now his turn is due, and he has the two-year-old with speed and a sparse workout pattern set to score at a price. The owner does not want all this blown away with a fast gate work. So his trainer feels the tension when the owner asks, "What time did we get for the gate work?" "50-4" the trainer replies. "We’re set."
Bubbles also loves the wealthy owner's maiden, because he is a clearing horse (Defined as a 'quick stepper', who when the past performance lines of his maiden claiming field are published, had the quickest opening quarter rush in his gate drill of all the firsters in the field). A sure bet. (Since he sits on the gate, a private gate clocker can look up the early fractions of the gate works of all the new shooters in that maiden claiming field and determine who is a potential clearing horse.)
The debut of the wealthy owner's firster is a success; he has taken a quick step from the gate, cleared, and is never threatened to the wire. The horse is bet, and comes back to the winner's circle, hardly breathing, is claimed, and a few races down the road, turns into a minor stakes winner.
The trainer takes Bubbles, who has advised the claim of his wealthy owner's firster, and the gate crew (for giving out the Gate Sheet which he felt should not be public information) to the stewards. The judges rule that the Gate Sheet shall not be sold. They also wonder, they add, how a clocker could claim a maiden off of workouts if the maiden has only two morning showings, and both the gate and flat work of the claimed horse are the slowest and shortest of any horse’s in the field?
The private gate clocker receives 10% of the horse's earnings as a token from the new owners.
Out of respect for the private clockers in California, the trainer, from that day forward, only tests his gifted maidens for speed on Tuesday mornings, cross toweled, and while it is still dark from a pole.
That Gate Sheet still garners $100 a week.