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
Las Vegas casinos always adjust the percentages of reel slot play that stays in-house. Some Casinos with the greatest house take from reel slot machines are those located on Las Vegas Blvd. The rake from the same reel slot machine is less in a casino located in the neon lit Fremont Street district. The lowest house take from a reel slot machine in a Las Vegas casino is for those located on the Boulder Highway. Whereas, the horse racing mob’s take is highest on stake race days.
In recent years, Las Vegas casinos have increased the house’s take on college and NFL football. Payouts were lowered on football parleys, proposition bets, teasers, and halftime bets. In 2001, the number of full pay video poker slot machines in Las Vegas had also decreased dramatically. A natural blackjack at a single deck table returned $30 on a $20 bet, now just $24 for a $20 bet.
A little known fact about modern horse racing is that in order for the industry to survive, portions of the mutuel pool, above the legal take, must remain in-house. In horse racing, this goal is not accomplished by adjusting a computer chip in the belly of a Betty Boop reel slot machine or a 2-team, 6-point teaser that once paid even money (now it pays 6/5). The player laying the odds. Rather, in horse racing adjusting the take is accomplished by adjusting the information served the public, or in other words, by keeping the public barefoot.
This became a hard-accepted fact for me. During my twenty-fifth year working as a public information server, I stood for the public. I knew better. But that view from the press box, looking down at row after row of vacant seats raceday after raceday, can eventually get to you. A senior member of the press box remarked to me about the empty seats, "It is not our job to fill the seats. That’s management and marketing’s job. Race track promoters should offer 12 ounce cups of draft beer on dollar day instead of one six-ounce cup. Listen to me. Our job is to keep quiet about racial discrimination, living conditions backside, organized crime, bookmakers, performance enhancing drugs, missed workouts and jockeys packing electrical prods. You’ll never catch heat for misdirecting the public. You will get lit up, though, for providing the public information that crosses the racing mafia flow of cash."
This reasoning holds. It also explains why those talking heads that present horse racing to the betting public all have the same plain wrapping.
My solution became my problem. I took pride in my workout evaluations and trackman’s comments that went out to the betting public. My printed observations had earned me my handle, Clockerbob. Having pride and working for the racing public, though, do not mix in horse racing. Period. Not in an industry that an unraced maiden (Tea And Kippers) can start first time without showing the public any of his morning workouts. That for, example, is not exactly a display of pride in what betting information is served the public by the racing industry.
I beefed to the stewards when I was denied the gate sheet. This denial of the gate sheet drastically lowered the quality of information I, as a public information server, could now provide. The denial of the informative gate sheet gave a decided edge to the house; this is exactly why I was denied it.
"Christ, nobody is working for the public," I said. "You can't rule against the public. Denying any clocker you think works for the public, gate information, so he will no longer be fully informed." I barked to the steward as we walked toward the parking lot.
The steward's replied the next afternoon at lunch. Every racing day, the stewards and the racing press enjoy a communal lunch in the press box, provided gratis by the racetrack. They answered my complaint about being denied the gate sheet just as I devoured a plump lamb shank that centered a herb-scented bowl of white lima beans. "You’re eating pretty good there, Clockerbob,” said the steward. “You've been in this game long enough to know it's only a business. Take care of business first. Then the public."
After that, some of the better workouts I viewed were neither recorded for nor reported to the public. These morning movements were performed by sleek, well toned thoroughbreds that had had two uneventful afternoon races (1. showed little, 2. evenly). Benefiting from the conditioning, coordination and seasoning gained from those two races, they were having blinkers snapped-on for their third outing, the money run (3. gate to wire).
All racehorses, no matter how old or seasoned, must enter and exit the starting gate in the morning wearing blinkers and be "OK'd" by the starting gate crew before racing equipped with blinkers for the first time in the afternoon.
A crafty conditioner will give the clocking crews (official, public and private) a thorough look at any horse from his stable in its morning preps when that trainer knows races following those workouts will be dull or even efforts. He wants a clocker to get a good look at his stable’s runner, hoping the clockers will then either spill ink in workout publications or money in betting action on his stable's highly regarded runner. The trainer knows that by his workout star’s losing his next two races, that will get the clocking crews sour on his horse, thus dulling the senses in a clocker’s mouth and eyes for his horse. Happy trainer.
When a trainer wants to avoid earning a blazing time for a gate workout that, if recorded properly, would blink under the past performance lines of his fit and ready thoroughbred sitting on a blinkers on money run, the following scenario will unfold.
Some clocking crews have one member designated the “gate clocker,” who watches and hawks over the starting gate. The gate clocker then alerts the other members of his crew the instant a horse or team of horses breaks from the gate by yelling, "Gate!"
“The gate’s loading. We’ve got a four horse team drill ready to go. Two with blinkers. One of the horses is that chestnut you bet last time, Clockerbob.”
Immediately, the other members of the gate clocker’s crew, who had been busy, eyes forward, clocking the flat works, swing their heads left toward the gate.
By the way, the reason one member of the clocking crew is designated the gate clocker is because it is time consuming to watch the gate works. A gate drill however, has a higher value than a mere flat workout. A gate work also gives the closest approximation to real racing conditions.
The starting gate is manned for schooling or workouts between 7:30 and 9 A.M. Gate works make up 10 percent of a morning’s work tab.
The first problem facing a gate clocker is one of patience. After observing a horse go behind the starting gate in the morning, it sometimes takes five minutes before that same horse actually exits the gate. A horse will wait behind the gate for other horses to work with in a team drill. Or he will be put in and then walked out of the gate, his stall door opened manually by a starting gate crew member. Or an unraced maiden will just stand inside the gate’s stall and become comfortable there. A clocker could miss ten important flat workouts while his eyes are fixed on one horse schooling around the gate for five or more minutes
At both Hollywood Park and Del Mar, the morning starting gate is located in the quarter pole chute. The gate clocker seated to my left closest to the gate barks, “Gate!” I swing my head left to gaze, wide-eyed, as a white hooded chestnut fires. He beats the bell and clears a small gathering rolling towards me. He is being equipped with blinkers for the first time and with a little seasoning in his head, conditioning in his belly, and coordination in his stride from two uneventful races, he pours out the first 1/4 in 21-4.
Then the white hooded chestnut’s jockey gets up in the irons after a quarter mile at the finish line. That action on the jockey’s part voids the gate movement from becoming a recorded public workout. The gate workout is less than 3/8ths when the rider stands up. Once a rider gets up in the irons, that ends the workout, although the chestnut equipped with blinkers for the first time would cruise out 3/8ths to the 7/8th pole in 34 and change.
This 34-4bg timing was faster than any of the 29 official clockings for that distance this morning. A gate worker breaks from a standing position. A flat worker takes a running start at a pole. So when the best of the morning clocking for a distance is a gate worker, that amounts to quite an impressive clocking not recorded for the public.
Once a seasoned runner is roused by the competitive scents oozing from horses loaded in the stalls all around him, the gate's bell, and blinkers snapped on for the first time. A jockey who gets up after a 1/4 mile rush to the finish line is more likely to get back down, so he’ll stay in the saddle while making the turn at the 7/8th pole, than slow down a well conditioned aroused runner.
Who was that hooded runner? Without the gate sheet, advantage: house.
Now a trainer's (whom the cream of his profession serves as front man for the racing mafia) and a steward’s thinking about the public and this type of brisk gate work are similar. Again, keep the public barefoot.
The trainer has brought a horse from his stable up to peak performance, from the conditioning it had gained by running two races. A race is far superior for conditioning a thoroughbred than is a workout.
After 25 years of clocking both the morning workouts and the “in race” workouts, I can unequivocally state that an “in race” workout is worth far more than a morning movement.
An “in race” workout is clocked off the videotape of a race. A typical 3/8th “in race” workout would be a horse who is last in a twelve horse field turning for home at the quarter pole, fifth at the finish line, and first at the 7/8th pole. A good timing would be 36-4, clicking on at the quarter pole and off at the 7/8th pole. An example of a 5/8th “in race” work would be a horse that breaks slowly, but then is reined still further back. The jock will settle that horse, then launch a sustained 5/8th move five wide reaching the heels of the leading pack before tiring. Clock that wide rush in 58 and change by clicking on at the 7/8th pole and off at the 1/4 pole at the top of the stretch, and you have a “good thing.”
To cash a bet when your “good thing” in his next start, gets betting action, breaks alertly mid pack, the jock waits longer and then launches that same run from the 1/2 mile pole to be clear at the wire. This is an exhilarating moment for an “in race worker” clocker.
A stakes horse can launch a long, sustained wide move (Secretariat’s Preakness). Thoroughbreds a class below a stakes horse are also capable of making a sustained wide run, but shorter. By a jockey’s launching his mount’s sustained run too early or too late in a race it becomes an “in race” workout.
There are one to three “in race” workouts per race day. There are about a hundred to a hundred and fifty workouts each morning. You can rerun the videotape of an “in race” workout but, not so with a morning workout. Another advantages with an “in race” workout is that you know positively the name of the horse whose “in race” workout you like. That is not always so for the morning workouts. The betting action can fortify viewing an activity by a thoroughbred that you judge a high quality “in race” workout. If an in race worker is flat on the board, that can bolster your belief he was just in the race for a work. If you are blessed with a clocker’s eye, you can reap the greatest reward as a turf speculator; selecting a winner based on the stride and speed of his visual movement rather than the ink under his name.
I had been watching for two months in the mornings as a first time starter developed conditioning from a normal twelve workout series, consisting of ten flats and two gate workouts. Predicting correctly, then, that he would run well first time out was a thrill. That labor intensive thrill cost a hundred hours of clocking and “iding”, though, spread over sixty days. With those same hundred hours spent clocking race videotapes one could find three hundred “in race” workouts which have a higher probability for success at the betting windows.
In modern racing, a crafty schooling ride requires more skill than does a winning ride. Quite often, a winning thoroughbred in modern racing clears the field, and then saunters to the wire. Many winners are on the wrong lead. Some winners are obviously sore. Other winners aren’t made favorites until the odds change as the field flies by the 1/2 mile pole. Neither a graceful nor a highly competitive picture.
A Shoemaker style schooling race ride takes far more skill than does a winning one. That was exactly what the trainer of the white hooded smoker from the gate was thinking. His chestnut had received two consecutive (1. showed little 2. evenly) skilled schooling rides from a master craftsman.
Seated high in the press box, after a race in which I had had a special interest, I would look down and watch as the field returned to be unsaddled below me. That is what peaked my interest in that trainer’s chestnut. When his stable’s chestnut returned to be unsaddled after finishing fifth, the trainer reached up and high fived the jockey. The next day, I watched the head-on angle from the steward’s tape of that trainer’s chestnut race, and it was one hell of a ride.
The jockey never launches his eager mount. Communicating with his hands, legs and body weight, he is able to settle his mount in a long, graceful router’s stride while engaging in a sprinting race. The chestnut's stride displayed as high a lift and leg curl at the finish of the race as he did at the start, the definition of a even effort. Artie Schiller, in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile, recorded an even outing which can be viewed online at: 2004 Breeders' Cup Mile
The trainer had maneuvered a horse in his stable into peak fitness without drawing undue notice in his racing performances. A stable bet was nearing.
A maiden trainer will beef to the stewards if, after all his preparations, he reads a glowing report on his stable’s white hooded chestnut’s quarter mile gate rush in a workout report to be read by the public. “How did that Clockerbob know it was my horse that worked with blinkers from the gate?”
I had been receiving the gate sheet for over a year by simply going into the racing secretary’s office and having a copy made of that day’s edition the gate crew had left there.
I refused to co-operate with the pony mob and become plain wrapped by jobbing out my work: saving one workout for the house and another for the public, and yet another for a private betting client or phone service.
I lost my gate sheet privileges. I wouldn’t dilute. I wouldn't stop writing about gate works that were missed entirely or recorded as flat works (35H) when they were gate works (35HG) or 1/4-mile speed rushes when blinkers were added. I wouldn't work for a phone service. These were usually owned and operated by a horse owner who would pay a clocker to deliver the names of workers whom the less the public knew about the greater the value to the phone services clients. (No Works Showing or Works Slowed Down).
I knew this jobbing of workouts tended to dilute a clocker's public reputation, since he never put all his workout gleamings on one page, especially one that went out to the public. I daresay no public clocker has every risen to prominence for those reasons. But of course, in return, he has maintained his job.
I tried to rise to prominence by putting all my skills and observations, that had taken me 25 years to develop, onto my daily workout page. For this, I faced discrimination and was forced to wave goodbye to the entire business.