Making the Game Better

Normally if you make the list, it is either a real bad thing or something really sweet. – During the NFL seasons, you will see players who make the injury report. – Do you think this is paid for and printed by the local scribes in your area ? I guess they want you to know how the CB is doing at Buffalo even though we’re living in Cincy and are die-hard Bengals fans. – Las Vegas and associated partners get out this detailed list and if you gander at every paper in the country you’ll see who is questionable and who is out. – This got me to thinking.  Horse racing could use a shot in the arm and have a governing body that oversees up close the riders and the horses. – Don’t think its possible, try again.

Japan has some interesting safeguards in place for Thoroughbred racing. Now it may hinder the playboy lifestyles for some of the riders, but the money is so darn good it may be worth the extra effort. Nothing happens outside of the watchful eye of the Japan Racing Association. – The media is assigned an escort to all locations he or she may be needing access, and there is a watchful eye on all interactions. Races at the country’s 10 JRA-run courses are held on weekends (there is a second-tier circuit, which is organized by local governments and races on weekdays), and so horses only arrive at the track from the training center the night before the race. – Here are some startling and perhaps telling differences about Japanese racing. Malcolm Pierce, the Ontario-based trainer of Up With the Birds. He, too, had been through the JRA wringer. Up With the Birds had arrived a week and half earlier, residing at the isolated Miho Training Center before being moved to the racecourse. Pierce had been required to tell the JRA what feed his horse ate, and the types of bandages, ointments, and blankets he used. His groom and exercise rider were not allowed to bring anything to the horse. Whatever he needed would be provided.

Pierce’s staff were told that they were not allowed to bet, even the weekend before the Japan Cup. The same went for Pierce, who said he doesn’t bet anyway. By nine o’clock the night before the race, Up With the Birds’ jockey, Eurico da Silva, would have to go into lockdown mode. He could not use a phone or log onto a computer, to say nothing of leaving his hotel room. These conditions apply to Japanese stables and riders, all of the time, before every race. At least da Silva could relax in his hotel; Japanese jockeys must sleep in dormitories at the racecourse the night before riding. – The sheer amount of money wagered on Japanese racing is so great that maintaining a clean sport is as much a commercial consideration as an ethical one. In 2013, the JRA put on 288 race days. The betting turnover on all Japanese racing, most of it handled by the JRA, was about $30 billion last year. That’s roughly triple the amount wagered on American races, despite American tracks running three times as many races and the U.S. having three times the population of Japan. Even though racing’s popularity has declined slightly since 2000 in Japan, the country is still mad about it: about 21 percent of all bets around the globe are taken here. – Drugs are legal on race day in American racing, whereas Japan is ostensibly completely free of them. Forget lockdown the night before the races. Although jockeys in the U.S. are not allowed to bet, I’ve seen more than a few find a way. There’s nothing prohibiting trainers and their stable staffs from betting. American racing, with so many people trading on insider knowledge, is like Wall Street without the Securities and Exchange Commission.

I guess when you make the game transparent for all to see, you gain confidence from the wagering public. – The JRA draws its budget from this betting turnover. In 2013, it sent nine percent to the government in tax, 75 percent back to bettors, five percent went to purses and 11 percent to its operations. “They don’t want anything to jeopardize that,” Pierce said. You could not paint a starker comparison to American racing, where each state handles its own affairs, and none even half as strictly as the whole of Japan.

Now enter American racing. Many drugs are legal (whether you agree or not) and horses van fresh off the farm. Trainers and riders come and go, and some travel around quite a bit picking up mounts at night time tracks for stakes races. The public doesn’t have an idea if a rider is injured from a mishap from the night before, and the bettors are kept in the dark. – How would you like to see an NFL style injury report from an independent state doctor who examines all that are to ride ? – We give them drug tests and breathalyzers, why not let the betting public know how their feeling ? – This may be light years away, but if you examine other countries and their practices. I believe we can gain a little more trust from the punters. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if a rider has the flu, a bruised hand, a sore back ? – How about if a horse has a slight temperature, or if they are taking a legal drug that is not listed in the program ? – I would like to see strides made in this direction, as the more work allowing players closer to the action could result in a spike in handle across the board. This would allow for bigger purses, more accountability, and a crystal clear sport where the betting public can make better decisions based on information about the participants. – Las Vegas has the injury list posted in newspapers and websites around the country and I doubt that it is targeted to the fantasy sports fans.