Horse racing usually gets a boost in publicity this time of year as everyone tries to figure out whether the Kentucky Derby winner will be able to sweep the Triple Crown. Of course, the narrative for this Saturday’s Preakness changed last Sunday morning when trainer Bob Baffert announced Medina Spirit had tested positive for the anti-inflammatory drug betamethasone.
The backlash was far and wide in regard to whether Baffert is the greatest trainer of all time (because of his record seven Derby wins) or a cheater. The integrity of horse racing in general has been called into question, with criticism of the drug-testing protocols on both extremes. Some say any violation calls for suspension while others say the rules are too strict now for anyone to follow.
I’m not a pharmacist or a lawyer, so I’m content to let everything run its due course (and due process). I’m a gambler and a sports-betting writer, so my focus is on the betting implications. Of course, the biggest complaints have been coming from those who bet Derby runner-up Mandaloun and feel they should get paid. I’ve spent a lot of time this week telling people they’re out of luck because the results become official for wagering purposes on race day and that’s not going to change even if the Kentucky Racing Commission ultimately disqualifies Medina Spirit and declares Mandaloun the winner.
Most of the complaints have come from novice bettors, especially people who only venture into horse racing at Derby time. Longtime gamblers know that this happens in other sports when championships are vacated after the fact. It’s always been that way. The bookies pay out winning tickets on a given day or after a season and they’re not about to then also pay those who had the “rightful” winner, especially since they’re not able to recoup the money from the initial payouts. Now, some people are arguing this needs to change. I agree it’s a noble concept, and maybe that will be the case someday when all bets are done electronically and can be reversed more easily, but that’s the world we live in now.
The more frustrating thing I’ve been hearing lately is all the people who say we should boycott horse racing because of all the cheating and/or unfair gambling outcomes. I understand the frustration, but I don’t believe any of us are going to do that. And I saw this from experience as we’ve heard similar boycotts discussed over the years across the sports landscape.
Did anyone stop betting on the NFL after “Spygate” and “Deflategate”? What about all the steroid scandals in baseball? And the Astros’ cheating scandal? College sports have had a ton of game-fixing cases, and how about the Tim Donaghy scandal in the NBA? And let’s not even get into all the controversial judging decisions in boxing and MMA, yet we all can’t wait to bet the next big fight.
I know it stinks when these things happen, but despite there being a lot of these examples, they’re still a small percentage of all the games being played. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So, after all the dust has settled, I’ll still be handicapping Saturday’s Preakness and posting my plays Friday on VSiN.com. We might need to factor which trainers are cheating into our handicapping, but how is that different from any other sport? Are any batters using steroids or pitchers scuffing the ball? Are there college football and basketball coaches bending the rules?
We handicap our best and trust we’ll be on the right side more often than not.