JC / Railbird

Daily Racing Form

Finding a Way

From Jay Bergman’s remembrance of Sports Eye founder Jack Cohen:

What was so impressive about Mr. Cohen to me was his ability to get around obstacles in his way. At the forefront of his effort to put out past performances in Sports Eye, his publication that had only given entries, results and selections, was an obstacle called the track program. The program printed for the tracks at Roosevelt and Yonkers was a product of Doc Robbins. That product was a monopoly of sorts and Mr. Cohen had to figure out how to get access to information in advance of race day in order to provide “his version” of past performances in a timely fashion. Ultimately what he did was pay off Robbins’ employees to provide him a minimal amount of information that would allow for his staff to connect-the-dots and provide a competitive product.

I love these stories of people hustling to get around data monopolies, even if they’re all from decades ago, and racing data is now stagnant.

On Voters, Politicking, and What Ifs

An interesting comment thread developed on the post “Odd Voter Out,” about broadening the pool of eligible Eclipse Award voters and the propriety and prevalence of voters politicking via their ballots. Regarding the pool, Jennie Rees suggests on her blog opening up voting to broadcasters, an idea current NTWA officer Ed DeRosa supports here, as he does the possibility of including players who wager significant money through US-based outlets. Either or both would freshen up the awards, which, with fewer than 300 voters and many of those attached to legacy media, are in danger of seeming increasingly irrelevant to fans such as the Turk.

As for politicking, it’s part of the process. Commenter tvnewsbadge makes the reasonable assumption that for voters with strong feelings about synthetic surfaces, “personal considerations did influence at least SOME” in this year’s Eclipse voting, an assumption shared by Nick Kling, who wrote of the Horse of the Year tally, “There is no doubt part of the 130-99 vote favoring Rachel Alexandra was tied to the surface issue.” Close readers of the vote totals released last Monday could clearly see an anti-synthetic contingent within several divisions, and it wasn’t outlandish for knowledgeable observers to speculate that the vote for Icon Project as champion older female was no mistake. Jay Hovdey’s take on that little post-Eclipse flap gets it right:

Who cares if someone might have voted for Icon Project anyway? To my mind, given the climate of controvery surrounding synthetic surfaces, there very easily could have been a voter out there who refused to consider any horse without traditional dirt form for one of the traditional main track awards, and Icon Project, a runaway winner of good races at Belmont and Saratoga, was a viable alternative once past Zenyatta and Life Is Sweet.

Exactly, who cares? If voters can’t put forth a surprising selection, politick, or register a protest as a handicapper against a disliked surface or some other issue — all on principle, I would hope, and not as a frivolity — with their ballots, then the awards might as well be based on a points system. Rather than discourage such votes, it would be better to embrace transparency across the voting blocs, as the NTWA does by publishing its members’ ballots. There would be little mystery to rogue votes then and any ensuing debate would probably be pretty lively, and almost certainly, more compelling than the name-calling that accompanies a mix of anonymity and unknown reasoning.

Whether the vote for Icon Project as champion older female was legitimate or a mistake caused by tech troubles, it should have remained as it was submitted. To change the ballot sets a lousy precedent and raises not insignificant questions, as DeRosa brings up in a post on his Big Event Blog:

Will you only be allowed to change your vote if you can corroborate your intention with a vote in another category?

Would we be going through this for any other category or for any other horse or for any other situation other than to make a champion unanimous? What if the vote had been 200-32 instead of 231-1? What if Dosik had voted anyone but Zenyatta as Horse of the Year?

There’s also an unfortunate undertone to the correction, hard to ignore, a sense of the voter being brought into line, his errant vote made to conform with the majority. The retabulation making Zenyatta unanimously a champion, as Rachel Alexandra was in her division, seems not merely an effort to set the historical record straight, but a sly means of granting the equality that was impossible in Horse of the Year voting to the two distaffers and an attempt to assuage those who may have felt embarrassed by the mistaken vote. What if Duke Dosik had entered the name of Rachel Alexandra or another for 2009 Horse of the Year? Would his vote for Icon Project still be an error?

Related: Auditors and steering committee members, note — there may be more Eclipse voting mistakes out there. Bill Christine’s commentary certainly suggests so: “Just because turf writers can read a Racing Form doesn’t mean they’re deft with computers. I struggle with my electronic vote every year, hoping I don’t hit the wrong button at the wrong time, and I know a number of colleagues who are just as klutzy. One of them called me on a Sunday this year, the day before the balloting deadline, to have me walk him through the process. It was the blind leading the blind, from flag fall to finish.”

Links for 2009-07-17

Monday Notes

– Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra breezed six furlongs in 1:13.80 this morning at Churchill Downs, galloping out seven furlongs in 1:28. “She went beautiful, like she always does,” said trainer Steve Asmussen. “She’s in a nice rhythm and seems very happy right now.” No decision yet on where she might start next. Owner Jess Jackson has mentioned the June 27 Mother Goose at Belmont as a possibility, but the racetrack rumor much-repeated over the weekend, including from those who had seen her recently at Churchill, was that the filly is not training well and may be away from the races longer than her connections publicly anticipate. Of course, while it’s true that her work times have been less zippy since the Preakness (in her final breeze before that race, she went four furlongs in :48.40 versus the :50.20 she posted in the first work after; in her one five furlong breeze before the Oaks, she went the distance in :59.40 compared to the 1:01.60 of her work the first week of June), it should be noted that she has kept to her training schedule without apparent incident, working three Mondays straight for her new barn.

Tweeted @EJXD2 on Sunday, in reference to Birdstone’s successful Triple Crown season as a young sire:

The last time [a] sire was represented by two different classic winners in his first crop was Count Fleet in 1951.

For the trivia-interested, there’s some additional historical similarity between the two sires and their winners in that, like Birdstone, Count Fleet’s first classic winner was a little regarded Kentucky Derby longshot, Count Turf, who beat another Count Fleet colt entered in the Derby, the favored Counterpoint. He went on to win the Peter Pan in record time and then the Belmont Stakes as the third favorite. According to the Belmont chart comments, “Counterpoint permitted … Count Turf to go to lead … regained the lead when the latter gave way.” Sounds a bit like what we saw on Saturday …

– There may be layoffs at Blood-Horse and Thoroughbred Times, and the newspaper industry in general may be imploding, but Daily Racing Form is doing fine, reports the New York Times.

– After the race: Visiting Summer Bird in his barn after the Belmont Stakes.