A couple of summers ago while sitting around a table at the Carousel restaurant at Saratoga Race Course waiting for a rainy Saturday’s nightcap to commence, a horseplayer noted that the favorite was longer than expected. This sparked the suggestion that perhaps “Getting Out Fever” was once again influencing the “Win” odds, creating an overlay on the favorite. This seemed to be a classic example (briefly, this “fever” is thought to sometimes inflate the odds of the betting favorite in the last race of the day because enough losing players are looking to “get out” by pounding on horses with long odds). Sure enough, the overlaid favorite won like a 3/5 shot, while paying 8/5. Easy game!
I bring this up now because I seem to have a disorder related to Getting Out Fever, but one of a seasonal variety. From New Year’s Day through the start of the Santa Anita meet that begins on Boxing Day, I am immune to any such fever. Whether I am up a bit, or even down a bunch, if I don’t like the last race on the card I can take a pass just as easy as if it was fruitcake for dessert. But when, as in 2014, it has been a losing year, something changes for me in the 52nd week. The end of the calendar year brings with it all of the associated familial tripwires, ritualized drinking, bourbon-soaked reflective thoughts and musings on potential self-improvement that we have come to expect from the holiday season. But, rather than taking a critical eye to “betting 2014.xls” (here on my hard drive) and its tally of parimutuel woe, I see instead visions of boxcar payouts, and feel a tremendous urge to get out. Anyone can have a bad day at the track. It’s the long haul of the calendar year that separates the winning horseplayers from the losing ones, and I’ve found it is much preferable to associate yourself with the former.
It’s worked for me in the past (see Chips All In’s turf debut about 5 hours before 2012 arrived in the Eastern time zone – belated thanks for the free holiday Thorograph data! ). And although it has been a truly bad year at the windows for us at Around2Turns, on Boxing Day 2014 it was decreed that I was theoretically within reach of the promised land. But, alas, it was not to be. I played some Gulfstream and Santa Anita races whilst visiting with the in-laws in unusually pleasant (for December) Buffalo over the weekend, but the shots I took turned out to be stabs in the dark. Sure, I could still take a few more chances today at Santa Anita while 2014 is still gasping air, but I’m so cold that when my betting finger is poised over the “accept wager” button on my touchscreen I hallucinate cartoon icicles hanging from my fingertip. It’s time to settle up, rather than submit to Getting Out Fever and likely only make things worse. I’ll get it back next year.
Meanwhile, and upon some reflection, the thought occurs that 2014 was in many ways a strange and awful year for American racing. Disaster seemed to be waiting around every bend, for man and beast alike. On a bitterly cold morning at Belmont Park just four days into the new year, a horse named Six Drivers threw his rider and ran off wildly, colliding with the heretofore seemingly indestructible nine-year-old gelding Caixa Eletronica, killing both horses instantly (the remaining rider was injured, but survived). Caixa had admirers up and down the backstretch and throughout the grandstand, and none of them could stand it, that such a freaky, lousy break could bring down so nice a horse.
It was also a horrible year for jockeys. Here on the NYRA circuit, Juan Vazquez, an exercise rider and part-time trainer died in a fall at Belmont Park on Friday, September 5th. Less than six weeks later, seventeen-year-old apprentice Juan Saez was killed when his mount in the 8th race at Indiana Grand Racing and Casino fell after clipping heels with the horse in front of them, and more trouble followed. Racing news does not get any sadder than this.
Even horseplayers, or, at least, one notable horseplayer fell victim to both wild fortune and wild misfortune, in that order. On May 25th, Dan Borislow took down the nearly-$7-million Rainbow Six Jackpot one day before a mandatory payout card would have likely doubled the pot and distributed it amongst at least a few winners. Less than two months later, Borislow died from a heart attack after playing in a soccer game. It is not known how much of racing’s recent slide in handle is attributable to the big-betting Borislow’s demise, but it is rumored to have been too significant not to be missed.
And there was the PETA undercover investigation that erupted in righteous fury in the pages of The New York Times in March, which showed speed, and then quit. The actual investigations promised by racing authorities in New York and Kentucky seem to be headed nowhere, slowly. After taking so many body blows in PR over the last few years you would think that racing’s powers that be would be able to formulate better responses to adversaries such as PETA. You would be, of course, wrong. In a rare case of bad news being followed up by an excellent response, Churchill Downs raised their takeout to the maximum allowed by Kentucky law a few weeks before the Derby and has since felt the wrath of a HANA-led boycott (though it would be a nicer story if CDI seemed to care even a little bit).
And in the biggest race of the year – featuring the then-undefeated Shared Belief against Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome – the Breeders’ Cup Classic fell apart in acrimony and Bob Baffert-hate when Bayern turned left out of the starting gate, impeding both his main pace rival (Moreno) and the favored Shared Belief, before going on to a ragged and controversial victory. As cowboy-hatted California Chrome part-owner Steve Coburn could tell you, if something could go bad in 2014, it did.
In such a year, it’s important to remember the big picture. Sure, my betting stunk, and I lost a few shekels. But looking to get into the black by a year-end deadline – the Big Get Out – is just silly, and pure vanity, and, I’ve decided, not for me. I’m done for 2014 and will be starting 2015 with a clean slate, a refreshed bankroll, and a renewed appreciation for the degree of difficulty inherent in being a winning horseplayer. Tonight at midnight I will kiss my wife, wish all the horses a happy birthday, and drink to hoping that 2015 will be a better year for almost everyone, including you. Happy New Year!