On Track with Johnny D: Waiting for Da-Dough

According to Wikipedia, “Waiting for Godot is a play by Samuel Beckett, in which two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for the arrival of someone named Godot who never arrives, and while waiting they engage in a variety of discussions and encounter three other characters….In a poll conducted by the British Royal National Theatre in 1990 it was voted the “most significant English language play of the 20th century.”

Breeders’ Cup 2017 at Del Mar has been in the books for nearly two weeks and Nisan Gabbay, unofficial winner of the rich Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge, still is ‘Waiting for Da-dough.’ A $300,000 winner’s share, to be exact. In this case, the ‘check’s NOT in the mail,’ as Breeders’ Cup, according to DRF.com’s Matt Hegerty, “…performs an internal investigation of the strategies used by several of the players who earned prize money…”

Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge is the richest live-money tournament in racing with a $1 million total purse and this year’s edition attracted over 400 players–including Xpressbet account holders online for the first time. A hefty $10,000 investment was necessary–$7,500 to be used as wagering bankroll and $2,500 added to the prize pool. According to the rules, bettors were required to make at least $600 in bets on five BC races Friday ($3,000 Total) and at least $900 on five BC races on Saturday ($4,500 Total). Players were permitted to skip races under a final score penalty.

As something of a blogger (and veteran of several Law and Order marathons), yours truly comprehends the importance of words. The use of ‘final’ in the above sentence likely has led to part of the BCBC problem. You see, it’s one thing to penalize at the conclusion of an event and quite another to discipline during competition.

For example: Your favorite football team drives 80 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown with just 2 seconds left on the clock. Following the TD your team is penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. Who cares! The TD counts and the game is in the bag!

Now, what if during that same potentially game-winning drive, a critical third-and-ten first down conversion is called back because of offensive holding? Both infractions are penalties, except with very different consequences. One comes after the horse is out of the barn. The other shuts and locks the door. Ouch!

Same with tournament penalties. Those enforced after the event may not have any effect on the original result—especially if the winner romps by open lengths. Penalties meted out during competition are liable to be much more effective because they actually can alter the future course of events. In this case, the BCBC eventual unofficial winner reportedly didn’t make a wager until the ninth race Saturday, the Juvenile. According to published accounts, he then made winning wagers in both the Turf and Classic to achieve a robust $176,000 bankroll. However, had he immediately been penalized for not making required Friday wagers his bankroll would not have been nearly as large. Therefore, he probably would not have been able to achieve those game-winning scores!

The second issue Breeders’ Cup officials need to sort out are charges of collusion between an assortment of players. Unofficial winner Gabbay is said to have shared tournament strategy and wagers with friend and associate Kevin McFarland. Apparently, only when McFarland’s bankroll was diminished to $1 did Gabbay began to wager.

Unofficial ninth-place finisher Eric Moomey, according to Hegarty, also is alleged to possibly have had access to up to four entries (there is a limit of 2 per person) in the competition.

Some of these allegations were registered with Breeders’ Cup in a letter signed by an assortment of tournament players—some competitors in the BCBC, some not. Sour grapes or valid beef?

The penalty phase of the BCBC tournament rules directed at players that don’t make required minimum wagers certainly needs revision. But, can Breeders’ Cup backtrack and enforce new post-competition penalties? If it’s true that Gabbay didn’t follow required wagering instructions he deserves to be punished according to the rules in place at the time of the tournament. As far as this horseplayer can tell no one is entirely clear what the punishment for not making required wagers actually is. Whatever it is, because Gabbay won by such a large margin the penalty probably won’t be severe enough to alter the original order of finish.

As for charges of collusion? That’s a tough one, almost impossible to prove. Don’t believe me? Go ask special prosecutor Robert Mueller how his Ruskie hunt’s going. What about husband and wife tournament teams? Think they ‘collude?’ They’d better, or else. There are more beards on the tournament scene than at a psychiatrist’s convention. It’s part of the game. To some it’s ‘cheating,’ to others ‘taking an edge.’ It’s doubtful Breeders’ Cup (or any other organization sponsoring handicapping tournaments) has adequate time or resources to eradicate collusion between players.

So, where does all of this leave you and me? Regular horseplayers who may want to try tournament play some day. My advice is: Go for it! Don’t let this BCBC mess get you down. Despite a few warts, tournaments are fun and sometimes even rewarding. My personal tournament experience is limited, but yours truly once qualified for the National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas and it was a blast! Also, I’ve played a few online tournaments and have enjoyed those, too.

Breeders’ Cup eventually will resolve this issue and Gabbay and others can quit ‘Waiting for Da-dough.’ Meantime, go ahead and dip a toe into the tournament pool. You may not be ready to post ten grand for the BCBC, but you still can enjoy some healthy competition against fellow horseplayers—colluders included.

Race On!

On Track with Johnny D: Waiting for Da-Dough

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