Bettors were, for lack of a better word, screwed last Friday according to an article by Derick Giwner. Was the fix in? Did drivers shaft the gamblers? Did the track hose the gamblers? No, the New Jersey Racing Commission (NJRC) did the honors.
Last Friday, the Pick 4 had a large play at Freehold and after the first leg of the Pick 4, the heavens opened up. Opened up is probably not a fair word to use as the rain was so heavy that the second leg in the Pick 4 was delayed by one hour. Okay, an act of nature; you can't help that as things happen.
What happened next is totally inexcusable. Manzi begged off the rest of his drives as he had to go to Yonkers Raceway to get there for the first race and a couple other drivers begged off as well; apparently they had an aversion to a wet track. As a result, there was a need to replace the drivers.
In any other state, the basic rule is if there is a late driver change, the replacement driver has to be of similar ability. For example, if Dave Miller had to come off his mount, you would try to replace him perhaps with a Brian Sears or John Campbell. It makes sense and probably would happen that way at the Meadowlands. If nothing else, management would insist on it.
But this was Freehold Raceway and apparently the judges were more interested in getting the card done as quick as possible so they were more liberal with the driver changes they allowed. The article lists the specific driver changes but being the replacement drivers were innocent pawns, we'll skip naming names. The judges basically allowed anyone with a license to be used as a driver. Manzi was replaced by a provisional driver with 55 career wins and the other driver change in a later leg of the Pick 4 was another provisional driver with one drive this year up to then.
What the #$@%?
Now these provisional drivers may one day become accomplished reinsmen in their own right, but they are not there now. How the heck do you replace one of the leading drivers at a track with someone who has one start this year? More importantly, what the heck were the judges thinking? Now we know Freehold Raceway is no longer the track it once was so the number of quality drivers has decreased, but you can't tell me a more qualified driver couldn't be found? Yes, there were only ten races on the card so some of the drivers had left for the day but still racing in the later races were Eric Abbatiello and Jacqueline Ingrassia who could have driven in the eighth race. Harry Landy and Steve Smith could have driven in the ninth race. If not equal to the drivers who begged off their mounts, at least they are experienced reinsmen.
Look, gamblers betting multi-leg races already have a disadvantage in their horse could be scratched and they can get stuck with the post time favorite instead of their second choice. There are times they get a different driver than they figured (such as in an accident), but they should at least be able to get a driver close to the ability of the driver they had.
Years ago, I was at the Meadowlands during the thoroughbred meet and there was a jockey change in the last race and I had no idea who the jockey was. I was told he was the house jockey; a jockey the track pays to be around in the event a late jockey change was needed. I am not suggesting tracks need to have house drivers, but there should be a system in place where certain drivers of different abilities are paid to hang around in the event they are needed in late races. It doesn't have to be the same drivers everyday but there can be a schedule established.
In the meanwhile, the NJRC owes the bettors they shafted a hearing where the Freehold judges are made to explain why the driver changes they approved were made. They also need to find out why those drivers with no racing obligations elsewhere were allowed to leave and what kind of penalty was assessed against them for not honoring their commitments.
We have enough gamblers leaving the sport already, we don't need the regulators help push them out of the door.
Monmouth Park Lease Dispute Resolved - According to local press reports, the lease dispute between the NJSEA and Morris Bailey has been resolved. The dispute now comes back to the Meadowlands with the teller's union.