In Saturday night's Hempt Memorial at Pocono Downs, some individuals were questioning Brett Miller's drive on Pierce Hanover for taking on Wiggle It Jiggleit with five-eights of a mile to go. It was wondered if Miller would have been better to stay in along the rail and try to get a check instead of making what turned out to be a losing move.
As it turned out, these people were probably right, especially if you were concerned primarily with those on the other side of the racetrack, who I will call the wholesalers (owners, trainers, drivers, etc).
Unfortunately, if you were looking at it from the perspective of the retail customers (gamblers), they would disagree. What Miller's particular strategy was I don't know. Pierce Hanover has raced well from off the pace but with a rare rail post position perhaps the driver feared being trapped with nowhere to go so the reinsman decided to make an early move; perhaps the thought was if he went forward with his horse, Montrell Teague may have let him clear and then retake; maybe he hoped after last week's defeat, Teague may have become rattled and made a mistake. Clearly it didn't work and and Pierce Hanover was left stuck outside so he kept on going, hoping Wiggle It Jiggle It would falter from the pressure soon enough so Pierce Hanover may have still been a factor. Of course, Wiggle It Jiggleit was the best horse and in spite of the pressure applied he was victorious.
Obviously it wasn't the right move to make as Pierce Hanover backed through the field to finish eighth, beating only one horse. At 49-1 the public didn't expect much from him, so no one would have faulted Miller for playing it conservative, hoping to just pick up a check but would that have been fair to those gamblers who wagered on his horse? Maybe Pierce Hanover would have had another opportunity in the race to make a move but given the choice, I suspect the retail customer preferred Miller put his horse into play rather than just try and get a check.
Please note, this is not a criticism of Brett Miller and his ability as a driver. It is just this race made for a perfect example and he happened to be in it.
Be it quarter horse, standardbred or thoroughbred racing, this has been the problem which has been around since parimutuels were introduced. How does the rider or driver serve two masters with different goals at the same time? The wholesaler needs purse money to stay in business, pay the bills, and hopefully show a profit at the end of the year while the retail customer wants to cash a winning ticket. Often, the goals of both sides are aligned, but there are times when the interests of the wholesaler is diametrically opposed to the interests of the retailer.
So who does the driver owe allegiance to? Make a bold move in a race and win, you are the darling of gambler and owner alike. Come up with nothing to show for the effort, the gambler may appreciate the fact you tried but you may find yourself without a horse next time or even worse, find yourself on a trainer's list of drivers they will never use again.
Unless someone comes up with a better way to do things, drivers are going to face this dilemma for a long time. Figuring out what the driver may do is a legitimate part of the handicapping puzzle, something else a handicapper needs to consider; maybe not in overnights but certainly in large purse events such as stakes races. Learn which drivers drive aggressive or conservatively in these big money races with favorites and longshots alike, hopefully you will profit from it. At the very least it may save you some aggravation,