Commentary

Home should not be where the headlines are

Updated: November 30, 2007, 4:18 PM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com

Forgive me for a moment while I dust off my soapbox and preach on the salaciousness of the media. I can handle it in the New York Post; I accept watching it on Inside Edition; I expect it with TMZ.com.

But in horse racing? Please.

Recent racing-related news outlets and sports pages covering the tribulations of the daughters of racing figures has been appalling to me as a father -- and as a graduated and trained journalist. If you don't know the events I'm talking about, you're only a titillating Google away in today's society from finding it out for yourself.

How the daughters of Funny Cide's part-owner Jack Knowlton and jockey Jose Santos are even remotely considered public figures, much less niche industry once-removed people of public interest, is beyond the stretch of my reason. The racing public wants to know who's going to win the fourth at Aqueduct, not this nonsense.

Is it news? Yes. Local news. Crimes were committed, and it's part of the police blotter and the media's watchdog role to report on it. No doubt the public has a need to know. But outside of the local areas where these alleged crimes were committed, the actions of these relatives of "famous" people simply aren't newsworthy -- only absolute garbage to grab headlines.

Had Santos been an active rider during the timing of his daughter's legal woes, then perhaps the story takes legs as newsworthy to the sports and racing pages. Will it affect his riding? Will he miss time from the racetrack for the courtroom, etc. That would make the story similar to the Andy Reid saga with the National Football League's Philadelphia Eagles franchise. But Jose Santos is retired for Pete's sake.

While I personally have been guilty of attention-grabbing moves like putting together a clean-tasted modeling pictorial of the Beulah Twins in a racing magazine, these were not crimes that destroyed families and livelihoods. No one's names were thrashed through the headlines as they tried to put their families back together. Still, in fairness, I cannot claim to reside in complete Sainthood.

But in an industry well-known for serving beer in the press box, and some of the most famous writers noted for pulling out a bottle of their finest scotch or whiskey from their desk drawers as they work, it comes off even more two-faced.

Give an extra hug to your daughters tonight. And, as an editor, please don't ask your writers to scribe about someone else's.

Turning the soapbox over to you ...
The unthinkable happened last week. Somewhere between the spam filters and the pools of phish, a new sheriff took over my E-mail in-box.

Supplanting the obvious contenders -- you know, "Feeling lonely tonight?" or "Guys, tired of not pleasing your wives?" -- the dominant E-mail subject line this past week was "pick six." Last week's commentary on the relative worth of the pick six wager drew many responses.

Remarkably, the positive E-mails out-numbered the negatives by about a seven-to-one ratio. It's not remarkable to find agreement, only rather to actually read about it. The silent majority typically is just that -- silent.

Most often, writers in public forums like this are flooded with personal attacks, profanity-laced diatribes and general assessments of our ignorance levels. Oh, yes, I got a few of those this week, too -- mostly from industry insiders and track management types.

Here are some snippets from what you were saying to me last week in what has turned out to be one of the more talked-about columns on my tenure here:

  • When will the racing establishment finally get it? The small bettor could be their best customer. -- JH

  • ... I don't think you should be blaming the racetrack for the discipline or lack thereof of the horseplayers who choose to go there. On a Web site like yours, there is a great opportunity to champion the cause of smart money management and discipline. Those are the hard parts of being a horseplayer. -- Anonymous racetrack executive.

  • Sir, I have been playing the horses for over 60 years, so one could say that I do know a little about the game. The points that you make are without doubt EXACTLY RIGHT. Not being a racing writer, public handicapper, or any official voice of what people should or should not do, I still contend that it may be the worst bet possible except for the winner. -- B.G.

  • Good column on the pick six, I totally agree. TVG makes such a big deal with their Pick 6 Central overkill, but most players don't play the pick six. I also didn't like it when the racing secretary said that he wanted to make it tougher to handicap. It's tough enough. Tracks never seem to understand that players who cash more tickets keep coming back. -- B.P.

  • I understand and sympathize with much of what you wrote in your recent article; however, you fail to include the single most important (and relevant) reason for one to play the pick-six: that being the takeout rate ... I am not a whale. I have never even come close, but when the pools exceed a million dollars, and the effective take has been eliminated (editor's note: by virtue of the carryover) ... come on, man, what's $48 bucks (or so)? -- J.L.

  • The pick six is not for everyone AND VIRTUALLY EVERYONE WHO PLAYS THIS GAME KNOWS THAT - but it is a terrific bet for serious players. Just like anything serious, it requires serious investment and sophisticated handling. There are things to be learned and things that are important. You discard that possibility with your na´ve statement ... -- S.D.

  • As someone who played the pick six maybe a dozen times, in the 17 years I've played the horses, there is no problem agreeing with how hard it is to hit ... Your article comes across like you're playing "devil's advocate," just for the sake of playing the role. The reason some of these pick six payoffs are in excess of 50,000/1 is because it's not supposed to be easy to win. -- M.S.

  • I don't go to casinos and rarely do I buy a lottery ticket, and as a lifetime handicapper (I'm 55) it has never occurred to me to play the pick six. I recognize the 'excitement' the pick six draws to the sport, but as a gambler it has no appeal for me ... Having said that, if slot machines and pick six carryovers generate interest and revenue for the sport I love, I'm all for it. -- Kevin.

    And finally, this is just the kind of rant that you read with a sense of urgency. Hope you don't mind me including it at more length:

  • You are correct in stating that it would be better for horseplayers to concentrate their play on winnable bets instead of pursuing the pick six bet with under-funded bets. However, you tempered your article too much to not offend the tracks ... About 5 years ago, I saw what the racing secretary in (California) was doing, trying to build carryovers, and that's when I stopped playing it. Now, I even hesitate to play the pick four, as it's in the same sequence. With the synthetic tracks in (California) and Keeneland, I've stopped playing almost entirely after 20 years. Just too much crap, from drugs, synthetic surfaces, track maintenance, pace-less races with a final sprint to the wire, turf sprints with non-turf pedigree horses winning, high takeouts, whales getting rebates equating to lowered takeouts for some, track ownerships who only care about the bottom line and not the customers, etc. The game is not the one I came to love. The pick six manipulation is only part of the tricked-up puzzle they are putting out there. -- Disgusted!
  • Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine and its Web site, HorsePlayerdaily.com. You can E-mail Jeremy about this topic or any other racing-related topic at plonk@horseplayerdaily.com.

    In addition to being a longtime contributing writer to ESPN.com's Horse Racing section, Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine.

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