Monday, August 24, 2009

So you REALLY want fair racing?

So You Really Want Fair Racing?

(Image credit:

At first glance this may look like a crazy idea. But on closer scrutiny, I hope you will agree this might be a novel first step to that Utopian ideal—fair and clean racing, especially in countries where jockeys are at the receiving end of public ire for real or imagined reasons.

Horse racing, as a sport, has a unique distinction—it is the only sport that is subsidized by the gambling money. It is another matter that despite this well-known fact, punters all over the world are almost always dissatisfied with the running of the races. It is not uncommon to hear cries of “fixed”, “cheats”, etc. after a race, and in most cases, the accusing finger points to the jockey.

Racing, like any other sport that involves millions of dollars, will have its share of crooks, and they will, at least in countries where unscrupulous bookmakers operate books, always attempt to make a fast buck at the cost of the serious student of form. Only a constant vigil by people who understand racing in all its intricacies—and who also have a steely resolve to guard the interest of the punting community—can improve the image of the game. The fact that racing has, among its followers, an extremely high percentage of losers as compared to winners only makes the matter worse. Human psychology is such that people simply love to believe that they lost their money because someone played unfair, or resorted to malpractice.

Punishments have lost their sting

At a recent dinner with horse racing buffs, the conversation wandered to the topic of malpractice in racing—real as well as perceived.

Everyone who joined the discussion unanimously agreed about one thing: The value of punishment as a deterrent has eroded considerably over the years, and it is no longer an effective tool to curb malpractice.

The observation is very interesting—and sadly, very true.

It is perhaps time to infuse racing with innovative and creative ideas that will, despite this handicap, keep alive hopes of fair and clean racing.

I have done my share of lateral thinking (literally!), and come out with this solution.

Redistribute the purse/stakes

In the absence of fear of punishment, the only way to encourage fairness is to reward it handsomely—in monetary terms! Let us introduce meritocracy in racing.

Better the performance, bigger the share of the prize money—that should me the mantra.

If fairness in racing has to be summed up in just one sentence, it has got to be this:

Every horse must try to finish as close as possible to the one in front, and as far ahead as possible from the one behind.

Then why not reward horses only on these two parameters? Why give a predetermined, fixed sum to the winner, the runner-up and others down the line?

Let every horse be rewarded proportionately, depending upon how it has scored on the above-mentioned two parameters only.

Yes, redistribution of purse money may prove to be the key to fair and clean racing.

Money makes the mare go

If a horse displays its superiority by winning the race by a huge margin, say 10 lengths, it is only fair he gets a lion’s share of the purse money.

But if he wins narrowly in photo finish, let the runner-up eat up a sizeable chunk from his share, no complaints!

After all, a meritocracy must reward in accordance with the merit displayed, shouldn’t it?

The concept of a ‘Reference Horse’

Interestingly, the ideal can be achieved without inviting protests from horse owners and professionals, who may actually stand to benefit as much (if not more) from re-distribution of purse in a fair manner than the ordinary punter will benefit from fair racing.

An innovative purse money re-distribution formula can inject an element of genuine competitiveness among horses. More than the formula, it is the logic behind it that is important. This formula is not written in stone, some reader can come out with a better formula than the one I am proposing—the debate will only be better for the sport.

In each race, there will be what we will call a ‘reference horse’ which DOES NOT GET A PENNY from the purse.

Only those horses finishing ahead of the reference horse will be eligible to share the purse—and only according to a formula that will give proportionate weightage to the lengths (verdict) by which each horse has beaten this reference horse.

In a way, the entire purse for the race will be distributed based only on how each horse has fared vis-à-vis this ‘reference horse’.

Surely, this calls for an accurate definition of the ‘
reference horse’.

Here it goes: The Reference Horse is the horse finishing last (if there are four or less runners), or the horse finishing fifth (if there are five or more runners).

Note: I am aware in our own country, in most races, as many as six horses are entitled for the share of the stakes money; in such cases, needless to add, the reference horse will be the one who finishes seventh.

Anomalies eliminated

At the outset, this interesting definition eliminates some nonsensical anomalies that make a mockery of the concept of competitive racing, especially in smaller fields.

When there are four or less horses in a race, even the horse finishing last takes home some money. Now, why should it be allowed a share of the purse?

For beating none?

This malady stands corrected under the proposed system, as in such cases the horse finishing last now becomes the reference horse, and does not earn any prize.

Another interesting consequence of this novel rule is that it transforms a two-horse race into a WINNER-TAKES-ALL contest, introducing a greater incentive for an all-out effort to win from both the participants.

A simplistic example

Consider this simplistic example as a demo.

If the verdict of a race between the first five horses reads thus: Won by 3L, 5L, 1L, 4L; then the first four horses have beaten the Reference Horse (fifth horse) in this manner—winner (by 3+5+1+4 = 13L), second horse (by 5+1+4 = 10L), third horse (by 1+4 = 5L) and fourth horse (by 4L).

Thus, the Reference Horse has received a cumulative beating by (13+10+5+4) = 32 Lengths.

In other words, the winner’s share of the cumulative beating is (13/32) or 40.63%,

the runner-up’s is (10/32) or 31.25%,

third horse’s is (5/32) or 15.62%,

fourth horse’s is (4/32) or 12.50%.

Then wouldn’t it be logical that they share the purse money in the same way?

We must never lose sight of the fact that the basic theme is to make each horse and rider run to the best of their ability.

We are dangling a carrot, in the form of real, hard cash, in front of each horse and rider that will make a sizable difference to their share of the booty, if they can gain a length or two over their rivals before passing the winning post.

If Rs 100,000 is on offer as total purse for the race, the above formula distributes the money as follows:
The winner: Rs 40,630;
runner-up: RS 31,250;
third: Rs 15,620;
fourth: Rs 12,500.

Distributing the purse as per the
percentages based on performance looks like a good idea. But it can be made better by linking even greater incentive for an all-out performance.

Can we make them run faster?

You bet we can.

So we propose another rule that should now really make them fire on all cylinders. Isn’t it only fair that even among those who earn a share in the purse money, the horse which gets beaten should lose a part of its purse to those who finish ahead of it?

How about introducing a “4 percent (of earnings) per beaten length” PENALTY to be deducted from a horse’s share and credited to horses finishing ahead of it?

The logic is:
Any horse which takes a cumulative beating of 25 lengths DOES NOT deserve to take home any money.

At “4 percent per beaten length” penalty, such horse loses all of its earnings (25 x 4% = 100%), and obviously cannot take home anything.

To make things clearer, lets us stick to the above-cited example.

The fourth horse was eligible to get Rs 12,500.

Under this new scenario, it now shells out 4 percent (for 1L) or Rs 500 to the third horse, 24 percent (for 6L) or Rs 3,000 to the runner-up, and 36 percent (for 9L) or Rs 4,500 to the winner, Thus it is deprived of Rs 8,000 from its earnings of Rs 12,500 and ends up winning only Rs 4,500.

Similarly, the third horse whose earnings of Rs 15,620 are enhanced to Rs 16,120 (thanks to Rs 500 received from the fourth horse), now loses 52 percent (20 percent to the runner-up and 32 percent to the winner) and is left with only Rs 7,738.

Applying the same formula, the runner-up’s earnings of Rs 31,250 shoot up to Rs 37,424, of which it loses Rs 4,491 (12 percent) to the winner for a three-length beating at his hands.

The final distribution will look like this:

Winner: Rs 54,829; runner-up: Rs 32,933; third: Rs 7,738; fourth: Rs 4,500.

Isn’t the formula complicated?

Is it, really?

In fact, with computers slaving for us, it is just a matter of writing appropriate software, and the earnings can be computed and flashed on screens within microseconds after the judge declares his verdict.

The greatest advantage of the system lies in the fact that jockeys, most of whom get not a very great amount as riding fee (and who are generally accused and abused for less-than-optimum performance) finally get a chance to boost their earnings substantially if they go all-out, as even a length gained or lost can make a sizeable difference to the commissions earned by them.

I think if a rider has reason to believe that he is going to earn even a couple of thousand rupees extra every racing day by simply being honest and working hard, there is a good chance he will not fall prey to the shady designs of the crooks who try to lure him with lucre.

The point I want to make is if the stick has lost its effectiveness, isn't it time we try the carrot?

{Author's note: This article was first published in MiD DAY, later it was re-published on and, two popular websites from India and the U.S. Three years ago, I was informed by Mr Mike Marten and John Harris of CHRB (California Horse Racing Board), USA, that they seriously reviewed the recommendations of this article from the link on the Paceadvantage website, but came to the conclusion it cannot be implemented in California because "our jockeys ride very aggressively in all their races. It is a very competitive job that can earn a lot and no jock here ever wants to be thought of as just along for the ride" [sic]}


  1. Excellent idea but who will bell the turf authys?

    1. Some prominent Jockeys in all the Racing Centers believe that they can earn more by pulling the Horse than Winning. Experience eyes can easily catch these pulling, but unfortunately the Race
      Authorities sometimes overlook these.Prominent Jockeys like CA,SN. etc pull the horses when on money / less than on money favorites.


  2. Prakash can our raceclubs say the same thing abt our jockeys like the Calif guys? The answer is NO, so I think we need something like this. Of course I doubt if the rise in jockeys commision can match what the big players/fixers offer them. But I would still say its worth a try.

  3. Dear Prakash,

    Very nice article and a very practical solution too. But I doubt if it will ever be implemented in India or for that matter in any other country.

    You have been advocating that racing in India is cleaner than what most punters believe. Even I agree that not all races are fixed but at the same time I am convinced that not all races are fair.

    You have written "Only a constant vigil by people who understand racing in all its intricacies—and who also have a steely resolve to guard the interest of the punting community—can improve the image of the game". This is where people like you should analyse and try and bring out the truth. What I write below is only because of the above statement of yours and I strongly believe that you should take the lead in doing so.

    A lot has been written about SET ALIGHT already and I don't want to add to it anymore. However why don't you analyse the losses of INDIAN DERBY favourites over the last 6 years. Forget SET ALIGHT...lets look at MYSTICAL. Do you think MYSTICAL lost the derby to a superior horse? I doubt. The race was obviously fixed for HOLDING COURT. Unfortunately for SOME fixers VELVET ROPE sprouted wings that day and upset aspirations of one too many. The bookies still made huge gains because of the upset victory. How do you explain the Derby winning jockey P Kamlesh's absence from RWITC over the next couple of years after the infamous win? He was a great jockey before that and he still is but he was limited to rides in Hyderabad, as if there was an unofficial ban on his presence in RWITC. MYSTICAL however went on to redeem himself and proved that he was indeed done in.

    SOUTHERN EMPIRE and SET ALIGHT also met with similar fate. The point I am trying to make is, the so called fixers, bookies or operators need not fix all the races. One fixed Indian Derby can (assumption) give them windfall gains good enough for an entire season. Punters like to bet on such big events even if its not value for money. For example they would prefer to back SET ALIGHT at 40 paise odd when on the very same day ALEXUS ran at 80 paise odd and was a much better value for money proposition.

    You had betting figures for England-Australia last test match and knew how much money was at stake. Can you find the same for Indian Derby races? And the average for the rest of the season so that it can be analysed in terms of how the bookies fared vis-a-vis punters. I am not sure if these data are available but if they are then you are the best person to extract it.

    Doesn't mean that only Indian Derby is fixed. ABOLINE's loss in the COLTS stakes is another case for study in terms of money wagered.

    I am no expert and my experience of racing is limited to 10 years so do correct me if you think there is no logic in these arguments.

    Keep up the good work.

  4. Theres a saying that goes "the path to ruination, is paved with good intention".
    What you write is fine but on first glance i see a few anamolies. Like if i had a horse running in tough company id give it a run, thereby not only would i drop in handicap but have a chance of winning next time in a weaker field by a greater margin and hence earn more stake money.
    The crux of the problem are 2 things.
    1. The current rules and regulations are fine, what we need to do is implement them in the true spirit of the text. What happens is that the small fry get lengthy punishments while the big fish get away with murder. Either their connections or their retainers lobby to get them off. Like so many times when the board of stweards finds someone guilty the appeal board lets them off. The idea should be to have a full board sit in every hearing and let each of them decide for or against, and their explanation for the same. And this should be published so that the general public gets an idea of what each one had to say how consistent they are and it would also give a fair idea to the members of the club as to who to vote for in the next election.
    2. Increase the purse money, look at the cost the horses are being bought at u really think its practical to buy and maintain, plus medical bills with the current stake money at offer.
    When theres so much to win(stake money) it automatically cuts of the betting angle. Also to further the incentive keep a slab for the stake percentage to trainer and jockey, whereby the slab keeps increasing with the number of 1st favourite wins every season, like after 5 first favourite wins let the slab increase by 5% for all future wins by the respective trainer and jockey. And let the slab further increase for every further 5.

    Horse racing rules are like our traffic rules. All the rules and guidlines are in place, you just need proper and stringent implementation and no favouritism.

  5. Brilliant thinking. Why do they hate you so much Gosavi?

  6. honest horse ownerAug 24, 2009, 10:35:00 PM

    Boss hats off to you. What imagination. Great stuff. Hope the clubs are listening or rather reading your blog.

  7. Dear Vivek, K Gandhi,
    Thanks for writing in.

    Dear Dev,
    Thanksl for a very thoughtful response.

    I think I have already written about Mystical's loss in MiD DAY review. You should get to read it on the web.

    You say, "This is where people like you should analyse and try and bring out the truth", but in racing there is nothing like ABSOLUTE truth.

    Racing truth is generally a matter of subjective belief, and let me frankly, my subjective belief is that there was no design in loss of ANY derby favourite except Mystical (perhaps) and Southern Empire (definitely).

    You also ask, "Can you find the same [figs of betting] for Indian Derby races?" No, most betting is absorbed by illegal bookies, so there is NO WAY to be sure of the figures even if I try to dig them out.

    To you also I will recommend reading my response to Rajendra about how, as a gambler, I feel I should react to malpractice, please read it in the comments section of "FINOO bets (Pune, Aug 23)" post.

    Dear Dude,
    A wonderful post!

    The idea of extra incentive for winning with favourites is just extra-ordinary.

    Do contribute more often with your immensely readable thoughts.

    Dear PMK,
    Thanks. Don't know. My guess is as good as yours.

  8. Dear Honest horse owner,
    Your post came in when I was writing replies to others so I missed you.
    Thanks for your kind words.

  9. I think jockeys & trainers may agree but owners will not & they have very strong lobby in rwitc. No chance. But a good plan.

  10. Point well made...everything is right in the article, but is it too late? The way things are at the moment, horse racing is a decadent and derided sport, in about two years, Mahalaxmi lease is going to expire and BMC is in no mood to extend it, sharks have set their eyes on the property, so what happens to horse racing itself? Had such introspection occured ...say a ten years earlier, maybe horse racing as a sport would have flourished and wouldn't be in danger of being eliminated from the place where it became big in India.

  11. Superbly written. Very well explained. Dude's point is also worth trying.

  12. Na rahege Been na bajege basuri, a simpler thing to do is GO PARA MUTUAL, I E all tote, this will make a whale of difference MAY NOT BE THE CLEANEST but much cleaner than now.
    B T W , Prakash I did not read your piece on S.E AND MYSTICAL ,IMHO S E lost fair and square, I have seen the race and believe what I saw

  13. Hi Prakash, A good idea can always make a difference, high time the concerned authorities take it as seriousely as you have come out with it...Regards

  14. Dear Neville,
    I think owners can be won over if, as an experiment, a presentation is made to them for as to what their figures of stakes earning would have been under this system vis-a-vis what they actually got under the present system (say, for last three years). That should set at rest their apprehensions. Similar exercise can be carried out for jockeys and trainers.

    Dear Vikram V Sood,
    I have heard a story. An architect was hired by the mayor of a new township under construction. When the roads were being made, the architect noticed a peculiar tree--tall and dense--that would be wonderful to have along the road on both sides so that travelers would get cool shade all the time. "Get me the saplings of that tree," he told the Mayor on one of the rounds. "Oh, that tree?," the Mayor asked, "but we can't do that. You see it's a slow grower, takes 40 years for full growth." "Really?," shot back the architect, "my God! We are 40 years late already! Then get them right now!"

    Your worries are not unreal, but unlike the Bangalore junta, the Mumbai public will NEVER let the govt gobble up the racecourse land. I think we can be sure of that. By the way, thanks for writing in.

    Thanks S Patkar.

    Dear Aswin,
    Tote monopoly is perhaps not possible here in India. But we may soon have Betfair coming here and then everybody will become a bookie as well as punter at the same time.

    That's my guess. Because Betfair has the financial muscle to get into India by "winning over" the policy makers (read "politicians"). You know what I mean, don't you?

    And if you think SA lost the Derby fair and square, then the onus is on you now to explain the result of the Invitation Cup at Kolkata run a month later. Go ahead and try it.

    Dear AK
    Thanks. Yes, it's better late than never.

  15. Aswin its not para mutual, it's pari mutuel, a french word. Here is accurate definition from dictionary dot com.

    Show Spelled Pronunciation [par-i-myoo-choo-uhl]
    1. a form of betting and of handling the betting on horse races at racetracks, in which those holding winning tickets divide the total amount bet in proportion to their wagers, less a percentage for the management, taxes, etc.
    2. Also called parimutuel machine. an electronic machine that registers bets in parimutuel betting as they are made and calculates and posts the changing odds and final payoffs.
    1880–85; < F: lit., mutual bet

  16. Dear Aswin,
    An error. Please read SE (Southern Empire instead of SA in my reply to you above.

    Dear Wordy Birdie,
    I like your name. By the way, and are my favourite sites too.

  17. Congrats Parkash,

    You continue to amaze me as i after 4-5 years in the scene am fed up and start taking things as they are.You have beeen in the field for much longer and your zest for changing things is infectious.

    Your energy levels are very high. Nice to see good suggestions from learned & knowledgeable people.

    Let me wish you the best for making the change in the Indian Racing Industry.

    I would only give a very small piece of advice.There are many people who are trying to bring change in the system.Most of them are knowledgeable.Lets not get into war of words amongst ourselves.It is not worth it.

    I hope you understood what i mean


  18. Dear Swamybabu,
    thanks for your comments.
    I can condone foolish statements.
    I can forgive occasional wisecracks.
    But I can't ignore deliberate malice.
    I hope you understand what I mean.


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