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Superman never Scratches


Mark Patterson


Thu, May 12, 2016

In anything, super is the utmost. NBA players that posterize other tall, ridiculouslyathletic millionaires are dubbed "superstars." Our nation's most popular sporting event is called the "Super Bowl." And while Spiderman may scale walls, and Batman beat down street thugs like nobody's business, only the guy with that "S" on his chest can core to China, see through walls, and flat out take off and fly (just not fast enough, it seems, to mess up George Reeves' pompadour).

Some comic book once staged a match-race between supes and The Flash, no slouch, believe me, for the first 10,000 miles or so. The placing judges whimped out and called it a dead-heat. Who didn't see THAT coming? But even my 11-year-old intellect (preoccupied as it were with the fully -developed counter girl who presumably "martinized" our clothes) knew the fix was in. Cheap speed like The Flash could never withstand Superman's kick at a full lap around mother earth.

Racing has it's own Supermen, and plently of them. I'm talking about trainers able to leap three class-levels in a single bound and transform also rans into speeding bullets. Sure, our sport tosses the "s" word around like peanuts at the zoo these days, and once unthinkable strike rates have become nearly commonplace at most tracks. But the feats performed by many supertrainers are no less mind blowing.

There's one big difference, however, between the man of steel and horseracing's miracle workers: Superman never scratches. He takes on all comers. And he never sniffs around first for kryptonite. Imagine this conversation: Lois Lane: "Sooooopuurmayaan!! I'm so glad you heard my screams!! There are big mutant birds outside trying to peck through the windows!!" Superman: "Calm down and think, Lois. How MANY birds? And how big??" Lois: "Maybe five or six... about the size of a car, I'd guess." Superman: (now testy) " What kind of car, Miss Lane?" Lois: "Well, a Grand Cherokee, I'd say. And what's the difference, you're Superman, right?" Superman (now clearly shaken): "That's not a car, Lois. It's an suv. And didn't some giant birds eat Aquaman last week? I'll battle six Lois-just six. But there had better not be seven, or you're on your own."

That exchange, of course, would never happen, because Superman doesn't set conditions or worry about tarnishing his won-loss record. SuperTRAINERS, on the other hand, never STOP finaggling to find easy foes and bow out anytime a worthy adversary appears. In fact, most could teach fight managers a thing or two about pitting their charges against tomato cans.

And who can blame them for building the best records possible? As both the rockstars and villians of modern racing, conditioners are subjected to unblinking scrutiny. Suspicious or not of the methods employed by successful trainers, handicappers have come to see them as the sport's central figures. No wonder then that horsemen prioritize any stat with their name next to it. And the simplest way to boost those numbers being paraded in print isn't merely to win races, it's to not lose, to never compete when you aren't a cinch.

That's the true genius of supertrainers: They've elevated not losing to an art form. Tighteners, for instance, outings traditionally used to bring less than fit runners to winning form, have gone the way of 3-lb contract bugs when it comes to top conditioners. Show me a 35% trainer, and I'll show you one with a darwinian knack for having runners dead ready off the bench. In an era when horses start just five or six times per season, you can't maintain super-stats while patiently racing your stock into shape.

Another way to dodge the dreaded "L" is to duck other supertrainers-or any horse who looks strong on paper, for that matter. Ever notice that the respective winners, let's say, of a given track's last several starter/ alw sprints never seem to pop up in the same renewal? Think that's a coincidence? Or maybe modern paragons of the condition book have the psychic powers of Edgar Cayce. Yeah, right. In truth, they have moles providing intelligence on the troop deployments of their 40% peers. These moles hustle book and double as air traffic controllers for the supertrainers they serve.

It's a completely legal conspiracy conceived to keep sharp horses and sharper trainers from colliding at the entry box. And it does much to prevent full, competitive fields from forming. There's nothing against the rules or even unethical about a jocks agent confiding to one client that it might be better to pass a certain race because another client has a monster pointed for the same spot. It's just bad for racing- and it's also how minus pools are born.

And even when outfits get their signals crossed, and more than one formidable barn blunders into the same race with horses sitting on wins, nobody's participation can be counted on until the animal shows up in the paddock. Supertrainers, you see, have developed a fight or flight instinct that a jaguar would envy. And which it will be is decided only after past performances have been pulled up (sometimes mere minutes after the draw) and the competition vetted, from beyer figs to pace scenario, more carefully than Steven Crist lays out a pick- six ticket.

Unfortunately for fans , horses earmarked early for scratching-and in many cases not even on the grounds- are often left on the program in accordance with rules that require a valid reason for pulling out. Shouldn't the system that "sticks" horses at scratch time or those who make entries in bad faith have more sympathy for the players who advance wager, or even pre-handicap? Their time and patronage are surely too important to be misdirected onto match-ups that certain insiders know won't transpire.

Those same insiders have helped spawn a nationwide epidemic of four- horse fields and 12-length winners. Granted, there's a horse shortage. And the breed might be weakening, as is commonly assumed, a little more with each drug-dependent sire. But many times when a stable passes a suitable race, it's not just the horse, but also the conditioner's record that's being coddled. That's because few exceptional trainers accept a loss sitting down... or standing up... and least of all chasing a horse they can't beat.

So the next time you watch some mortal lock terrorize three hapless rivals, be skeptical of the performance-and of the winning trainer's carefully inflated statistics. By all means, though, be impressed by all the hard work and planning that went into that walkover. And tip a glass for those who didn't take part- the trainers who simply refused to lose. But first, ask yourself this, would Superman have scratched?


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