Monday, November 3, 2008

"Why I Left Racing" : Part One

Hajck is a horseplayer, just like us. And he's a good one. He also loves the sport of kings by being in a racing stable, just like many of us are as well. But that love, although still there, has taken a turn.

He will explain some of the things that are turning him away from the game. Track executives and horseman reps would do well to read this series, in my opinion, as when we lose people like Hajck we are not far off from losing many more.

Here is Hajck's Bio:

Hajck's first introduction to the races was on October 28th, 1974 when he watched a 16 year old kid boot home his first win ever aboard Oregon Warrior in the 6th race from just outside the fence at Yakima Meadows. That kid's name was Russell Baze.

In 1976, Hajck attended college in Santa Barbara and later moved to Los Angeles where he managed nightclubs while honing his handicapping chops at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park, Del Mar, Pomona, and Agua Caliente. Opportunity joined technology in 1989 when he moved to Lancaster, CA, just two blocks from the Satellite Wagering Facility featuring simulcasts from across the country.

In 2003, Hajck was named to the Brisnet Handicapper's Hall of Fame where just some of the tickets he has cashed are documented.

In 2007 he attended his first Kentucky Derby and savored the flavor of racing in the Bluegrass, and at the same time was hired as a Fan Educator at Emerald Downs in Seattle, WA where he was a 25% partner in Four Star Stables.

On October 25th, 2008, he sadly walked away from the sport he had always considered his passion. His support of the game has taken a different direction, from a financial one to one he hopes will make the game better for those that have it in their blood.

He continues work on his novel, SINGLING DEEP, a mystery/fiction suspense thriller with a racing backdrop set in the Pacific Northwest.

Why I Left Racing

…and what it will take to get me back.


Doug "Hajck" Hillstrom

It was a left jab to the chin, a glancing blow, but enough to assure me that my adversary wasn't a friend, or even an associate. It seemed that every time I encountered this foe, I would somehow, someway, get sucker punched with a left, while his right hand was taking approximately 25% of the cash out of my pocket. It was the same right hand that just moments before had caressed my shoulder while he was whispering in my ear "Come on into this wonderful building I built just for you, and you will be rich and happy."

My rivals were racing administrators everywhere that had been beating me down for years, and I wasn't going to take it anymore. When I say "everywhere," I should mention the caveat being in Lexington, Kentucky with Keeneland Race Course the glaring exception, a place where the game is played closer to where it should be played.

On October 24th, 2008 I purchased my Brisnet Ultimate PP's and sat down to what I always consider to be an enjoyable three hours of analysis for the opening day card at my profit center, Hollywood Park. For what ever reason, I do better at the Inglewood oval than any other, and in this game, that usually helps shape how well you like a track. When I awoke on the 25th, and discovered that the California TOC had blocked the signal to those wagering outside the state of California via ADW sites, I was livid. The switch had finally been thrown.

It was that dark day that I left the game I had helped support for years. No longer would I be the sport's pawn, readily sacrificed by factions in a house of cards divided. No longer would I wager hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. No longer would I be purchasing thoroughbreds and bring them to the track to race. No longer would I be sharing the joys that the sport brings to people across all sections of society.

For years I had resisted addressing the dark side of the sport, choosing to accentuate the positive and ignoring all of its flaws. I dealt with the foul-ups and mismanagement as part of the fabric of the sport, and pressed on. Racing isn't a game for the feint of heart, I would tell myself, and tomorrow will be a fresh slate. Truth be told though, the slate is never a fresh one, but the same battered one recycled over and over again, covered with a layer of grime that is merely polished at the close of each racing day.

Drug use, steroids, excessive taxation, excessive take, integrity of the wagering pools, and the general integrity of the sport need to be standardized throughout the industry. It is time to bring the sport together. States can keep certain distinctions to their product, but the sport needs to join together for the common good. Jurisdictions, horsemen, administrators, and horseplayers have to come to together on a level playing surface and pound out some realistic objectives. They need to realize that they are all in this together, and that a model needs to be created. I believe Keeneland is a good place to start in building that model.

Let's start off with something easy and long overdue. Let's ban the use of the conventional whip used in the United States. I can meet the jockey's halfway, and allow the use of the more humane whip used in Europe and in Steeplechase racing. This is a no-brainer, folks. It is the visual that has been giving the sport a black eye for decades now. Imagine the infusion of good press it could generate?

That is the first step forward in bringing this handicapper back to the sport. When that hurdle is scaled, I will present my second step, but I won't be holding my breath in the meantime. I'd be amazed if the whips were repealed in our lifetime, as the wheels of progress grind slowly in this sport. Next we'll look at the derisive divisions in racing between Administrators, Horsemen, and Horseplayers.

Until then, I will find a poker game to play in without much hassle, and with parameters that are well defined and well managed.

If you would like to join Hajck and us here at HANA, please sign up today.


Anonymous said...

"Let's start off with something easy and long overdue. Let's ban the use of the conventional whip used in the United States."

I've been playing this game for thirty years and don't know anyone who left It over the whip and that includes many woman.

The people i know who have left this game leave because the taxes are to high and the vicilities are not fit to bring a friend.

You can come up with a list of Ten things that would help racing before you came to banning the Whip.

Good luck

HANA said...

Hi A,

I think (I dont know since I did not write this) that "starting with something" means there is more to come. No, he did not leave the game about whips, but it is part of the whole picture.

We'll have a few more pieces in this series elaborating, I imagine.

There is currently a very good whipping topic at Pace, however.

Thanks for reading, and for the comment.


HANAblog admin

Hajck said...

In Reply to Anonymous:

Couldn't agree with you more, but like Dan G. wrote in a PaceAdvantage thread: I'm still waiting for the 1st person leaving the track stating, "I really liked it, but if they only beat the animals more I might be back."

It is a visual underlying condition of the sport that has to go away before the public will embrace it. Simply a no brainer, and first on my short list of sweeping reform that the sport needs to undergo.

Come on back next week and I think you will see that we are on the same page.

Anonymous said...

My first introduction to live racing was a rainy day at Prairie Meadows. The track was all but deserted, and during a brief break in the rain I went out to the rail to catch the next race.

What do I remember most about that day? The sound of the whips as the horses came down the stretch. Is the memory of that sound something that endears me to racing? Absolutely not.

Anonymous said...

Well done Hajck - This is a wonderful piece of writing that hits the nail square on the head!!I understand where you are comming from as i muself have been around the racing industry for along time! _ i regret to say that it is indeed a dying trade! Outside the whip issue - things need to be shook from the ground up!

I look forward to reading yr next piece Sir


Anonymous said...

To me the most important things that need to be changed are

1) Get rid of Lasix and all drugs

2) Drop take outs to 15% acoss the board

3) Cut off betting earlier so that odds don't change after the race has started- the appearance of past posting is infuriating

4) senseless DQ,s which the stewards everywhere seem to love making.

5) jockeys must be holding the reins in both hands while they use the whip.

I still have not given up racing, poker is a 2 hour bus ride away, but my enthusiasm for the great game has decreased,

Anonymous said...

I've been playing the horses for over 40 years now. You'd think I would be wise by now having bet close to 10,000 races but truth be told it's as hard a game as ever and two things are killing the game. The take-out and trainers still using illegal drugs. It's sad. Time for me to retire, can't beat this game, ever!

Anonymous said...

It is not the whip, but the pinhead using it. Watch Russell Baze beat up some cheap maiden claimer on a 3-5 shot to get second money. If you want the rider to beat up the horse so that you can get paid, he won't do it. I have lost many times on riders that cannot or will not switch the stick and the horse is taken down.

dontclose hollyp said...

Hajack, thanks for this article, it says a lot to the industry. As a fan it is frustrating to see our sport slowly sink in our culture. I was a teen at the track in the 70's so I've seen its heyday. We need computer whiz kids and sharp marketing people to help the sport. But, first, we need, as you said, to clean house first. Use of the whip, excessive takeout, drugs, all of those things need to be dealt with and soon!

Anonymous said...

"Racing isn't a game for the feint of heart".

Did you mean faint of heart?

You may think this mistake is unimportant but it's enough for me to not bother reading Parts Two & Three.

Hajck said...

Play on words, my friend.