Dinkin on ‘Horseplayers’: We Do What They Do

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Jerod Dinkin is a 36-year-old proud father of two that has spent twelve years as a Director of Real Estate expanding two Fortune 300 retail chains. The 2006 Canterbury Park Handicapper of the Year is a seven-time HPWS qualifier, a three time NHC qualifier, and a Horseplayers Association of North America Board Member. You can follow Jerod on Twitter @J_Dinks.

The new reality television program “Horseplayers” (Wednesdays – 9 P.M. E/P – Esquire Network) has created a lot of buzz in the horse playing community. Oft completely overlooked, the betting customer is getting some long-awaited media coverage. Through commentary in blogs, twitter, forums, and countless other sources, opinions abound about the new show.


By now, most of you have either seen the program or read something about it, so the purpose here is not to reintroduce the show, the premise, and its characters, but to delve into the major sources of discussion in the Twitterverse / blogosphere / racing media. I’m a little surprised by the volume of criticism leveled at the show. The two major gripes seem to be as follows:

Criticism #1: “Certain cast members don’t have the handicapping chops to be representing horseplayers”

This is a) untrue and b) nonsensical. The point is not to find the best handicappers in the world and follow them doing 12 hours of work a day compiling data, studying past performances, creating figures, and quietly waiting for the right races to play to be profitable.  This is about entertainment to a general audience. The cast members selected for the most camera time include two NHC winners (John Conte and Michael Beychok), a group of contest veterans (Peter Rotondo Sr. & Jr. with Lee Davis), and a handicapper that has managed to finish second twice in the Breeders’ Cup Betting Challenge in Christian Hellmers. This group has the pedigree. The most important single aspect of this show is to find good handicappers that can hold the attention of the audience. Mission accomplished.

Criticism#2: “There are too many inaccuracies with the show”

Inaccuracies and/or embellishments are a complete non-issue. If you think other reality programs aren’t completely full of the same playbook tricks, then you’re missing the point. Yes, it may offend our horseplayer senses that the show listed Groupie Doll as 20-1 in the Cigar Mile to create more drama, but so what? The lay audience doesn’t know the difference and those of us that do should take it with a grain of salt.

For horseplayers to get any exposure whatsoever in a mainstream type of production is a positive, regardless of what the individual day-to-day handicapper may like or dislike about it. The show is intended to appeal to a broad audience, and in doing so, follows colorful characters in a general way as not to alienate a wider potential draw. It’s a “reality” show with the primary intent to entertain and it’s accomplishing that goal.

Peter Rotondo Jr., Peter Rotondo Sr., and Michael Beychok (behind in center) are cast members of "Horseplayers"

Peter Rotondo Jr., Peter Rotondo Sr., and Michael Beychok (behind in center) are cast members of “Horseplayers”

Heck, the show even managed to garner a somewhat positive review in the New York Times. Yes, the very publication that actually wrote in a November 24th, 2007 editorial that the OTB in the city is, “a system that encourages people to squander the rent money or, worse, their lives.” This is the same publication that employs sportswriter and serial opportunist /alarmist / self-promoter William Rhoden. Yes, that William Rhoden, the guy that called horseracing a “blood sport” and showed up on NBC’s Preakness coverage in the wake of Eight Belles breakdown to liken it to “bull fighting.”

The Human Side

“Horseplayers” has moments that exemplify how much the typical handicapper loves the equine athletes, and this is an important element to convey to the audience. One of the most misunderstood notions about us is that the horse is nothing more than a means to an end, a number on a Racing Form. After all, we’re just degenerates, right? I’ve been around some hardened gamblers and seen them cry when a horse breaks down – it means something to most horseplayers.

In one of the episodes, Peter Rotondo Sr. is practically moved to tears recalling having seen Secretariat live at Belmont Park in 1973. This is a big part of why we love the game, and this shouldn’t be forgotten. We all have a goose bump moment like that; my first was Inside Information winning the Distaff in 1995. Every so often I watch Rachel Alexandra’s Kentucky Oaks and can feel the hairs stand up on my neck.

Level Setting Expectations

I had a conversation with a friend of mine from college that is a true part-time horse racing fan. He plays the Derby and Breeders’ Cup and might make a trip to Saratoga every other year, but that’s it. His ADW account remains unfunded for the balance of the year. I received a text from him last week that read, “Have you seen Horseplayers? I’m pretty energized by it. I think it’s time to do some handicapping.” Therein promises some tremendous potential value – giving part-time players the impetus to come off the sidelines and jump in the game.

This time around, we need to avoid the hyperbole and unfair expectations that have been associated with past mainstream media endeavors revolving around horse racing. Instead of treating a movie (Seabiscuit), a television show (Luck), or a potential Triple Crown winner as helpful ways of boosting popularity, all three were framed as potential saviors to an industry. This is a misleading narrative. True change will come with bold institutional level action, not from 90 seconds of coverage on SportsCenter or a hit movie. Let’s take “Horseplayers” for what it is; an entertaining program that may boost tournament popularity and land some additional customers.

I really enjoy the show “Horseplayers” and I’m not just saying it because since my back appeared in the program for a millisecond. I’ve been to the NHC and HPWS several times and I constantly have to explain to co-workers and friends what these events are, how they work, and what they are all about. Now, perhaps I can say, “it’s what those guys on Horseplayers are doing” and just maybe for once, the lay public can finally relate.

This article is from the March 2014 edition of Horseplayer Monthly. To read the free issue that includes columns from Barry Meadow and Bruno de Julio, as well as interviews with industry participants like Larry Collmus & Jeremy Clemons, please click here

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  • Charlie Davis

    Good piece Jerod. All of my non horse racing friends are talking about this show. That alone is awesome.

  • PTP

    Love the “setting expectations” line. It won’t change the world, but it’s more fun than watching “My 600 Pound Walrus with Three Sister Walrus’s” or whatever passes for reality TV nowadays.

    Good luck fellas.

    PTP

  • salthebarber

    I will watch show for as many times they plan to show it. The characters real and edgy. The settings are good. I will say though it is tough to follow. My wife keeps asking me what is going on. I usually say “I don’t know.”

    • a thoroughbred admirer

      I agree totally with Dinkin. The characters are interesting –the New Age Calif. guy Hellmers, the longtime professional Conte, son of a bookmaker, and the Rotundos Jr. and Sr. I love Rotundo Jr’s bow tie and enthusiasm. The young novice player loves the sport. New fans and energized old fans is what the sport needs.
      We invest and love the sport and hope to see it thrive. This show can help.

  • Tinky

    I’d like to see them bet on a horse called “Honey Boo Boo”.

  • Matthew Martini

    Under Criticism #1: “This group has the pedigree.”

    That statement alone makes me laugh. I love the show. Oh, and I don’t know if I would find that pedigree admirable in anyone.

  • LongTimeEconomist

    I don’t know anyone who watches this show, though that’s mainly due to various cable companies that don’t carry Esquire channel.

  • The Other John White

    I love the show! Haters allways going to hate.

  • Mimi Hunter

    I keep hitting dead ends trying to find it. I’ll try again today

  • Tommy

    if they have jobs or they are using someone else’s money they are not the real deal .. if their bankroll is $200 they are not the real deal. i wanted to love it but was not expecting fiction

  • Big Red

    Why does anyone think a show like this could be a positive for the sport.
    The main characters (except for 1 or 2) are basically degenerate gamblers.
    Ask yourself, are these the kind of guys you would like your daughter to bring home?
    Would the track be your first choice to bring your mom to on Mothers Day?
    There are way more things that could make a day at the races seem tolerable for the newbie.

    • http://deafequinefanatic.blogspot.com/ Heidi Carpenter

      Actually yes, I would bring my mother to the track for Mother’s Day. Arlington Park in particular has a special day for Mother’s Day each year. You can set up a picnic on the lawn or one of the many picnic tables and enjoy a beautiful day at the track. I have a co-worker that takes her whole family to Arlington each year for Mother’s Day, whether they want to go with her or not! ;-)

    • Jerod D

      Herein lies the false narrative that horseplayers are mostly degenerate gamblers; which is one reason why track mgmt has neglected the customer. Mr. Beychok is a political consultant, Mr. Rotondo Jr. is a Breeders’ Cup executive, Mr. Rotondo Sr. and Lee Davis were currency traders, and Mr. Hellmers has a degree in engineering from UCLA. A lot of horseplayers are successful in other facets of life. I’m not implying that one cannot be well educated and also a degenerate, but I disagree that they are degenerate gamblers or portrayed as such. Who are we to pass judgement on what an individual does with discretionary income?

      • Avid Fan

        They may not be degenerate but they are certainly portrayed as such.

      • Avid Fan

        Degenerate was perhaps a poor choice of words, as it implies corrupt behavior–not level of education, Jerod–…and we don’t know if that’s true. But by no stretch of the imagination does this series highlight intellectual acuity (love the part about the old dude with his 22 year old brain surgeon wife. And John Conte’s wise guy act and greasy long hair. He must have gone to Yale.)
        And let’s talk about Peter Rotondo, “Breeders Cup Executive”. This is a guy with a bloated salary & expense account to match. Tell me again what fabulous media campaigns he has developed for BC?? The last decade has been a litany of failed promotions–”World Championships” “Ladies Day” (complete with free breast exams, which would only have been cool if they were doing “turn your head and cough” on Classic Day). Granted, Rotondo doesn’t deserve the blame for all of the failures. But the real fact is this: the Breeders Cup is only successful in the Southern California venue. Period. It does not attract a comparable crowd or handle in any other area, which is why you are going to see it run in SoCal for the forseable future. If Rotondo were worth that big salary & 5-star hotel & restaurant budget, wouldn’t the BC be so successful that the whole country could share it? You know, like the World Series or Super Bowl that have truly successful marketing campaigns?
        I will give him credit, though….he did manage to pitch this miserable reality show that enables him to collect two salaries and put his Dad on the payroll. As for the two currency traders, they ain’t John Magnier by any stretch.

        This industry is in trouble. It’s dying. The Hollywood Park statue of Seabiscuit will be standing in front of a condo development. Oak Tree is gone. Gulfstream Park is a shopping mall. We need to appeal to a much broader base of people with disposable income and corporate connections. Not just Bobby Flay & Kevin Plank, but their employees and executives. Women. Young professionals. “Horseplayers” only reinforces tired old stereotypes about the racetrack–stereotypes that drive away new fans.

        • Throwback

          Hi, Avid Fan (ATM). So harsh. Do you think it’s a bad thing that a new network invested their time and money in our “dying” sport?

          • Avid Fan

            That cable network is not investing any money in our dying sport–it’s investing money in promoting a Maxim lifestyle that fits their demographic, and they will pull the plug if the numbers drop the same way HBO did with Luck, which truly did showcase racing (and that was the problem–so few people attend the races that nobody outside the industry understood it). The people appearing in this series are not investing in the industry either–they are investing in their retirement fund.
            Because racing is in such decline, people trumpet every show that has a thoroughbred in it as a triumph for the industry. This show does nothing for the industry–it perpetuates a lot of negative stereotypes and does nothing to attract a desperately needed new fan base. If you like this show, good on ya. Just don’t try and convince me it will save the industry.

          • Michael J Fox

            AVF/ATM – You are so interesting, I would love to interview your therapist. In meantime, I think you may need a crash course in comprehension. No-one is claiming the show to be a savior. It’s a reality show centered around racing. I hope more of Hollywood types try and center more shows around racing. That would be a good thing. By good, I mean positive. Do you understand? Is the Maxim lifestyle a negative or a positive? I think one cast member drives a VW Beetle and the other sweats his $400 a month rent payment while one is a former NYPD officer and another is a married political consultant with children – not exactly MAXIM-esque. Anyway, to each his or her own. For you, I wish you joy but I do feel bad for your significant other. Oy vey.

        • RayPaulick

          Quite negative for such an Avid Fan. Any specific suggestions other than making Peter dine at Denny’s and sleep at the Budgetel Motel?

          • Avid Fan

            There is no worry about anyone on NTRA or BC payrolls sleeping at a budget motel (or budget anything) as you well know.

            There are many ways to market to new fans and new demographics. There is a ready-made fan base in the sport horse and sporting world, but we do very little to pull them in. Racing has no real, effective counter balance to the animal abuse/PETA/drugging allegations, many of which are grossly exaggerated. Racing does not speak with one voice on this issue…Doug O’Neill was hung out to dry without anyone in the industry attempting to put medication rules/violations into context. I promise you, the rodeo and QH world would NEVER let these comments sit out there and fester. Racing’s response is to jump in with a bunch of meaningless new organizations against “doping”, with Barry Irwin (really…?) as our spokesman for ethical behavior (those who know the industry, insert expletive here). As a result, the public is left with the impression that racing is rife with animal abuse, a view that seems to be championed by the New York Times.

            BC is a WONDERFUL and successful concept that has been embraced by horsemen worldwide. However, if you talk to the majority of citizens of LA, they aren’t even aware this great sporting event is being held in their back yard…..Why not??
            Have you been to Gulfstream lately? Ever talk to anyone at The Container Store? They don’t even know the track is there. Why not???

            Where is the industry media blitz ?? Where is our speaker’s bureau that can do outreach to schools and organizations? Let’s get equine vets to speak publicly and to groups about breakdowns and equine injuries and why they happen.Why doesn’t racing buy major cable TV time to promote what really happens on the track? With all the money the NTRA pissed away we could have bought a network.

            Ascot promoted a fabulous concept–group ownership syndicates that actually had their own private clubhouse at the track. It sold out immediately.

            Racing needs to have outreach that appeals to women and young professionals. The Turf Club should be a destination for corporate sponsors on a regular basis, not just for marquee events. So what do we do? We champion a reality show that enforces the public stereotypes that wise guy gamblers are the only people who hang out at the track. If the show had just been Peter and the younger more hip guys, it would have been far more effective. But the whole Dad’s Secretariat hard-on thing is way too Kardashian. Is that really how you want the public to see racing?

            Why not a TV show–even a local one (not just TMG)–showcasing breakfast at Clocker’s Corner based on what Dubai does? Dubai does know how to market racing, as does the JRA. The JRA tracks are destinations for young, hip professionals.

            Am I negative? You bet. I have watched racing shoot itself in the foot with the same tired, insular leadership for years. Huge amounts of money wasted, and frequently by people who blew unquestioned expense accounts entertaining their friends or flying around the country to visit girlfriends.

            Terry Lanni spent decades trying to tell racing we needed to do a Las Vegas-style entertainment revamp in order to survive, and no one listened. Vegas used to be the tacky venue that “Horseplayers” portrays….now it’s a major destination for all demographics.

            As I said, if you want to watch Horseplayers, go for it. Just don’t pretend it’s helping racing. This industry is contracting at a dangerous rate, and we can no longer pretend that the strategies or institutions we rely on are successful.

          • Big Red

            Wow, this may the BEST analysis on the current state of racing EVER posted on this site!
            Hang in there A.V. and keep it coming !

          • jack

            NYRA had a good opportunity with their new pk5 but Chris Kay and the boys put it in the first 5 races and killed it.
            NY had a $60 and $130 pk5 payout in the last week. No Carryover since day one!!!! As we know pk5 carryovers create big interest. These people are clueless on how to create interest in this sport.

          • Jay Stone

            What would you really expect when the people who run NYRA previously were In the upper echelon of academia and Toys R Us. With no due respect to Cornell and the highly intelligent world of Toys R Us they passed over a lot of racing people to get this latest group.

          • jack

            Agree, but you didn’t see anyone in the industry media or Horseman groups criticizing this dumb move did you?

        • PTP

          I’m not sure why the Breeders Cup breeds so many bad vibes. It’s probably one of the most successful post 1980 ventures in thoroughbred horse racing.

          They market well, they sink money into the brand (they pay for TV coverage and have for a long time) and it energizes bettors and casual fans long-after TC season is done.

          It’s difficult to create anything new in racing from a fan and betting perspective that creates mainstream marketing buzz and industry buzz that works. The BC has done quite well and continues to, as the fan base and betting base is falling.

          Just my 2 cents.

          PTP

    • Zippy Chippy

      I really wish we could purge “degenerate gamblers” from the horse player lexicon. I know that it is said tongue-in-cheek as a way of joking about ourselves, but how does it sound to people who AREN’T horse players? It makes it just a little bit tougher to attract new players who don’t know that it’s a joke. We’ve said it so much that they really believe that horse players ARE degenerates, and who would ever want to become a “degenerate”?

    • Big Red

      OK, I stand corrected as these may be the nicest guys in the world however the characters they portray (as this IS reality TV) encourage the stigma of a “real” hardcore horseplayer that unfortunately, in this day and age, is not held in high esteem in our society.
      If racing is to survive, we need to change this and not encourage it.

  • JohnnyB

    I enjoy the show and their different handicapping strategies. I do not like changing the facts, such as saying the odds were 20-1 when they were actually 2-1 just to add drama. This to me diminishes the credibility of the show. How is anyone going to believe that ” Peter Rotondo Sr. is practically moved to tears recalling having seen Secretariat live at Belmont Park in 1973″. Let’s keep to the real facts and not make this into another “reality show”. There can be enough drama just watching these enjoyable characters pursuing their dream.

  • Glimmerglass

    I’ve enjoyed watching it even though some of the edits/explanations doesn’t make complete sense. In regards to the cast they reflect more of the horseplayers that I know vs. stereotypes of old. Further you’ll never ever get a true whale to allow cameras to follow him/her around. Such a serious ‘wagering is my occupation not hobby’ type of person isn’t going to tip their plans let alone let the public know who they are.

    I liked how the long time players went up to Saratoga and sincerely love the place. Those guys get it – the chase and pursuit is great but they also appreciate the atmosphere beyond simply a wagering terminal.

  • Sophia McKee

    Thanks for the article. I’m pleased to say It has had measurable impact for Emerald Downs. We hosted a simulcast handicapping contest last year in February – received 50 entries. This year’s contest – 133. With a number of “newbies” trying it for the first time.

  • jazz mania

    All These so called reality shows are about nothing other than the personalities of the cast or “contestants” and all the resulting drama. They are popular for the same reason rush hour traffic comes to a standstill next to a minor accident. I’d rather a well written and acted sitcom or drama, but then it would mean paying professionals to turn out something other than the exhibitionist drivel train wrecks that pass for entertainment these days . I don’t hate em, I just choose to have an actual life. I got rid of cable TV in my house, now I have an extra 1800 dollars and countless hours a year to buy the form, hang out with my touting buds at a real track, play the ponies etc etc.

  • Avid Fan

    This show is unwatchable. I have been involved at all levels of racing since I was a child, and this show makes me want to RUN from racing. At a time when we desperately need to attract a new fan base, this is a show where the horses are just props–there is no investment in the animals or their breeding or ability. They are simply pawns in a betting structure. That would be OK–trying to attract a wagering crowd–if not for the fact that these bozos repeatedly lose large sums of money.

    Here’s what “Horseplayers” offers: tacky, common loud-mouthed white men acting as though they never made it past high school, living the “Maxim” life, going to the races in unglamorous surroundings, and losing money. Wow, what a draw.

    As a female, these are the guys I avoid at all costs. Corporate sponsor that is considering the Turf Club? Yeah, you want these mouthy fools at the next table. Pete Rotondo talking about the picture of Secretariat in his bedroom that makes him able to “perform”. EEEWWW. That image actually supplanted the image of Penny Tweedy & Lucien Lauren in my list of therapy-inducing brain images.

    And the best part? Pete Rotondo got to remain on his bloated Breeders’ Cup salary the whole time they filmed.

  • Buster

    The bar is set pretty low for racing if ridiculous inaccuracies are acceptable. In one of the episodes they showed a shot of a horse headed to the winner’s circle as one of the cast member’s was supposedly betting it. Then they showed the race.
    Continuity…who cares?

    There are many other’s but what’s the point when you are so starved for any attention, shows like these are applauded.

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