Dinkin on ‘Horseplayers’: We Do What They Do

by | 02.27.2014 | 3:48pm

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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