I have a good friend: an aging, slow-moving, sour-old horseplayer who frequents OTB parlors and race tracks around the country. While he has a solid love of the sport of harness racing, he thinks all drivers are scoundrels and that every race is fixed. Every race, that is, that he loses money on. For the sake of this story, we'll call him Mr.Big.
Mr. Big has the idea that drivers manipulate their mounts for the sole purpose of causing him to lose a bet. "He's stiffing that horse," Mr. Big will announce loudly in a crowded dining room for all to hear, or "Why does he always pull back on the horse in the stretch like that?"
Whenever a driver fails to win a race Mr.Big thinks he should have won, it becomes an instant reason for castigation, or castration, in many instances. After Mr. Big blows a couple of bets on a nameless reinsman, he forever becomes enshrined in his personal Hall Of Shame.
What's amazing about Mr.Big, is that he's not alone. In fact, he shares the company of many crusty horseplayers who struggle each night to find their spot in the grandstand, clubhouse or dining room. These folks never seem to notice that there are horses involved, or take into account who the trainer is. No, it is, and always will be, the sole responsibility of the driver to make sure he or she brings in Mr. Big and friends numbers right where they bet them to be.
Unfortunately, they are a great majority of regular horseplayers who, after years of gambling, still do not really understand the game of harness racing. These players who bet solely on the drivers are forever losers. Either they are too lazy or too ignorant to learn the backwards and forwards of the sport, they consistently whine and cry about losing money after investing it in a cause they actually know very little about.
Which is great for the rest of the us, and especially for those true "horseplayers," who make a living out of gambling on Standardbreds. After all, if all the gamblers were serious professionals, there wouldn't be much money to go around at the windows, and the tracks would soon be out of business.
As well, this is not to sound as though I am naive enough to believe that drivers have never cheated or "stiffed" a horse. On the contrary, where there are large amounts of money involved, there will be cheaters, and those few bad apples trying to beat the system. However, having both driven and trained harness horses, I can say that it would be much easier for a trainer to affect the outcome of his horse's performance in a race, than it is for the driver to do so.
Drivers can make mistakes in a race, and Mr. Big will be right there to point it out. Especially if he has said driver as part of his trifecta. But overall, drivers are trying to win, they're trying to give their horses the best trip around the track, and they're trying to stay safe, and make the owners and trainer some money at the same time. So when Mr. Big snarls and cries over losing his $3 trifecta-box, I ask him why he doesn't grab a whip and sulky and try his hand at driving.
"Too easy," he grumbles between handfuls of over-buttered popcorn, "I'd make the rest of them look bad, and it wouldn't be good for the sport. The other drivers wouldn't stand a chance with me out there, because I'd win every race." ...Spoken like a true loser, with nothing to learn, and certainly a lot more to lose than just his $2.00 win ticket.