Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to bet cowboys!
Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, Miles City, MT, May 20, 2007
On a beautiful Spring Montana Sunday I paid my excessive $11 admission, sat down on the bleachers at the Eastern Montana Fairgrounds, opened my program, and prepared to handicap the day's worth of racing at the 2007 Miles City Bucking Horse Sale meet. Ten races, so the program said, but the 3rd, 5th, and 9th looked a little funny. The races were listed as "Miles City Bucking Horse Sale Match Bronc Ride", and the horses listed, such as Wild Man, and Jumpin Jim, didn't have pp's as such, but comments, like "Steve Dollarhide receive a No Score on this horse at 2007 Clovis, CA Rodeo". And, all the rider names were blank. I studied and I pondered, but I couldn't figure out exactly what this was all about, except it must be some sort of betting on the bucking bronc rides that take place between races.
After a little while I spied Sam Murfitt, the executive secretary of the Montana State Board of Horse Racing, walking by, and I collared him to ask what this was about. He explained that this year, today, for the first time, they were going to offer parimutuel wagering on the bronc riding (which was already an object of a hefty Calcutta auction pool), with the "race" finish positions based on the riding scores the cowboys got. Win, place, show, quinella, tri, you name it. And the cowboys had just been named on the horses.
How fun! I went in and got all the cowboy names, and put them on their horses, and tried my best to match up a competitive horse description with a winning sounding cowboy description (these also had little stories about them in the program). Then, the Calcutta auction pool went off, and the 20 cowboys brought anywhere from $550 to $1800, with the owner of the top scoring cowboy to receive 33% of the total pool (after a 15% takeout to help fund the cowboy competition), with the owners of the 2nd through 6th cowboy to receive lesser amounts. These 20 cowboys were split into two groups of 10, and the two groups of 10 made up the 3rd and 5th parimutuel "race". Then the top 6 cowboys would advance to the finals, and be re-auctioned to ride in the 9th "race" (along with the option of "the horses", which would win if there wasn't three qualified rides in the last round, and all the toughest horses had been saved for that last event). Well! Sounds simple enough.
We had an exciting opening ceremony, including galloping rodeo queens carrying important flags like Montana, Coors beer, and some other sponsors, but this year there was special attraction with the U.S. flag, a young lady all in pink standing on her horse and trailing Old Glory behind. How cool!
The first two races went off and some horses won, but for me it wasn't soon enough to the 3rd, and some cowboy bettin'!
Well, it didn't go off quite that simple, starting with the first cowboy of the 3rd race coming out of the chute with the toteboard still saying 9 mtp, and no warning from the rodeo announcer guy at all. Many people were shut out, and I barely got my bet down. Then there was the issue of the 1/1 favorite cowboy in that race, who also happened to be the top wagering favorite in the Calcutta costing $1800, one Hugh Connolly, who was announced as having scored a measly score of 74-1/2, right up until about three riders later, when it was announced that his real score was 84-1/4, amazingly exactly 1/4 point high enough to take the lead in the competition over the previous high score. That seemed more than a little bogus. Quite frankly, I couldn't tell how these things were scored anyhow. It seemed more like a popularity contest than a measure of who rode the toughest ride, but what do I know.
Then, finally, there was the issue of re-rides. Re-rides happen when a horse doesn't do a good job of bucking and the cowboy gets a bad score, so he gets a chance to ride another horse and try to get a better score. The announcer promised us, "Folks, re-rides will be treated just like a scratch in racing. You'll get your money back." He promised us this several times in fact, and on two of the horses in my 3 horse quinella box. I had my entire quinella coming back. The "race" was declared official (finishing in almost perfect odds order with the favorite winning, 2nd choice 2nd, etc.) and the re-rides were left for a future time.
Sam was hurrying back to the building from the rodeo judges stand. "That was interesting", says he.
I strolled in to get my refund and bet the 4th. The machine did not give me a refund. In fact it told me, "Ticket not a winner". I took my case to a mutuel clerk, who had no idea, and she referred me to a mutuel supervisor.
"What horses were scratches in that race?", I asked.
"The 2, 4, and 7", she answered.
"Well, the machine didn't give me my money back."
"You won't get any money back", said she. "They're scratches."
"But scratches are refunds", I countered. "The announcer said so."
"You don't get any money back! They get re-rides!"
"Re-rides? But the race is already official!"
"They're scratches!" And that was her final word as she turned and left.
I wasn't real happy with that answer, so collared Sam Murfitt, a very harried looking Sam Murfitt, once again on the apron before the 5th.
I explained my concern. He looked apologetic and said, "We couldn't do it."
"Well", said I, "You better tell the announcer."
As Sam hurried away again to the infield judges booth, I thought to myself what I woulda shoulda said was something like, "Then how do you handle non-starters?"
This race, things went a little smoother to start, with some actual warning to get in and make bets. But wouldn't you know it, another couple re-rides, one of which was one of my bets, and sure enough the rodeo announcer, right there next to Sam in the judges box, once again promises, "Folks, the re-rides will be handled just like a scratch, you'll get your money back." Additionally, this time the re-rides took place before the race was declared "official", but the re-ride scores were not counted for the purposes of the parimutuel wagering. They were, however, counted for the purposes of the big money Calcutta auction pool.
I went inside right after this race when there were many other people in the mutuel lines, and there seemed to be a great deal of grumbling about not getting refunds. When my turn in line came, I asked the teller, "There's not really any chance this scratch is a refund, is it." "No", he answered with a pained look, "I don't know why they keep announcing it."
So there you have it. If your cowboy gets a re-ride, you're just plain f**ked, your money down the drain with nothing to show for it, even if he did his re-ride before the race was declared official, and no matter what was announced. It would be okay if that was explained up front as a risk in this sort of wagering, but something almost exactly the opposite was announced, and it seemed pretty cheesy the re-rides before official weren't counted for the parimutuel pool but were for the Calcutta.
My opinion was: I'd had just about enough of that nonsense, and cashed out with a grumble that I was leaving, which I did. Besides, I was getting a bad sunburn and already had enough beer, with a long drive ahead.
Pfui! Don't waste your time and money on parimutuel betting of cowboys. You're screwed, chump. Two thumbs down to that.