By Bill Finley
Michael Beychok has been one of the most visible horseplayers in the sport for a while. He's a winner of the National Handicapping Championship, a horseplayer advocate and a public handicapper for the New Orleans Times-Picayune who has spent the better part of his life betting on the horses. Just not for much longer.
Beychok, who is the leading figure in a class-action lawsuit filed by gamblers who say they would have made money on the 2021 GI Kentucky Derby had it not been won by Medina Spirit (Protonico), says he has grown so disillusioned by the sport that he will stop betting on a regular basis after attending this year's National Handicapping Championship. His future bets will be limited to the handful of times he attends live racing.
“I'm just fed up with the drug cheating,” he said. “I'm fed up with the takeout. I'm fed up that we apparently can't get into a position to implement new and better drug testing. I have more outlets now to gamble. I live in Louisiana, which was a state, up until last year, where the only thing available was horse racing. Now, there is daily fantasy sports, which I enjoy, and the takeout is much, much better. Soon we will have on-line sports betting. I am a consumer. I have just found better products.”
Beychok made headlines last year when filing a suit against Baffert, contending that he would have made more than $50,000 on the Derby had the race been won by Mandaloun (Into Mischief). Mandaloun finished second behind the Baffert-trained Medina Spirit, who tested positive for the banned race-day medication betamethasone. He wants the court to rule that Baffert must compensate gamblers involved in the suit who would have cashed if Medina Spirit did not win.
“My first motivation was as a gambler,” he said. “I was kind of pissed off when it was announced he was positive for a banned race-day drug. Looking back on what had happened in the past with some of Baffert's positives in major races, I just knew that nothing was going to happen. I felt I had to do something because I didn't think anyone else would. I decided I wasn't going to take it anymore. I was going to do something not only for myself but for the more than 250 other bettors who have joined our class action. We're tired of being defrauded by Bob Baffert. In big races, his horses keep turning up positive.”
Beychok insists this isn't about the money.
“Any money that I get from this lawsuit, I'm donating to Thoroughbred aftercare,” he said. “I'm not putting a penny of this money into my pocket. Hopefully, I do get paid. But what I'm trying to do is to raise the point that we cannot, in a game of chance, on a game of gambling, let anybody, be it Bob Baffert, Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro, defraud us as bettors.”
Baffert's legal team has fought back and is seeking to have Beychok's suit thrown out. In a court filing last week, Baffert said Beychok's allegations were libelous and called his actions a matter of a “tinfoil conspiratorial premise.”
“That was for public consumption,” Beychok said. “That's all. I just laughed at it. The judge will look at the law and decide if applies in this case or if it doesn't.”
Beychok said he's not surprised that Baffert is putting up a good fight.
“Bob Baffert is very good at this and he has a very good PR machine,” he said. “He's good at it because he had to do it so many times over the last 15 years when his horses have tested positive. He's got to come up with an excuse, a PR campaign. He's good at this stuff and so are his lawyers.”
Beychok said he would like to see Baffert issue a mea culpa.
“My hope for this game that I do love is that he does what Lance Armstrong did,” Beychok said. “At some point, he needs to come clean and tell the truth. That might preserve some of his legacy.”
While about to step back, Beychok said he's willing to give horse racing another chance, that is if there are meaningful changes.
“I hope it changes because I love the game and the people in it,” he said. “I hope everything changes and I can say I am back. If I ever feel like this is a fair game I will come back.”