ROI, not win percentage, Casts Shadow on Gorder Contamination Claims

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TwinSpires Staff

April 23rd, 2015


The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has suspended trainer Kellyn Gorder for 14 months. He received twelve months for a positive Methamphetamine test taken from Bourbon Warfare after his victory at Churchill Downs on November 22, 2014. Gorder also received an additional two months when a subsequent search of his barn turned up syringes and unlabeled bottles of medication.

In 2013, Gorder served 20 days for a clenbuterol violation involving Bella Natalie on the August 10 card at Ellis Park. One race earlier on that same card, the Gorder trained Devious Intent upset champion and overwhelming favorite Groupie Doll in the Gardenia Stakes.

From a betting value standpoint, Gorder has been a sensational trainer. Throughout his entire training career, he's produced a flat-bet profit with his dirt horses, and he's done the same with his grass horses. That is an incredibly rare accomplishment for a trainer whose horses have made more than a thousand starts. 

What's more, Gorder had dazzling stats through 2014:

Dirt: 806 starts - 23% wins - $2.13 ROI
Turf: 337 starts - 15% wins - $2.35 ROI

However, 2015 hasn't been a kind year for the barn, as Gorder's just 12-for-106 with 11% wins and a $1.27 ROI. The barn surprisingly struggled at Tampa Bay Downs this winter going just 2-for-35 and producing a draconian $0.22 ROI. Even the stable’s best horse, Bourbon Courage, has had a disappointing year. He finished 10th of 12 in General George and 6th of 7 in the Commonwealth in his only two starts this year, and he was sent off as the post time favorite in both races. In fact, the two running line comments for Bourbon Courage simply read “Outrun” and “Never a threat”

I had assumed that Gorder is a trainer who isn't afraid to take an edge when he can. He's been especially good with route horses throughout his training career. In route races with 31-to-60 day layoffs, he's 79-for-342 (23% wins) with a 25% profit per dollar bet. In route races with 61-to-100 day layoffs, Gorder is 18-for-96 (19% wins) with a 69% profit per dollar bet.

While those stats indicate that Gorder is a walking, talking, money-tree with freshened-up route horses, he's also quite good with them off virtually no rest. Indeed, he's 9-for-37 with an eye-popping $6.55 ROI with Routers who come back within 7 days of their previous start.

Gorder explains himself through a released statement that the Blood Horse published as part of Frank Angst’s report on the suspension.

Naturally, I was skeptical of the contamination claim. Considering that we have millions of meth users, and a great many thousands of racers get drug tested each year, you would seemingly have to be the victim of truly bad fortune to be the guy who gets nailed that way.

In plain English, I believed this could be a case where a barn that has been playing with fire finally got torched.

That was the initial thinking from the mind of a cynical guy who has never done anything with his life but bet on horse races. A guy who knows nothing about Kellyn Gorder personally and is fairly an outsider when it comes to associating with horsemen.

Fortunately for Kellyn Gorder's reputation, he had some very powerful character witnesses quickly and decisively defend him yesterday. Of course it makes absolutely no sense that he would knowingly dope a runner with methamphetamine to try and win a Maiden race. He also wouldn't be the first good trainer to keep syringes and unmarked bottles in his possession, nor certainly would he be the first highly respected trainer to get nabbed for a clenbuterol violation. It could also very well be coincidence that his barn has slumped since being searched. 

And as for the stats, your typical horse racing fan generally doesn't care about betting value stats. They prefer good old 'Win percentage' stats. In their minds, the bad guys are primarily 'drop and pop' claiming trainers. The villainous horsemen being one who isn't afraid to pad his gaudy win-percentage stats by occasionally running an ouchy claiming horse down the class ladder. Kellyn Gorder has never been that type of trainer.

For me, the most dubious type of trainer is one I like to call an “alchemist.”  The textbook definition of alchemy is: “a medieval chemical science and speculative philosophy aiming to achieve the transmutation of the base metals into gold, the discovery of a universal cure for disease, and the discovery of a means of indefinitely prolonging life.”

However, I have simply stolen the term from European Turf writers from more than a century ago. At that time, American trainers brought the juice to England before it was outlawed and enjoyed so much success that they were dubbed the “Yankee Alchemists”

An “alchemist” trainer is one who sharply and consistently improves horses he or she acquires off of competent trainers. This elite class of trainer is capable of taking a common horse from a good trainer and turning it into gold. Optimistically, these are shrewd horsemen who can almost instantly figure out what is ailing a horse, and they will make that horse happy and turn his form around suddenly. These trainers have amazing help and splendid feed and supplement programs. Some even have top notch Ice Machines:

Pessimistically, these are horsemen who are steps ahead of the testing process. They have no problem taking an edge and using performance enhancing drugs on their horses, just as successful athletes in numerous human sports have had trainers who were willing to inject them for the short-term greater good.

One of the most alarming alchemists that I've witnessed emerge is a trainer named David J. Wells. This is what his training stats via ThoroGraph looked like in 2008:

Now, a 37% win-percentage doesn't mean a whole lot to me. Said guy can sure spot his horses well, but who cares?  However, the $2.91 ROI indicates an other-worldly 45.5% profit per dollar bet. What's more, Wells was already demonstrating the traits of a classic alchemist. It was as if he had a magic wand and waived it about, touching new acquisitions to his stable who climbed the class ladder sharply in some cases.

In 2010, Wells claimed a horse named Rapid Redux for $6,250 and trained him into the history books. People may forget, but respected handicapper & NBC Analyst Bob Neumeier actually cast his Horse of the Year vote for Rapid Redux. In fact, the connections of Rapid Redux received the Special Eclipse Award to honor their gelding’s streak.

Earlier this year, David Wells was sentenced to jail time for a doping incident at Penn National (Rapid Redux's lifetime PPs from are at the end of this post).

Make no mistake, Kellyn Gorder is not an alchemist trainer. I am certain he would never knowingly use simple Meth as a performance enhancer. Perhaps he's just a good honest horsemen who does absolutely wonderful work and through bad luck, none of his own doing, has found himself in a tough spot now. It's very possible and he certainly has many credible character witnesses to say so.

Still, as compelling as his character witnesses are, it's hard for detached bettors to not be doubters. On that note, I leave you with some wise words from a highly respected racing historian who was never afraid to write on the subject of doping in the glory years of the sport:

“In the old romances of chivalry, there occurs an episode that has taken infinite forms but always has the same central theme. A wizard comes to the court of the king with the most magnificent mantle ever seen. He announces that he will make a gift of it to the fairest lady of the court. But it has a magic property making it impossible for any beauty who has not also lived a life of perfect chastity to keep it about her shoulders. The king immediately takes it from the wizard and throws it about the shoulders of the queen, but he has not strength enough to keep it there, nor can her majesty, despite the most desperate efforts, succeed in doing so. Then one great noble after another essays to gain the magic mantle for his wife by putting her to the test. Not one can stand it. Finally, a high and mighty lord, hot with shame and jealousy, after his spouse has shared the general fate, draws his sword and attempts to cut down the wizard, but the man of wiles simply vanishes into thin air, leaving behind him a demoniac laughter and a series of domestic difficulties impossible of adjustment.

If some such test were applied to the trainers at some noted race tracks, it is probable that the result would not widely differ; for there are, to tell the simple truth, very few, however upright, that have not, at some period of their careers, tried out “the dope” at least once, if only for their own personal satisfaction.”

- Legendary horse racing historian John Hervey