I never thought I'd be caught saying this, but we need more stakes races in harness racing. I am not saying we need $1 million races, but we definitely need to provide more racing opportunities for our stakes horses. This is likely the only way we can eliminate the situation where stables are sending multiple horses to race in a single stakes race, remove the possibility of stablemates cutting favors for uncoupled stablemates, and actually open up more racing opportunities for horses.
Right now I hear overnight owners making the usual arguments about how more stakes races means less money for overnight races as you need to add money to these stakes races to gain interest and how money raised in one state will head out of state. However, when you look at racino tracks where money is being thrown around so much as in Pennsylvania where they were having $7,000-$9,000 two year old races in the morning it is clear these overnight horses can manage to race for a little less money and the owners will still be sitting pretty.
Let's take a look at our thoroughbred brethren. Almost each weekend, they have at a minimum an ungraded or overnight stakes race and there are usually at least one grade 1, 2 and 3 race being contested around the country. This flexibility allows the major thoroughbred stables the opportunity to ship and race their top tier horses in grade 1 races and send their second and third-tier horses to the lesser stakes. Often in standardbred racing, if you exclude sires stakes races, there is no more than one or two stakes for each group of horses (i.e., 3yo pacing colts) if there are those many, which gives these big stakes stables no alternative but to stuff the entry box with all their stakes caliber horses to compete in the same race.
There is no reason why these racino tracks can't have an overnight stakes race each week at their track which may attract some shippers as well as these tracks scheduling more stakes races for the various divisions during their race meet. All which is needed is coordination. Instead of the racing secretaries getting together trying to avoid conflicts, maybe it is time to have some conflicts between stakes. By all means, don't schedule multiple grade 1 type races to conflict with each other, but have multiple grade 2 or grade 3 type races strategically located around the country to allow multiple racing opportunities for these stables to send these horses to.
By doing this, not only do we spread out the cream of the crop around different tracks, we also give these tracks marketing opportunities. Some of these tracks may not be able to afford the best of the best, but they should be able to attract horses which would not normally appear at these tracks.
Does this discriminate against the non-racino tracks? Yes and No. The non-racino tracks will not be able to afford those many stakes races, but by taking some of the money off the table for the overnight horses at racinos, it may increase the availability of overnight horses to the non-racino tracks. It also allows some of the less known trainers opportunities to get into stakes races and develop their own reputations as a trainer who is able to handle stakes-caliber horses. More importantly, it eliminates all these uncoupled entries from stakes trainers.