On Sunday night, Schoolkids won the Matron Stakes for three year old pacing colts for Bulletproof Enterprises, winning in 1:50.1. While this is newsworthy in its own right (the video replay is at the end of this entry), this race exemplifies a problem harness racing has; the coupled entry.
This year the coupled entry problem was put into the spotlight as a result of the prominence of Bulletproof Enterprises this year. Let me state right here, this has nothing to do with Bulletproof. Whether an entry is a result of common ownership or trainer, coupled entries are hurting the sport. The Matron had an eight horse field and Bulletproof Enterprises had three of the horses in the race. As a result, what could have been a bettable race with eight betting interests became a six betting interest race which many gamblers passed on.
Everyone loses with coupled entries. When it comes to added money events, it is the horsemen that put up the money via their purse account. When you have one or two coupled entries in a race what do horsemen get for their money? Races without place or show wagering; no trifecta or superfecta wagering meaning the local horsemen don't get the full benefit of their 'investment' as a result of decreased wagering. Track operators lose out as well due to decreased wagering. The gambler loses out as well. A bettable race may become unbettable; a person who plays trifectas or superfectas may now find the wager unavailable; they may find a horse they liked who may have been 6-1 if uncoupled, now 2-5 because it is coupled with a bearcat.
The problem goes past added money events. The problem is more pronounced in overnight events. How many times do you see a race going with a short field yet a trainer has a horse that fits the condition sitting in the barn because he/she already has a horse entered in the race and the track won't let the trainer race two horses in the same race. This is wrong. More betting interests make races more desirable to bettors. Anything we can do to make races more bettable should be done. After all, who wants to see a parade of odds-on favorites winning in short field races; especially if it is a result of coupled entries?
We should be getting rid of coupled entries in all races, stakes or overnight events. By all means, if a race is split, seed horses that would have made an entry into different races. Too many horses entered into a race, but not enough for a second race? Give preference to horses that would not have made an entry. However, if you can't make a race with a full field, welcome a second entry by an owner and/or trainer.
Yes, there is a possibility that a trainer may attempt to 'team' up their stablemates in an effort to ensure one of the horses wins the race, sacrificing another stablemate in the effort. I am not naive. Before you uncouple entries, you need to modify the rules to make the penalty so severe that a trainer or owner would not dare team up horses for the benefit of a stablemate. Find horses teaming or giving a stablemate an unfair advantage? Make the owners of all horses in the uncoupled entry forfeit their purse winnings and fine the driver an amount they won't forget (something like three times the amount of money the first place driver would earn or $5,000 whichever is higher) and give them a long vacation.
Cal Expo allows trainers to enter more than one horse in overnights and they are uncoupled. If it can work in California, it can work elsewhere. Gamblers expect to be able to bet their exotics. When you deny them the opportunity to make their wagers, you are giving up revenue and possibly losing a customer. I don't know of any successful business that willingly gives up revenue, why are we?