In the April edition of Hoof Beats, there is an article on the pros and cons of the classified system. Under the classified system of racing, the racing secretary determines the class of a horse in an effort to make races more competitive. Win and a horse moves up into a higher class. Perform badly and a horse moves down to lower company. The classified system requires a racing secretary to make decisions in classifying a horse versus the conditioned system of racing where horses race themselves into different classes based on money earned.
Running Aces in Minnesota has used classified racing since they opened and Tioga Downs will be introducing it this year. Apparently, some other tracks are watching to see how classified racing is received at Tioga Downs. Can classified racing save harness racing? On its own, of course not but it can help make racing a more attractive product. While the number of favorites winning may not decrease significantly, favorites tend to pay more under classified racing. You can't attract people to gamble on racing when a lot of horses pay less than $6.00 to win. Higher paying favorites mean exotics tend to pay more.
Some people will argue a racing secretary can unfairly classify a horse into a higher or lower class than it belongs. I imagine in theory this could happen, but then again, have you never seen a conditioned race written with an also eligible condition which seems to have been written to allow a horse to fit the condition? If a trainer thinks a racing secretary has classified their horse incorrectly, there is always claiming races where the trainer and owner set the claiming price.
What about the fear that a trainer may instruct a driver not to race to win in order to remain in a lower class where it can continue to pick up checks instead of racing in tougher company or to drop into lower company so it can win? It would be naive to think this hasn't happened in the past, but it would be equally as naive to think trainers are not doing this with conditioned racing. This is a false argument as there are trainers who will attempt to game any system of race writing. I would argue classified racing provides a racing secretary a tool to discourage such gaming. A single win should not automatically require a horse to advance, and a poor effort should not automatically require a horse to drop. Knowing you may not be collecting a check for a few weeks in an effort to find a softer position should reduce the temptation to game the system.
Does classified racing encourage mediocrity? Granted with the racing secretary assigning classes, the likelihood of a horse being able to dominate a particular class is reduced; thus spreading the purse money further around amongst more horses but this does not encourage mediocrity. Like our lower conditioned horses, there will be more lower class horses as well so it will be harder to get those horses raced. Therefore it will be in the interest of the owners and trainers to either upgrade their stock or send their lower classed horses to other tracks where they would be more competitive.
A benefit of spreading the money around will be more owners will be able to show a profit which will encourage horse ownership. Having a sport where a few trainers and owners dominate a particular track does not provide a superior product benefit and is not in the sport’s best interest. With more trainers having success, owners may not feel it necessary to send their horses to questionable trainers in an effort to show a proft.
What we will have is a better product to offer our fans/gamblers. More evenly matched races with photo finishes will serve our sport well versus seeing odds on favorites winning by open lengths to often. Anything to make our product more exciting should be encouraged. We don't need ho hum races.
It should be interesting to see how classified racing is received at Tioga Downs. Clearly conditioned racing is not working; maybe classified racing is what we need. Hopefully, horsemen will be willing to give it a chance.