Pull The Pocket discusses an interesting situation relating to a situation regarding Ideal Matters’ fourth place finish in a $26,000 preliminary leg of the New Jersey Sires Stakes at the Meadowlands this past Saturday night. In this particular situation Ideal Matters stayed back in the early part of the race which allowed soft fractions to be reeled off making it impossible for him to close to win the race. In fact, the fractions went so slow that he was unable to get in the money. No big deal is it? Well, to some people it is, especially when the horse is 2-5.
Coming into this race, Ideal Matters had taken three weeks off from racing. As a result, it is reasonable to assume he was not at 100% coming into the race. I certainly would not have expected him to be driven aggressively in a situation like this; it was more likely he would be driven conservatively, hoping to work out a trip to win the race. It didn’t happen. That’s racing and the while the owners of Ideal Matters may not have been thrilled with the outcome, they were probably accepting of the results.
Unfortunately, a large group of bettors have a different idea. They expect an odds-on favorite to be driven aggressively in every race. When this doesn’t happen, they feel cheated when a horse is driven conservatively and comes up short; especially when it finishes out of the money.
Here lies the biggest problem horse racing has; conflicting interests. A horseplayer wants the horse(s) they are wagering on to be driven to their fullest each start in an effort to obtain the best finish possible while the owner is looking to maximize the earning capabilities of their horse. Horses are not machines; they are living, breathing animals which are not always at 100%. There are times a horse can be raced aggressively and there are times you need to drive conservatively, looking for a trip and if it doesn’t work out; well there is next week. It certainly beats gutting a horse at 80% and taking a chance your $200,000+ investment will be spending stakes season recuperating on a farm.
Until the day comes when racetracks purchase horses and hires trainers and drivers as employees, racing will have to deal with this and manage it to the best of their ability.
One place these conflicting interests can be eliminated is when it comes to elimination races where the owner’s interest is focused on making sure they get a seat at the big dance. If you are going to have elimination races, they should be non-wagering events. Otherwise, what we should be done is mandate our major events restrict fields to the highest money earners (such as the Battle of the Brandywine) and our minor events should be raced in divisions instead of using eliminations to determine the field for the final.
As for a situation like Ideal Matter's race; perhaps what should be done is change the rules with regards to qualifiers Instead of our current rules requiring a horse to qualify if it has not raced in thirty days, we should require horses to qualify if it has not raced in fifteen days. This way, it reduces the liklihood that a horse needs to be raced into shape when bettors have their money on the line.