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Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Scourge Known as Elimination Races

This Saturday, a Cane Pace elimination is being contested at Freehold Raceway. According to the conditions of the Cane Pace, if more than nine horses enter the race, it is necessary to conduct eliminations. However, if there are not enough horses entered to ensure a minimum of six horses in each elimination race, byes are awarded to the highest money earners. Since eleven horses entered this year's edition, three horses (BG's Folly, Delmarvalous, and One More Laugh) have been issued byes meaning the other eight horses will be competing the remaining five spots in the final.

I understand, but disagree with the rationale for awarding byes. Freehold realizes five horse races do not make particularly attractive wagering propositions. It’s a shame race tracks aren’t as concerned with offering races where every horse is seeking to win, nor giving horses an unfair advantage in the final.

Harness racing still does not get it. Eliminations for major races are a can't-win situation. Were harness racing a pure speed sport like the quarter horse racing, eliminations would make sense; the fastest individually timed horses qualify for a stakes race. Unfortunately, standardbreds don't race this way so we have use various ways to address the dilemma of an excess number of horses entering a particular race.

What is wrong with the Freehold approach to the Cane Pace? By giving three horses the option of taking a bye, these horses get the advantage of taking a week off; something their opposition is not offered. As a result, come next week, the trio of horses given the bye will be fresher than their opponents possibly making it easier for them to be victorious. In addition, the eight horses competing for the five remaining spots main goal will be to finish in the top five so they qualify for the lucrative final; winning is secondary. Hence, handicappers are left to figure out if a horse will be trying for a win or just qualify for the final.

Other races do not use byes, but rely on elimination races alone. Tracks typically offer relatively minor purses for elimination races when compared to the final’s purse. Some tracks have tacitly acknowledged connections of horses may not be trying to win a race by offering a carrot to ensure a horse’s best effort by either allowing first place finishers to choose their post position in the final or by assigning post positions based on a horse’s finish in an elimination race. But even with the carrot, some horses are still not being driven to win, but to qualify.

The only time a horse should be given a free pass to race in a stakes race is in the situation of “win it, you’re in it”; a horse that wins a specific race is given an automatic berth into a stakes race. But even then, the balance of the field should not be determined by the outcome of an elimination race.

Races such as the Battle of the Brandywine are perhaps the best way to determine the field for a stake race. The top eight money earners for the year race in the stake race with consolation races based on money earnings taking place for the others. This way, horses need to perform to their best ability leading up to the race otherwise they risk not qualifying for the stake race. Another equally acceptable method is to offer divisions of a race such as done with the Oliver Wendell Holmes which was conducted on the Hambletonian card. Either way, horses will be performing to their best ability as it is all or nothing.

We know harness racing has a perceived integrity problem. The last thing tracks should be doing is promoting these perceptions by offering a horse an incentive not to perform to their best ability. Hence there should be a standardized format for handling an overflow of entries to a stake race based on a race’s classification. Stake races should be classified as Classic, Major, or Minor with the following suggested rules in place:
  • Classic Races (races such as the Breeders Crown, Meadowlands Pace, Triple Crown, or any other race acknowledged by the industry as being significant) - Entry spots may be earned by winning a designated race(s). Any remaining spots will be awarded to horses with the highest earnings in the current year. Consolation races are optional.
  • Major races (determined by the individual track) – Entry to the race will be limited to the horses with the highest money earnings in a specific year. Consolation races will be offered to those who don’t qualify for the main event.
  • Minor races (determined by the individual track) – Races will be contested in divisions, with the purse being divided equally. A track has the right to limit the number of divisions of a race, in which case, monetary earnings will determine the entrants.
The last thing we need to do is have people wondering if a horse is trying to win or not. Tracks should not be offering races which promote this thinking. It is time to clean it up.


riceownz2 said...

I do understand what your saying pacingguy, but what the cane pace has done is somewhat of a compromise right? They are running for $100,000 in the elimination. Is that not enough money to make entrants try and go for the win?
I do like the idea of major stake races doing like the runners and having entry to the breeders crown based on wins in X race.

Pacingguy said...

It's not really; it just worked out this way this year. If one more horse dropped in the box it would have been split into two divisions with both racing for $50,000. This stakes condition is really just a way to avoid a five horse elimination.

Also, this time of year, the 3yos are going full steam every week. I assure you the connections of One More Laugh and the others are very happy to have a week off mid-season to rest; something the others are not getting the opportunity for. Hence, an unfair advantage for the three horses given the bye.

MainelyPace said...

Exactly, agree 100% with what you are saying...The fact this is supposed to be part of our Triple Crown and that it only draws 11 horses is also sickening.

Maybe it really is time to make the M Pace part of the Triple Crown...