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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time to Rethink Stakes Scheduling?

You have seen it.  The big stakes race and on the bottom of the program you see the denotation about a couple of horses being in the same stable but racing uncoupled.  In some cases, you will see several horses listed.  For example, in today's sixth race at The Red Mile (The Allerage Farms Open), Ron Burke has three horses (Won The West, Foiled Again, and Atochia) out of the eight horses competing.  In today's, finale at the Red Mile, Jerry Silverman and Ron Burke both have two horses racing in the Tattersalls uncoupled.  In this year's Hambletonian Final, Jimmy Takter had three horses competing. 

Coupled entries are bad for harness racing as it makes races unbettable for serious handicappers.  Uncoupled entries are bad for harness racing as it leads to real or perceived conflicts of interest for stables.  What is racing supposed to do?

Stables like the Burke, Campbell, Coleman, Schnittker, Sylvester, and Takter's are very popular amongst horse owners.  One can expect owners to send their best horses to these stables to train.  While there are many trainers out there who are more than competent, you can't force owners to use these non-name trainers as it takes away from their ownership rights.  Besides, what good is this if owner John Doe sends two leading three year old colts to different trainers and have both of them show up for the Meadowlands Pace?  You have the same situation occurring, this time with owners having more than one interest in the race.

Well, why don't we limit the number of horses a stable can enter into a race?  Let's say in a race like the the Battle of Brandywine which selects its field from the top money earners amongst three year olds, the conditions are changed so only one horse from each stable can be entered?  What likely will happen is a mid-west stable with two contenders will give one of their horses to a Pennsylvania-based trainer shortly before the big race to skirt the rules.  After all, could you imagine a trainer training for two owners and telling one of the owners that their horse needs to sit in the barn while the other owner's horse is racing for a $500,000 purse?

The real problem we have is there are too few stakes options available to trainers that they are forced to send their first, second, and sometimes third best horses to race in the same event.  As a result, we get the big stables sending all their stakes caliber horses into one races which allows the top stables to dominate the major stakes events and filling the races with coupled or uncoupled entries which cause issues for the bettors.  In addition, it doesn't allow the smaller trainers to show their ability which perpetuates the problem.

What we need to do is arrange our stakes differently.  Each year the racing secretaries meet and try to arrange the stakes schedule in an effort to reduce conflicts between the major events.  The end result is races are laid out so the big stables can send all their top horses to one event after another which causes all these uncoupled entries and allows them to haul in all the purse money.  What we need to do is actually set up some deliberate conflicts to give the big stables more options for their horses.

What if the $200,000 Dan Patch Pace and the $100,000 Battle of Lake Erie were scheduled for the same day?   Most likely top stables would send their number one horse to compete in the Dan Patch and send their number two horse to race in the Battle of Lake Erie.  This would reduce the likelihood of entries in each event.  Yes, maybe Northfield Park, the host of the Battle of Lake Erie may not get the top FFA pacer, but the second best horse from a major stable is not exactly chopped liver.  Gamblers at each track will not need to worry about entries, the perception of stablemates helping each other is eliminated, and as a side benefit, it may actually make some of the purse money which comes from the local horsemen's purse account available to the local horsemen instead of being picked up by the out of state stables.

Other couplings could be the Adios and the Art Rooney, The Meadowlands Pace and the Battle of the Brandywine.  All races which could still be competitive without any trainers flooding the entry box for each race.  Instead of having a trainer pick up the purse money for the first three finishers in a race, it will allow some other trainer's owners pick up purse money as well. 

The bettors also get a benefit; more bettable races.  With the top horses being spread between different races, it gives the gambler more options.  Sure, the race winner may be none, but with the top stables sending horses to different tracks, what may be chalky exotic wagers may be less certain and better values.



Pacingguy said...

From an article on Harness Link today:

"In the $74,000 event for open mares, Buck I St Pat got second over cover from stablemate Southwind Wasabi on the final turn, then cleared to the front when that one broke stride in the stretch on her way to a 1:51.1 victory."

How happy would you be if you bet someone besides Buck I St Pat if you read the above quote? Was it dumb luck that the winner got the cover from her stablemate or not? A perfect example of perception causing problems.

Bob said...

The biggest problem with uncoupled entries is when they work together as did Won The West and Foiled Again in the Breeders Crown…

If they’re coupled, nobody cares….

Moreover, how can anybody in his right mind declare horses uncoupled due to bona fide separate ownership when THE TRAINER owns a piece of one yet as trainer is obviously in charge of both?