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Monday, November 8, 2010

Merging Interests

If you go to a casino, it is clear what everyone's interests are.  Regardless of what game you play, each push of a button on a slot machine, roll of the dice, or hand played, it is the player against the house.  You win, the house loses.  You lose, the house wins.  While the games may not be straight forward (ever see a slot machine with 27 lines?), the result is.  I used to tell people one of the advantages of horse racing in general, and harness racing in particular is the track doesn't care who wins.  The track (and horsemen) get their cut (the takeout), and it is you against the other bettors.  Pretty straightforward.

That would certainly be the case if the track owned all the horses and the trainers and drivers were employees of the track, but unfortunately that's not the case.  The problem horseplayers have is their interests may be different from the horseowner's (via the trainer).  The gamblers objective is to pick winners.  If the horseplayer doesn't pick the winner, they don't collect.  The owner's interest is to maximize earnings over the long haul.  Depending on a horse's recent performance and ability, winning may not be in the long term interest of the trainer and owner.  This is not to say this happens often, but the potential does exist.

What needs to be done is to try to make the interests of the owner the same as the horseplayer.  How can this be done?  Replace the system of paying purse money through fifth place to paying purse money only for the top three finishers with a starting fee for the rest of the field.  Have a purse distribution of 60-25-15.  By eliminating purse money for the fourth and firth place finishers, it removes the profit incentive for finishing in those positions; it will also provide additional incentive for a horse to finish in the top three as the drivers will not earn any purse money for finishing out of the top three.

Owners and trainers will say not paying purse money for fourth and fifth places will make it harder to attract new and keep existing owners as it will be harder to break even.  Realizing a lot of money goes into maintaining a race horse, I do believe all starters should earn something to help with the cost of the keeping a horse in training.  My proposal is to pay each starter a fee equivalent to 1% of the race purse meaning at the Meadowlands, each starter in a $10,000 claimer where they race for $7,500, would earn $75 for just starting in the race; not enough to make money owning the horse, but something towards the upkeep.  By paying a 1% fee, it will encourage trainers to have their horses race in higher company as the starter's fee will be highere.  Not enough to help pay your expenses?  Make sure your trainer is racing the horse at the highest level it's competitive at and earn a higher starter's fee.  Fearful of a horse moving up into a class with no chance, say a $10,000 claimer moving up into a $40,000 claimer just to earn a higher starter's fee?  A racing secretary can establish a rule where a claimer can only move up one claiming level at a time off a top three finish and no more than two claiming levels off a win.  As for conditioned horses, racing secretaries already have the right to declare a horse non-competitive if entered too high.

Think what a purse distribution of 60-25-15 (59-24-13-3 if a race with a Superfecta) will accomplish.  Drivers will be more aggressive if they want to earn purse money; no paycheck coming for a fourth or fifth place finish, reducing the occurrences of a driver playing it safe to earn a check for the owner.  Trainers will need to place their claimers in more realistic levels as there will be no reward for finishing out of the money.  More horses will be ready at first asking as a horse won't be able to pick up a check while rounding into form.  Most important of all, horsemen's interests will be more in line with the people wagering on the races.  The way it ought to be. 

It's time not to reward mediocrity.  If a gambler can't cash in on a horse, there is no reason why the owner is.

Have  we seen the last harness meet at Prairie Meadows?  The Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission (IRGC) is meething this Thursday and one of the items on the agenda is the approval of racing dates requested by Prairie Meadows; thoroughbred and quarterhorse dates.  There is an agenda item to discuss this past year's standardbred meet but with no dates requested by Prairie Meadows, it is possible Iowa will no longer have a standardbred track with parimutuel wagering.  The IRGC can order Prairie Meadows to host a standardbred meet next year, but it may be a longshot at best.   

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