In what is hailed as great news, the Little Brown Jug Society has announced that for the year 2011, if nineteen horses are entered into the Jug or Jugette, the elimination races will be carded as fields of six, six, and seven instead of the prior method which would have two fields with second tier horses; a field of ten and a field of nine. Starting in 2012, the total number of entries will be limited to twenty-four horses based on earnings so there will be no trailers in any eliminations. Also, starting this year, there will be no race-off for the Jugette; the winner of the second heat will be winner of the Jugette (the race-off for the Jug continues).
Once again, the rules of the race has been altered to accomodate owners and trainers complaining about the second tier. Now, to be honest, as much as I enjoy the Little Brown Jug, I could care less about these types of rule changes occuring at a fair that races five days a year. My problem is with the extended pari-mutuel tracks who accomodate certain connections as if they were spoiled little children (yes, I said that) who threaten to take their horse home instead of entering into a race which they may draw the second tier. By accomodating these horsemen, all they do is put on an inferior product for the customer, chasing them away to the next gambling product.
As Bob Marks, states in the February edition of HoofBeats Direct:
Races need to be exciting and entertaining. One need not be a rocket scientist to conclude that the incumbent style of racing has been a contributing factor to the apathy level harness racing currently suffers amongst its dwindling fan base....there’s no question that the actual racing must appear to be a bit more visually competitive than it so often does....
Five and six horse fields are not exciting. In addition, due to complaints of horsemen regarding the second tier, the gambling public must deal with eliminations the prior week. How often do we see horses put in subpar efforts in eliminations which are not worth wagering on, yet they come alive the following week? As Marks says:
Yes, we all want “horse” to come back with [enough] for next week’s race and that would be fine if we raced only for ourselves. Unfortunately, that way of thinking is in direct contradiction to the requirements of the betting public. After all, once the bet is lost, it is lost.
Then, too, there are those seemingly endless successions of poor betting propositions, ..., the endless array of marginally competitive stake eliminations ....
You can read Marks' complete comments in the February edition of HoofBeats.
I understand the horsemen racing at slot-supported tracks don't care about the customer because if they did, they'd offer the betting public full fields so there would be a product worth wagering on, but they don't. Instead, they complain about all the fees they paid to get into the race only to draw in the second tier. Granted, if I owned a horse I'd rather be racing on the gate than following another horse up to the start, but I also know without anyone watching the races and betting on them, there won't be no race to compete in. Sometimes you just need to suck it up and try to make lemonade out of lemons. Just look at Prairie Meadows which will be loosing their harness meet after 2011 and Iowa horsemen who will be racing exclusively on a fair circuit because there was little wagering or interest by the gambling public.
Unless horsemen are going to agree to racing in divisions or limiting entries to the top money earners, horsemen need to take one for the team. That being said we can compromise, offer compensation to the owner which draws the second tier. For example, the Hambletonian has a $12,500 starting fee for eliminations and another $12,500 for starting in the final. Let's say the 2012 Hambletonian draws 12 entrants. Right now, the race would be divided into two six horse fields. What if the elimination wasn't divided and there was only one elimination race with the two horses drawing the second tier receiving a refund of half their starting fee for the elimination to compensate them for racing from the second tier?
There are creative ways of handling the second tier yet meeting the needs of the wagering public. Rather than complaining about the evil of the second tier, why not use that energy to come up with a solution which satisfies everyone?