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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Where Are The Stakes Trainers? - A Couple of Opinions

When I posted my original column on the fact it seems only a few trainers get all the stakes caliber horses, I went to a couple of people involved with racing and asked them their opinions.  My concern regarding these few trainers seemingly controlling the vast majority of stakes horses is that it provides for an excessive number of coupled and uncoupled entries which I feel is not good for the sport for the bettor.  Yes, experienced gamblers may figure stablemates, coupled or not, may help each other, but they shouldn't have to think this way and the novices who the industry is trying to attract shouldn't be left in the dark to the possibility of teamwork in a horse race.  Experienced gamblers already have an advantage over novices due to their length of time in the game; they shouldn't get an advantage over a somewhat 'shady' practice.

Anyway, I am going to share the two opinions I received.  Since I did not tell them I was going to publish these comments, I will not be saying who provided these comments.  First let me share with you how I posed the question:

I would like your opinion, which is somewhat related to my columns on coupled entries.

Why do you think so few trainers get stakes caliber racing stock?  You see in many stakes trainers like Burke, Takter, Teague (there are certainly certain trainers in Canada who are always used) with multiple horses racing while other, more than capable trainers have no horses [racing in stakes].  In the old days, I don’t recall stakes horses concentrating with so few trainers.  Is it there so few people who can afford stakes horses that the horses naturally gravitate to the same trainer, everyone wants the hot trainers, and/or has it always been this way but there are so few tracks that can offer good enough purses that there is nowhere to send their second string horses to race at so they  enter the horses in the same stakes?  Or is there another reason?

With that background, here are the two responses.

The first response:

Owners tend to gravitate where they perceive success..   It used to be individual owners had individual trainers…  Nowadays with PARTNERIZATION the same people (Silva-Gewertz TLP Fielding etc) all take pieces with each other which inhibits competitive bidding..   In addition, trainers like Takter, Teague, Ford, Scknittker etc) tend to own portions of the horses they train often with the same group of owners…

Its what we’ve come down to.

His comments were interesting enough that I had to ask follow up questions: 

Is it just the partnerization that keeps getting  the same trainers the same horses or are they also buying up all the regally bred horses as well?  It seems to me the way Lou Guida commoditized racing when the Meadowlands opened, these owners are gaming the system to buy the most horses they can so they can grab the vast majority of the racino money.  They realized on their own they don’t have the power to grab the loot, but by partnering up, they have a better chance of getting the big bucks.

In my opinion this is not good for racing.  You get stakes races where they overload the entry box and you get two and three horses in race finals where they race coupled or uncoupled.  I don’t recall how many times a stable like Burke will grab the top three or two of the top four finishers in a race.  Legal yes.  Perception is bad.
Go to the old Yonkers Rule which allows a stable only two starters in the final and the nomination fees drop.  I think we need to get more stakes conflicting with each other so the second and third tier horses  race elsewhere.
This is so bad on many levels.

To which I received the following response:

What George Teague considers regally bred may not be what Jimmy Takter thinks…

It’s not so much the breeding as it is the overall “buzz” amongst the individuals, the videos, etc….   In that they all fraternize, it’s easier to take a piece rather than bid against each other….

It drives breeders crazy….  It’s also hurting insurance guys who used to insure entire horses but most owners don’t bother insuring their 20% of a $100,000 horse…

Personally, I think it’s destroying the business as even the fans have to question whether or not there is actually independent competition anymore…

They don’t do this in thoroughbreds…

This got me to ask one more question:

One last thing, maybe this is why no one advertises how it is a good time to buy a standardbred?  How do you compete against these groups when you know you can’t compete with these groups?  Sure you can buy overnight stock, but if you want to buy stakes caliber horses forget it.
The response:

 It’s a wonderful time to own a $20 claimer….   Not a good time to own and overpriced marginal stakes colt…..

The second opinion I received to my original question took a totally different tack with his response as his answer came more from the action of trainer's instead of the action of the ownerships?  The response he gave was:  
You see the same thing happen in thoroughbred racing. All the power is concentrated among a handful of trainers, Baffert, Pletcher, Asmussen. One of the reasons is that they have created super stables, and I think the same thing has happened in harness racing. Pletcher is based at any given time at four or five racetracks, which never used to happen. You no longer need a "B" trainer. Isn't it the same with Burke? He is everywhere. I also think that everyone is so numbers oriented these days. No one wants the trainer who wins 10 percent. That guy might be a terrific trainer who would win more if he had better stock, but he can't get better stock unless he gets his win rate up. He's caught in a Catch 22. All of these things make it very difficult for someone that doesn't have a big name and a big stable.
In a way, they are both right, but the second response doesn't appear to consider the fact of multiple ownership for individual horses. 
To me it seems harness racing has a problem with the way these ownerships seem to resemble syndicates rather than traditional ownerships where one or two people or groups own a horse; the ownership line read more like a large law firm name.  The problem comes when owners join multiple racing syndicates.  Experience seems to show at times that while these stablemates may each be racing to win, if they can assist a fellow stablemate in the process, all the better.  This is not a problem when it comes to coupled entries but when they are uncoupled, it presents an integrity issue. 

Uncoupling no doubt improves the wagering handle, but is it worth the sacrifice of integrity?

What do readers of this blog say?  When asked to name all the reasons why they think the same few trainers have most of the horses in stakes races the top three responses were:

  1. There are few owners who can own stakes-caliber horses and they send them to the same trainer.
  2. Success breeds success so everyone gravitates to the same trainers.
  3.  It's not an issue about trainers.  There are so few tracks which can offer big enough purses that all the good horses race at the same tracks. 

When asked to name the number one reason, the readers focused on the first two reasons above were named the most with the first reason being identified as the main reason.

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