As you are aware, Jeff Gural is leading an effort to keep the 4yos on the track in the belief stars need to be kept on the track longer. In an effort to do this, Gural is changing the conditions of the stakes at his three tracks to ban the offspring of four year old stallions from stakes he controls. Hence, starting with the three year old stallions going to stud this year, their offspring will not be eligible to races like the Meadowlands Pace in their first year of breeding. The only races at the Meadowlands, Tioga, and Vernon these horses will be eligible for are sires stakes; and in the case of the Meadowlands, the Hambletonian which is controlled by the Hambletonian society.
In what can be called a response to the declined power of the Meadowlands, breeders appear to be giving Gural what can be called an 'up yours' by having the leading (I won't use the word top to describe any of them) three year old colts retiring and going off to stud. Some may be hoping for the four year old exemption due to injury (though if they finished the season I don't know how thy would qualify), others don't care and figure thy will make a killing. Now, if reports are true, some of these syndicates may be unhappy as WEG appears to be joining with the Gural initiative. If they do, there goes the Meadowlands Pace, North American Cup and other races. This will mean the first year crop, assuming they still breed at four will likely go for depressed prices.
The breeders lament why should four year olds risk injury when the reward is so small, not enough races for four year olds to make it profitable? Many four year olds have a hard time racing against the FFAllers. Yes there are exceptions, but I will admit most four year olds tend to be cannon fodder, especially early in the year. What is needed is more four year old stakes races. So how do we do this?
First of all tracks need to cease schedule major two year old stakes races. If two year olds are going to be racing, it should be racing to learn. Maybe have some futurities, two year old sires stakes races at a reduced purse level from where they are now, with the added money diverted to four year old stakes events. Two year olds should not see the racetrack until July and when they race in overnights, their purses should be somewhat elevated from current levels and only race against two year olds; none of this two year olds drawing inside of older horses nonsense. The Breeders Crowns for two year olds should be eliminated. The aim for two year old racing should be to evaluate what kind of stock you have, hopefully recover your initial investment, and more importantly, not have any large stakes races which will keep a two year old racing when it should be turned out.
Three year old stakes racing is fine, but we need to have tracks add four year old events, divided by sex. The big change for all overnight horses (regardless of age) is the purses structure needs to be changed. Maiden races, non-winners of two, non-winners of three, non-winners of four races need to have significant hikes in value over at least the lower claiming races. Can you explain to me why at some tracks a $10,000 claimer races for the same amount of purse money as a maiden horse? The assumption is if you have an two, three or four year old horse racing in classes of nw4 races or less without a claiming tag, the assumption is these are better quality horses than those racing in claiming races so have the purses reflect it. By having these horses racing for more money, it gives incentive for horse owners to invest in yearlings (you can even have a condition on these races for those sired by 5yos and up) as it will be easier to recoup their investment and make a profit.
For four year olds, the added money which would have been used on most two year old stakes, needs to be added to stakes for four year olds, in some cases it means tracks need to create four year old stakes races. For non-claiming overnight races, there needs to be purse supplements for four year olds competing against older horses; even if it is only a 20% supplement through June. Since we would be eliminating the Breeders Crown for 2yos, Breeders Crown races for 4yos need to be re-established, giving four year olds the option of racing in the four year old or open events.
Some breeders are complaining about the lack of four year old stakes races. Well, it doesn't take long to create a four year old stakes race. Admittedly, if you start one now without the opportunity to have nominating fees in the yearling year and sustaining payments over the years, they may start smaller and grow larger in value over time.
Finally, I would like to see an exemption to the ban against the offspring of four year old sires. Should a four year old make at least fifteen starts as a four year old, their offspring would be eligible to stakes races. This would allow the horses to be breed as they do in Europe; breed and race.
I think people give Gural to little credit for his proposal. As usual, the issue becomes a divisive issue between breeders, track operators, and those that race horses. In this sport, trying to get these groups to agree on anything would be like trying to solve the Middle East crisis. Gural