I recently wrote about the problem harness racing was having with too many coupled entries as a result of partnerships; a nine horse field with three wagering interests in the Zweig Memorial Filly Stakes being a prime example of the issue being caused by too many partnerships and large stables controlling the ranks of racing's elite. I offered The Solution in an effort to mitigate this problem in the future; by basically making it more attractive to have owners purchase yearlings instead of going with ready-made horses which leaves the blue blooded yearlings to these stables and owners to rule over.
That's fine but realistically, it will not solve the problem tomorrow. What can be done now? Clearly having too many coupled entries is a disaster for racetracks; it hurt the Meadowlands numerous times this past meet in late closing and overnight series where purses were under $100,000 as well as this now classical example of the Zweig Filly Stakes.
Uncoupling all entries is one option; it is done in California for all races and in New Jersey for high-value stakes where the racing commission allows horses to be uncoupled for super stakes (i.e., Meadowlands Pace, Hambletonian), and for major races ($100,000+) if there is bona-fide separate interests. But as Jay Bergman writes in the DRF, it is naiive to assume to uncoupled stablemates will race as if trained and/or owned by totally different people; when was the last time you saw an uncoupled stablemate hang out another?
Some will argue there is nothing wrong with uncoupling these horses, feeling experienced gamblers will figure a certain amount of teaming by uncoupled entries in their handicapping so it mitigates the problem. While this may be true, what about the inexperienced gambler; the one we are trying to get interested in racing? There needs to be some type of protection for them, suggesting they pay their dues before learning through experience so there is dumb money in the pools just doesn't work; it's not a good business practice. After all, it is one thing when you have dumb money because a person is not proficient in handicapping; it is another thing to have dumb money because these people don't know the dirty secrets of the game. After all, no one is going to offer a handicapping seminar and tell novices that they need to watch for the possibility of uncoupled entries helping each other.
In addition to limiting the number of stablemates in a race, Bergman offers a unique suggestion of guaranteeing a certain number of wagering interests in a race and allowing as many horses as necessary in the race to get to that number. In the case of the Zweig filly stakes, getting nine wagering interests would have required fifteen horses in the race necessitating a second tier. I like this idea but unfortunately there are problems with it, specifically the fact in a mile dash you would be hard pressed to get a horse in the second tier involved in a race that full. So while you may have fifteen horses, odds are those in the second tier would be going off close to 99-1 which for all practical purposes negates Bergman's plan. Also, just having a second tier alone would not solve the problem because the draw may put all the stablemates on the first tier while another trainer ends up in post position fourteen.
If we are going to guarantee wagering interests, the conditions would have to explicitly state only one horse per stable will be allowed in the front tier, forcing multiple stablemates to the second tier. While this would be a good solution on the surface, is the industry ready to face the unavoidable pseudo-boycott of these stakes races, the drop-off of nominations and payments by owners unwilling to make $5,000 in payments to possibly end up in the second tier?
The truth is you are damned if you do, you are damned if you don’t. The current situation is untenable. Rule changes either limiting the number of entries a stable may enter or sending multiple stablemates to the back of bus is going to hurt nominations to these stakes races which will result in spending purse money for races not worth wagering on. Treating the symptoms is not going to work in the long run; short term solutions seldom do. Fixing the problem's cause may take longer but it is the only way to solve the problem in the long term. Getting new owners into the yearling market is the key to fixing the problem.