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Monday, June 24, 2013

Elimination Races and Their Problems

Regular contributor Joe F. talks about the problem with how elimination races are set up.  I have my own opinions on this and you will find my comments at the end of Joe's comments.

Dean Towers wrote a piece in Sunday’s edition of HRU about the sport’s tendency to govern stakes races in such a way that many of the best horses are eliminated from finals, or handicapped to the point that they may as well have been eliminated. His most extreme example is the Jug, which he says is more a post position event than a racing event. Amen to that. I thought I’d take a look at this issue in the context of Saturday’s elimination round for the Beal, Hempt, Lynch and Franklin at Pocono Downs. All elimination races were open draw, and the finals will be the same. There were two for the Lynch, with four fillies from one and five from the other making the cut, while the other three stakes each called for three elimination splits with three advancing from each.
If the eliminations were seeded, for example, the second Lynch division would not have last year’s champs, Nitelife and Rainbow, knocking heads. Ideally those two would have been separated. Charisma Hanover, a third place finisher from the outside post, was also in that division. Favorite, Shebestingin, was second from the outside in the first split.

What horses that we would want to see in the finals have been eliminated? PASS high roller, and last year’s Peter Haughton winner, Aperfectyankee, is out. Trainer-driver, Jim Oscarsson, had him floundering on the rim during a competitive opening quarter and he eventually broke stride. Smoother Ride, the Yankee Glide colt Sears pressured Corky with in the second division, finished fifth and is also out of the Beal final. And Jurgen Hanover, the 3/2 second choice to Smilin Eli in the third division, a colt that rode a seven win streak into Saturday’s elimination, is also out.
What colts made the cut in the Beal that could reasonably be termed shockers? Crystal Phenom, a fractious Broadway Hall colt that hasn’t been racing this kind and went off at 60/1, is a head scratcher. Piece tripped him in. He also got 80/1 shot, Fico, a colt with one lifetime win, against nw2, into the final. And Charlie Norris got 75/1 shot, Picture This, into the final. One can assume that most would prefer to see Jurgen, Smoother and Yankee in the Beal final.

Lonewolf Currier, winner of a recent 80K PASS race and second in the Rooney, is out of the Hempt final. He was the 2/5 favorite in the first division. Wake Up Peter, the 3/5 favorite in the second division, is also out.

Golden Receiver was last in his Franklin division and Rockincam also got knocked out of that first split. Sweet Lou, the favorite in the second division, broke on the first turn, and second and third choices, Heston BC and Fred And Ginger also got knocked out. Clear Vision, Our Lucky Chip and Modern Legend did survive. No Sweet Lou or HBC in the final. That hurts.

Another way to go is to make it a single day event with lifetime earnings determining the field; the RWJ and Artiscape are examples of this method. The Battle of Brandywine, Colonial and Valley Forge also rely on earnings, with a couple of consolation races for those with smaller bankrolls also carded. One problem is that this method doesn’t make an allowance for the new kid on the block. Smilin Eli, the Muscles colt that has propelled himself to the top of the division—at least until Wheeling N Dealin comes out from under the bed—off of three lifetime starts, would not qualify for the final on the basis of lifetime or year-to-date earnings. Yet, the very ordinary, Caveat Emptor, would qualify. The same would be true of pacing phenom, Word Power, who can choose between the Hempt or the Summer Survivor final on Saturday.

If they went by earnings, aside from Eli and Word Power, the winner of the first Hempt division, Emeritus Maximus, wouldn’t qualify, and neither would Sunfire Blue Chip, the winner of the second. Only one non-millionaire—Fred And Ginger—would make the Franklin final, so Dynamic Youth and Razzle Dazzle, winners of two of the three splits, would be out.

What about a sophisticated seeding system that takes into account the source of a horse’s earnings and attaches a value to it: what SS program was the source of that money and what is the the degree of difficulty involved in building a bankroll in that particular state? What about open money?

Most of the cash and ribbons won by the horses entered in the Beal, Hempt and Lynch elimination
round is from state bred events. Privileging the restricted races in one state or province over another would be the equivalent of tip toeing through a mine field. All of the restricted programs are fueled by fantasy, so any attempt to weigh the value of one against the others is doomed to failure. They wouldn’t stand for it.

I can’t say that post position was a major factor in eliminating the most worthy candidates from the Hempt, Beal or Lynch. Although the outside post draw did seem to impact Sweet Lou, Heston BC, Duer and Kingcole in the Franklin splits. That being said, post position was a major factor in Shebestingin, Word Power, Cheddar and Sweet Lou not winning. It was the same old story: go out fast, take a snooze, come home fast. Six of the eleven eliminations featured second quarters in :29 or above. There were six sub :28 final quarters and four that went in under :27. This led to a situation where eight of the eleven winners were placed first or second at the three-quarter mark and only Foiled was not first or second at the stretch call.

So Jurgen Hanover, Aperfectyankee, Lonewolf Currier, Wake Up Peter, Golden Receiver, Rockincam, Sweet Lou, Heston Blue Chip and Fred And Ginger won’t be entered in next week’s finals. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things, but I detect an undercurrent of hopelessness and despair in Towers’ plea for seeded eliminations and open draw finals. Maybe it’s just me.


I'm back with my take on this issue.  As many of you know, I feel elimination races are a scourge on the sport; opportunities where we show at times that 'this week doesn't count'  Some will argue the experienced gambler will factor this in to their handicapping but the last thing a handicapper should have to consider is whether or not someone is saving themselves for next week as it implies a lack of effort which should turn any horseplayer off.  

That being said, eliminations are here to stay for the foreseeable future.  Let me state it clearly, there should never be assigned post positions; be they eliminations or finals.  The open draw should always be used  One should never have to 'coax' a good effort out of a horse in order for them to put out their maximum effort.  You may say why should a horse who wins this week get saddled with post position eight on a half mile track in the final?  I would counter and ask why should a horse that was saddled with post position eight in the elimination and raced their heart out to finish fourth and qualify be rewarded with post position seven or eight automatically in the final?  Each race should stand on its own

As for seeding races, the problem comes with the coupled entry rule.  Some races allow for seeding but at times horses are assigned divisions to avoid creating a coupled entry  Hence, by avoiding a coupled entry, one race may have an unfair share of top horses competing versus another.

Where I disagree most is that the marquee horses deserve preferential treatment over the unknown horses.  If you pay to get into the race, all horses should be treated the same.  If we must seed races, it should be done as impartial as possible.  This is how I would recommend doing it.

When determining who gets into a race such as the Battle of Brandywine, I would look at unrestricted earnings with 3yo earnings counting twice as much as earnings as a two year old.  The same rule would be used for races with eliminations, the only difference is with seeding, determining which division or elimination one gets into should be done by a random draw.  After all, it is in the bettors interest to be able to assume there was no 'easy' division.

You may notice I mentioned unrestricted earnings.  What does that mean?  Earnings in sires stakes, or races otherwise restricted by place bred or horses with certain other lineage should not be considered when seeding or deciding which horses get to compete; it is the purse money from those races open to all which should be considered.  You could have earned $300,000 racing against PA-sired horses and that is fine and dandy, but if all you did was earn another $50,000 in open company a horse who earned $100,000 racing only in overnights deserves to get into the race, not the one dominating the state bred horses in whichever state. 

1 comment:

Marv S. said...

Let's go back to racing the elims and finals on the same card. That used to make for a fun Hambo Card with the Hambo, Oaks and OW Holmes all with heat racing. It is also what made our breed unique.

Some races used to allow the trainer to pick the post positions in the finals based on where they finished in the elims. This at least helps the elims be competitive and creates some interesting strategy issues for picking the post positions (i.e. closers choosing the 6 hole or getting stuck with the rail).

Meaningless elims also make handicapping the finals a more difficult event since handicappers have to gauge motivations of the horse/trainer/driver in the elims.