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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Yes, THAT famous coupled entry ...

by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor

Courtesy of FB friend William K., here are (much of) the two on-track
program pages from the 1985 Meadowlands Pace.

People still talk about this five-way coupled entry - Nihilator, Handsome Sum, Chairmanoftheboard, Pershing Square and Primus - to this day. Nihilator won, of course, though I don't remember right now what the remaining order of finish was.

He probably paid about $2.20 straight, as the strongest part of the entry, and while Nihilator wasn't beaten by any of his coupled mates in here on this night, it conceivably could've happened. They were all "graded" stakes-winners, and wacky things do sometimes occur in horse racing.

Cut to today, and the simmering controversy about coupled - and uncoupled - entries, courtesy of Jimmy Takter's driving tactics in last Saturday's Del Miller Memorial 3YO filly trot. [Ed - This column was written before Jimmy Takter went public and recognized how things looked to the bettor and is considering to no longer drive long shot stablemates.]

We're all familiar with statements on the program pages saying "XYZ Hanover and LMN Yankee race uncoupled, per state racing commission approval," where there are obvious, or not so obvious, overlaps in trainer and/or ownership.

Track managements everywhere seem to dislike coupled entries, apparently preferring as many betting interests in all races as possible - conventional wisdom says more separate numbers on the tote board, more money is bet - and racing commissions seem to always give in.

Do they ever deny such requests?

Would the Big Five from the '85 Meadowlands Pace race as separate interests these days? I suspect they would. What if, under those circumstances, Pershing Square, for instance, had nosed Nihilator out at the wire - it could have happened - and paid $27.00 to win? Would garbage cans on the track apron have been set on fire by disgruntled bettors who'd backed Nihilator?

Interestingly, two other famous Bill Haughton trainees from another era - favored Armbro Omaha and 6-to-1 (or so) Handle With Care - faced off in a Hollywood Park FFA pace one night around 1975. Handle With Care won the race. But I don't think it resulted in any fires, looting or mayhem. It was just one of those wacky things.

I guess coupled entries are meant to protect the betting public. I don't think most trainers or owners care much, one way or the other, if their horses are coupled with others or not.

I also guess stablemates, coupled or not, have been helping each other on the racetrack since horse racing began ... be they Bill Haughton-trained, Lou Guida-owned (or the modern equivalent, Ron Burke-trained, Weaver-Bruscemi-owned, or what not).

Geez Louise, in big thoroughbred races, they sometimes come right out and tell everyone that some no-chance nobody horse is in there to be the "rabbit" for a more famous stablemate, and no one seems to think anything of it.

I really don't know what to think anymore.

The above column is the last column which will discuss the events which may or may not have occurred in the Dancer (unless a ruling comes out worth discussing) and represents the opinion of Pete Lawrence and does not necessarily represent the opinions of VFTRG or its other contributors.  I felt the column was worth publishing because the decision to uncouple entries in the best of circumstances is a double-edged sword.  Couple them and you have fewer betting interests.  Don't couple them and (forget what may have happened in the Stanley Dancer Memorial) what do people think when a 16-1 stablemate comes in and the 3-5 shot runs out of the money for no apparent reason?  I can tell you first hand, they are not happy. 

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