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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Uncoupling to Increase Field Size

A new rule change has been implemented in New Jersey to allow a trainer to drop two horses into the same race condition, provided they have separate ownership leading to the possibility the trainer may end up with two horses in the same race.  Of course, the race secretary will still seek to seed stablemates into different divisions if a race is split.  This rule change has been a source of great debate on social media.  Some accept it for what it is, others worry about the integrity of the races; the possibility of teaming (helping a stablemate) or worrying it will turn bettors away due to the perception of what may happen.  

The fact is the rule change is needed for the Meadowlands to function successfully for the balance of the meet.  The shortage of horses in the region coupled with the preference of trainers to race at tracks with slot-infused purses has left the Meadowlands having a hard time to assemble race cards; sometimes keeping the box open hours after it was supposed to close.  Even with the new rule, out of 24 races this weekend, only 4 races are set to go with a full field;  9 races with 9 starters, 7 with 8 starters, and 4 with 7 starters.  As the season goes deeper when Tioga and Vernon Downs opens, without the rule change the Meadowlands will have to go lower than the $7,500 claimers and/or even face the problem of not being able to put a full race card together.  The fact is more horses in competitive races provides for bigger handle.  As field sizes drop, so does handle.  For a non-slots track, it is essential the Meadowlands gets the largest handle possible.

So what about the punters?  It is possible novices will be turned off by the perception of collusion especially when they see a 10-1 horse beat out its 8-5 stablemate?  It is quite possible.  However, it should be remembered the horses will be owned by different people.  Do you think an owner will be happy seeing their horse used to help another horse costing them purse money?  Do you think a driver will appreciate going out on the track earning no money by helping out another driver?  Not very likely.

Make no mistake, a trainer will not be happy to see a driver hanging out a fellow stablemate for no reason so it is not realistic to think the drivers of two stablemates will play hardball with each other but any experienced punter should be able to factor this into their handicapping.  

No doubt, it would be better if there was no need to allow trainers to have more than one horse in overnight events but this is not a perfect world.  The ability to allow uncoupled trainer entries is a necessary tool to ensure the largest possible fields for the horseplayer.  As the shortage of horse grows, expect to see tracks in other racing jurisdictions, even those with slots to adopt similar rules.

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