Within the last month, two graded stakes races for 3-year
old fillies, the G1 Mother Goose and the G2 Hollywood Oaks, were run on
opposite sides of the country. Despite the illustrious past of both, each field
only drew 5 entrants. A field of 5 might be an easy race to handicap, but
bettors would rather skip these types of races because there just is not any
money to be made. There just isn’t any point in investing any money in any type
of wager when the exacta only returns $3.40 and the trifecta only $7.90 for a
$1 bet, as was the case with the Hollywood Oaks. This past weekend we saw a
similar situation when the G1 Shoemaker Mile at Betfair Hollywood Park and the
G2 Firecracker Handicap at Churchill Downs, both contested at a mile on the
turf for 3-year olds and up, were run on the same day; like the two races in
the 3-year old filly division, these two races went to post with a field of
five. The Firecracker had actually drawn a field of eight, but due to inclement
weather, the field was whittled down to five by race time.
The horse racing industry needs a singular overarching
commission, and that commission needs to make revising the racing schedule a
priority. Stakes fields with only five entrants are hurting the industry.
Bettors skip those races in favor of others with a fuller field because the
return is worth the investment. As long as divisional stakes races are run
head-to-head, stakes fields will continue to be small, decreasing the overall
handle because though claiming races tend to offer bigger fields, it is the
stakes races that the casual fan will focus on because those are the horses
they can most easily follow. Rather than run two races for the same division on
the same day, space them far enough apart so that horsemen have the option of
running their horse in both rather than having to choose one or the other.
Though the closing of Betfair Hollywood Park certainly bodes
ill for the future of horse racing in California, the positive spin on an
otherwise dismal piece of news is that in the future, there will be one less
track competing for full fields during the summer. That was at least the case
until Gulfstream Park announced that it had requested summer racing dates and
would be conducting its first ever summer meet. Despite Gulfstream Park
President Tim Ritvo’s conviction that running head-to-head with Calder Race
Course will give horsemen more options in regards to which races they want to
enter their charges in, ultimately such a venture will be harmful to the
industry overall. With the prestigious Saratoga, Belmont, and Keeneland meets
already on tap for the summer and fall, top trainers are not going to opt to go
to Florida where the purses are smaller and the races less esteemed.
Furthermore, with Calder right across town, rather than the full fields that
Calder boasts, fields will end up being split between the two as horsemen take
sides, willingly or unwillingly, unless the two come to an agreement. Even if
an open policy is put into effect, I cannot imagine a scenario in which both
tracks could consistently offer bettors full fields.
Additionally, this commission would need to deal with rules
and regulations and set standards that encompass the entire country rather than
vary from state to state. With the prevalence of drug violations, this is
especially true. Right now, a trainer can be penalized in one state but can
move their tack to a different state and continue to train there despite any
penalty handed down elsewhere. This simply cannot happen. Under the current
regime, or lack thereof, there are very few hard-line stances taken against
multiple infractions, something that serves to foster the drug culture due to a
lack of real consequences, an issue fellow writer Matt Scott so eloquently
addressed following the Mahmood al Zarooni scandal (Read about it here.). But the people that run this
commission need to be knowledgeable horsemen that are both familiar with the
industry and embody leadership characteristics. We need people that truly care
about moving this industry forward, that care about marketing to the public in
order to draw in new fans, and who understand that in order to be mainstream,
we have to clean up our act.
Furthermore, aside from taking a firm stance against drugs
or revising the racing schedule, an overarching commission would prevent a lot
of confusion. Last year during Triple Crown season, Kentucky Derby and
Preakness winner I’ll Have Another ran with a nose strip every time he raced.
However, had he run in the Belmont Stakes, which is run at Belmont Park in New
York, he would not have been allowed to run with the strip per New York rules.
To be perfectly honest, had anyone asked me about the situation at that time, I
could have told them that the rules were different, but I could not have told
them why that was so. After
researching the matter, I found that New York stewards felt that if a nasal strip
was going to be such an asset to a horse, then they had to regulate it in order
to be fair. That explains their stance on the matter, but it still does not
explain why it was permitted at every
other track I’ll Have Another raced at except Belmont Park. It is
inconsistencies such as this that confuse fans, new fans and old hats alike.
You don’t see this issue in other sports around the country, so the logical
thing to do would be to take a leaf out of football’s playbook and create and
enforce one set of rules and regulations.
None of these issues can be resolved overnight. Like with
any major change, these things take time. However, the success of the new
Kentucky Derby points system gives me hope that if horsemen seriously take into
consideration the problems we are currently experiencing and work together,
then we can make positive changes that will benefit both the horsemen and the
fans. We simply cannot focus on one without taking in consideration the other,
especially if that means focusing on horsemen and ignoring the fans. Without
the fans, particularly the ones that wager on the races, then the industry has
nothing. Unfortunately, that is the direction we are headed. Stop all the
in-fighting. Give the bettors full, quality fields. Lay down the law and stick
to it. Then, and only then, can we truly move forward.