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HRN Original Blog:
Bada Bing Inc.

Twenty in the Gate Makes the Derby Gate

Horse racing is a sport, in which opinions matter more than most. It's one of the few athletic endeavors in which wagering is widespread and legal, an outcome either backing said opinion or refuting it happens in a timely manner - 25 minutes in preparation - and usually it takes less than two minutes to determine whose bets/opinions are right. Sure you and I might disagree about who will win the NCAA Division I basketball tournament whilst filling out a bracket in an office pool with a few bucks, but it's certainly not legal and it takes more than three weeks to decide a champion/winner. (Unless you took Valparasio to win it all…)

With the immediacy and intimacy of bettors hanging at the track, OTB or on social media, there's bound to be disagreements with friends and adversaries alike. This brings me to challenge my friend - both in person and online - in his assurance that the Kentucky Derby would be a better race if the gate were limited to 14 entries. I speak of the wise and well-versed Matt Shifman, New York State of Racing blogger. Matt is definitely a savvy bettor and student of the game, I just don't agree with him on this point in Kentucky Derby Field with Just 14?

I do agree in spirit with Matt's argument that limiting the field would change the way horses are managed and raced leading up to the Derby. Regardless of the number of entrants, every owner, trainer and jock wants their chance at Kentucky Derby glory, so limiting the field would raise the level of competition and dare I say, the number of races a two- and three-year-old might run, if it would take more points, earnings, whatever to get into the Churchill gate.

Without reducing the Derby field, competition could be increased in another way - by making it more difficult to earn the necessary entry points. Instead of point distributions of 50-20-10-5 and 100-40-20-10 in the last two legs of Churchill's point gathering system, simply provide a sliding, but not overwhelming lopsided scale of points by graded stakes, starting with Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A scale like the following would definitely make it more interesting.

Grade III: 10-5-3-1
Grade II: 20-10-5-2
Grade I: 40-20-10-5

This would still place a heavier, but not as distant weight, on the final Derby prep races. A Grade I win is still the greatest point-getter, but a more constant and consistent runner could score just as well winning a Grade III and then finishing second in a Grade II and Grade I. Shouldn't horses that actually run, be granted just as much weight in the entry process as the one spectacular Grade I winning splash? Twenty horses, many who run more than twice year, would provide a more experienced and possibly a more well-mannered field.

While most Thoroughbred horse racing fans wish for a Triple Crown, Churchill Downs is in no one way obligated to make such an endeavor easier by the limiting the field to a just-right size. And if I can take Matt's point one step further, a field of risen cream of 14 may have not produced the result fans may have desired with smaller fields. I've seen horses find trouble in five-horse fields going 1 1/2 miles and 14 is certainly a full enough field to wreak havoc.

If safety is a concern, I may argue in return that attendance be limited to less than 50,000 on Derby Day and no one allowed within 500 feet of the starting gate with a beer in hand. Also, let's add a Wimbledon judge and chair with the prerequisite, "Quiet please," while the horses load and the gate opens.

Seriously, I find each leg of the Triple Crown puts a Thoroughbred to a different test. The Preakness tests a horse's ability to return to the races two weeks after a peak performance - unheard of in this day and age. The Belmont simply puts the speed bias breeding to the ultimate challenge. Twelve furlongs in some way must be breed into the creature, so even if the Derby were "easier" with six less horses, there's no guarantee a Triple Crown is assured with a horse running 1 1/2 miles following two peak efforts. Let's also consider the 19 horses who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then faltered at Big Sandy. Shall we also shorten the Belmont distance to accommodate a possible Triple Crown winner?

Besides the Kentucky Derby is an American spectacle, and as such, is a race that is part caravel, part demolition derby and part parade where true beauty meets the beast. This comes from well-bred equines and blue-blood money and partnerships cobbled together with childhood friends who bargain-basement shop at state-bred sales. This is a place for a champion to be crowned from nowhere through the obstacles on the track, whether they occur during a morning workout or while negotiating at least 19 other potential land mines on race day.

In a meritocracy, those that deserve a chance are supposed to get it. There are many gatekeepers at every level of our society allowing those who may or may not deserve power, wealth or awards into places where it is given. In the Thoroughbred world, Churchill Downs has determined its merit system for the equine athletes, and we may even argue its validity, but that's not really the point. On the other hand, let's consider that more than 27,000 foals were born in 2010 and only 20 of them will start in the Kentucky Derby - that's less than one tenth of one percent. Does't such a percentage represent the best of the best?  

Given what I know, what I've seen and how I feel, my belief is that 20 Thoroughbreds charging into that first straightway with their jocks looking for that just right spot to complete a race distance none of their charges have competed at  - that's exciting enough to watch and wager on. It's also worth some foolish entries that sometimes don't turn out to be so foolish and the dangers horse and human have to overcome to win. If it was easy, it really wouldn't be worth it.

So with a healthy amount of respect for my friend, Matt, 20 Kentucky Derby entrants are all right with me.

 

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Tony Bada Bing began his lifelong quest of finding winners more than 35 years ago as a fifth grade student. This is when his grandfather first took him to the many Off Track Betting facilities sprinkled throughout Long Island, NY. While many kids his age were clamoring to hit the beach or an amusement park during summer vacation, Bada Bing was spending it in stuffy, smoked-filled rooms filled with retirees and reprobates listening to Marshall Cassidy on tape delay calling Saratoga.

This passion was further lit by his father, who took Bada Bing to East Boston's Suffolk Downs, only after Bada Bing learned to read the Racing Form. For most of his young adult life a summer rotation of NY OTB, Suffolk, and the now shuddered Rockingham Park in Salem, NH filled his betting days. 

Notable winners along the way: Willow Hour's and Runaway Groom's Travers wins as well as Derby winners Grindstone, Thunder Gulch (which he called in print the day before) and Super Saver. His latest quest is to hit the Kentucky Derby superfecta.

Bada Bing plays tournaments at Derby Wars, bets through several account wagering sites and has blogged about Thoroughbred racing for the past four years. He prefers the bigger meets of NYRA and California as well as seasonal meets of Gulfstream, Churchill and Oaklawn. He likes vertical, multirace wagers like Pick 4s.

He has produced several Horse Racing Nation videos, in addition to blogging. He can be found at Twitter @tonycbadabing. While away from the track Bada Bing enjoys time with his wife, who tolerates and supports his passion, and his two children.