Photo: Eclipse Spotswire
Churchill Downs concluded its 2014 spring meet on Sunday. The
majority of good news coming out of Louisville this season revolved around the
prized event held annually. Despite high ranking numbers on the first 5 days of
live racing, which concluded with the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, it’s what
happened next that started a downward spiral.
- + Average field size was 7.29 horses, down from 7.78 during 2013
- + CDI ran 372 races this meet compared to 396
- + Average purses per day fell from $534,942 to $532,903 in
- + Purses paid totaled $20,250,300 vs $20,327,798 last spring
* The amount live racing days equaled the 2013 total; 38
The decreases may only be minor, but what’s concerning is
guessing which direction things will go from here. To estimate or predict we
have to rewind. It began right before the meet commenced when the reigning
operators in control of what is now considered a gaming company announced the takeout
Beginning Saturday April 26, 2014, the takeout for WPS
wagers rose to 17.50%, an increase of 9.375% (2013 takeout rate = 16.00%)
Further, a takeout for all EXOTIC wagers increased to 22.00% (19.00% in 2013).
As a result, boycotts began and many grass roots movements
to deter bettors, gamers, players and casual racing fans grew. Once the honeymoon period following the
Kentucky Derby faded off into the sunset, Churchill Downs met what they won’t
admit: a serious challenger. Though the meet has now concluded those that
oppose CDI are not also taking a break.
And that is where CDI, needs to focus their attention.
According to playersboycott.org the final handle for the meet when compared to
2013 was down -11.76% and a total dollar amount of
($49,178,915). If these numbers are accurate, or
even close, I beg the question. How are the red numbers being received by the
high ranking C-Level executives at CDI?
If I’m assuming correctly, Churchill Downs is probably as
ready for July as they have ever been. Contributing to their need for a break was
their inept PR Department that tripped all over themselves these past 2 months.
I could go on for hours about their recent flaws but instead I’ll focus on
In my opinion, horse racing fans are pretty loyal. However,
they’re also very aware of the rules within the game. Anytime they feel like
they are the ones getting played is when their loyalty becomes a memory. In a
nutshell, that is how I would sum things up for CDI at the conclusion of the
2014 spring meet.
So where do things go from here? I do not have an answer but
one thing I cannot ignore is my general intuition that CDI doesn’t care. I
doubt that I’m alone on that thought.
But if I may, and if the powers at CDI will listen, I offer
the following recommendations that I hope they will consider this off-season.
Number one, you can keep your takeout increase, but only for
the most active days on the calendar. For example, the first five days of the
Spring Meet (i.e. Kentucky Derby week) or even for the entire Breeders’ Cup
week if you’re ever so lucky to play host once again. As for the remainder of
the season, fall back to where the majority of players prefer.
Secondly, it may be time to reduce the size of the Kentucky
Before I get into the details, let me tender my opinion on a
related matter. We all want a Triple Crown but it is not entirely up to
Churchill Downs to produce better results. Specifically, CDI is not responsible
for determining who is eligible to qualify for the Preakness Stakes and Belmont
Stakes. They never have been nor should they ever be. Secondly, I don’t agree that
either of the next two jewels should ever bar an entry based solely on whether
or not a 3-year-old qualified for the Kentucky Derby.
However, a smaller field in the Kentucky Derby cannot do
anything but potentially help the pursuit of another Triple Crown.
Now let’s get into the thick of it. After its second year I
do not disagree with the points system. To say it is perfect
would be a stretch but to assert that it has more holes than the previous qualification system would not be accurate in my opinion either.
The more I listen to the standard criticisms the more I’m
convinced that a smaller field is the right decision. Mainly it’s because
anyone that tends to gripe is someone that is comparing a non-starter to a horse
that rounds out the bottom 25%.
My proposal is to eliminate the auxiliary gate and cap the
Kentucky Derby field at 14 horses. Okay, so how do we accomplish that? Here’s
my easy answer.
Only the top 14 scorers advance and tie breakers are still
determined by overall Graded Stakes earnings. This might seem unfair because
one year the 14th spot could be a horse that scored only 24 while in
another year it could be as high as 40. Either way, what’s the difference
between that and what we have right now?
In 2013, the final spot was secured by Giant Finish who had
a paltry 10 points to his name where as Commanding Curve concluded a three way
tie at 20 points in 2014. The first of the two had no business racing in the top 3-year-old race of the year.
Like any other year the points standings were greatly affected
by injury both times. Under this system it wouldn’t be any different. Should a
horse at any qualifying position opt out, the next in line will receive the
invitation and so on.
If this will be too hard to maneuver due to the politics at
CDI then let’s at least make a new rule: 30 points minimum. If so, it won’t
eliminate the possibility of a 20 horse field but the odds of it ever
exceeding 16 would be pretty high. And in some cases, it could very easily get
reduced to my ideal number of 14.
This past spring Candy Boy would have rounded out the field
as entry number 15 with 30 points. Left out of the starting
gate would have been Uncle Sigh, Vinceremos, Harry’s Holiday and Commanding
In 2013, the field
would have been reduced to 16 and Falling Sky would have been the last one in.
Those who scored under 30 points included Giant Finish, Golden Soul and
You might point out that the last two runner-ups defy my 30
point minimum rule. Sure, they both scored 20 points or fewer but who else
thinks that racing so well in such a crowded field should have earned them a
spot in the race to begin with.
Sorry to dig at their resumes but Golden Soul got in with a
runner-up effort in the G3 LeComte, 6th in the G2 Risen Star and 4th
in the G2 Louisiana Derby. Enough? Commanding Curve wasn’t much better. In
fact, it was worse; 6th in the G2 Risen Star, 3rd in the
G2 Louisiana Derby. Did he deserve a spot?
With this system, 30 points can be reached through plenty of
different combinations but most of your work has to be done in the final two
series. [50-20-10-5 / 100-40-20-10]
And, as pointed out with Commanding Curve, a horse will have to do more than
finish 3rd in a major prep in order to have a serious shot at
Instead, a win in either series moves you into the starting
gate automatically where as a back to back 2nd place finishes also
makes you an easy qualifier. Two consecutive third places finishes will land
you right on the mark at 30 points. Finally, a win in the first series (10
points) will still give you a chance to qualify but you will then have to hit
the board in a prep race closer to May. This is especially true if you don’t
have more than 10 points after racing in two or more early qualifiers in the juvenile season or at the beginning of the 3-year-old season.
All and all I think the Derby Prep season has the potential
to be even more exciting. Beefing up the qualification system to dismiss more
pretenders is a great place to start. Since CDI is the only one who can make
such a decision, they will get all of the credit.
I’m sure there are others who have thought about a more
difficult qualification system as well and why it makes more sense. I would
love to hear them but what I would love even more is to learn that Churchill
Downs is listening. Not to me necessarily but rather the large amount of fans
that can’t stop shaking their head when it comes to CDI.
After their dreadful spring meet and all the baggage that
came with it, now is the time to make up for those corporate blunders. This
offseason it should begin with the takeout. Again, save it only for the big
weeks and events and secondly make the biggest event even better. If you do,
maybe, just maybe, the Breeders’ Cup will change its opinion.
We all love the Kentucky Derby but we often forget just how
bad everyone wants to qualify. Like the World Series of Poker some connections
feel that all they need is a chip and chair in order to win. But, if it’s the
title that everyone wants shouldn’t it be just a tad more difficult to qualify? As you can see, I think there's always just a few that didn't earn it. I also think that the truest of true Kentucky Derby contenders deserve an even playing
CDI, you might not agree with me (or listen). Other racing fans, you
might not either, but the course they are on doesn’t seem to be moving
according to plan or in the right direction. So, maybe it’s time for solutions. It's a long off-season before fall, I'm sure CDI can come up with something.