By Bill Finley
Small fields are among racing’s most serious problems. Too many five-horse races, too many heavy favorites and too many bettors keeping their money in their pockets every time such a race comes up. With the foal crop at its lowest levels since 1965, the problem is only going to get worse.
You also have the proliferation of partnerships, where one person might own 20% of one horse in a race and 25% of another in the same race. That means more examples of common ownership of horses in the same race and, yes, more entries.
Like most things that are wrong with racing, there is no magic bullet when it comes to small fields. There is, however, an obvious, no-brainer solution that would make things better. Get rid of coupled entries, in all races, in all states, in every situation. Every entry takes away a betting interest. Every time a betting interest is taken away the race becomes less appealing and the handle on it goes down.
At least most tracks no longer couple horses trained by the same person, but with different owners, and most tracks also no longer have entries in stakes races. That has made the situation better and you’ll usually find no more than one or two entries on any card. The point is there shouldn’t be any.
Entries were created with the aim of protecting the betting public. The idea being that the trainer or owner could try to cash a bet by stiffing the stronger half of the entry and making sure the lesser half is ready to fire on all cylinders. They bet the longshot. Perhaps, once upon a time, that may have happened, but it’s a rule more fitting for the movie “The Sting” than the modern racetrack. No one in 2018 is sitting in a smoke-filled room with dodgy characters in the back of a candy store deciding to pull Glow Worm so they can cash a bet on Rocket Boy. It’s a rule that might have made sense in 1968, but is now doing a lot more harm than good.
On June 1 at Belmont, J S Bach (Tale of the Cat) and Splashtastic (Tiz Wonderful) were coupled in the wagering in an allowance. The pair was sent off at even-money and both finished off the board. J S Bach is wholly owned by Michael Dubb and trained by Jason Servis. Splashtastic is trained by Rudy Rodriguez and is owned by Dubb, Bethlehem Stable LLC and the Elkstone Group LLC. That makes Dubb the only connection between the two.
According to the realdeal.com, Dubb’s Beechwood Organization, the largest developer of residential housing on Long Island, had $205 million in revenue in 2015. So Dubb’s horses needed to be coupled so that a multi-millionaire wasn’t tempted to cash a bet on a horse that might have paid $8 to win and if he bet enough he could have pocketed, oh, maybe $10,000? Please.
It happened again Sunday at Belmont in the seventh race. Owned by Chester and Mary Broman, Heavy Meddle (Medaglia d’Oro), who is trained by Bill Mott, was coupled with the Broman’s Mr. Buff (Friend Or Foe), who is trained by John Kimmel. Because of the entry, there were seven betting interests instead of eight and the Broman pair was sent off as the even-money favorite.
Had they been separate betting interests Mr. Buff probably would have been about 9-5 and Heavy Meddle 6-1. What’s a better betting race, an eight-horse field with a 9-5 favorite or a seven-horse field with an even-money favorite? The answer is obvious.
(For those betting on the entry, it didn’t matter. Neither finished in the money).
We often talk of how European racing does just fine without Lasix. The same is true when it comes to entries. With the exception of France, there are no entries in any major racing countries in Europe and France only couples horses for win wagering. If an entry runs one-two, you only collect on an exacta if you bet the individual horses in the entry to finish first and second.
Fortunately, the situation is getting better. Racing secretaries, desperate to have as many betting interests as possible, keep telling state racing commissions that these antiquated rules have to go. Many have listened. New Jersey is the latest state to have done away with entries, a policy that began at the beginning of the Monmouth Park meet. Oddly, there are still entries in harness racing in New Jersey.
There are no longer entries in Florida, California, Ontario, Illinois, West Virginia or Maryland.
But some important states remain behind the times. There are still entries in New York, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. It’s not uncommon at Parx to see entries in three or four races on a card.
Common sense doesn’t always come into play when you’re talking horse racing, but this is just that–common sense. Entries are something out of the past, no longer needed, certainly not helpful.