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Horse racing needs to focus on quality

Jun 30, 2015 3:00 AM

All year racing foolishThe column I wrote in this space last week – which addressed some recommended ways for horse racing to improve in the public marketplace – drew several intriguing replies from veteran horseplayers and a handful of racetrack executives.

Among those that struck realistic nerves were repetitious remarks offered about the never ending length of the national racing season and the diminished quality of regular daily racing at several tracks.

Said one horseplayer who preferred to remain anonymous because he has worked for some tracks in the east and some racebooks here in Nevada: “You hit that nail on the head. Why so many tracks run all year round makes no sense… Not when there’s a documented shortage of legit, fit racehorses.”

A racetrack executive added this: “The more races they run in Florida, Pennsylvania, and so many others in the sport, most players have too many choices to focus on. So ironically, they tend not to choose any of them.”

In my own judgment, racetrack managers in most states have failed to see the problems they have created for themselves. Fact is, there are so many tracks open for so many months each year, the majority have had to cut down on the number of races they offer each day.

Instead of a five day racing week with nine and 10 races per day, Santa Anita just ran four-day race weeks, with eight races on Thursday and Friday. That pattern is repeated in many states that used to operate five and six days a week with plenty horses left over after running nine and 10 races a day! Even Gulfstream Park had eight race cards during its elongated winter-spring meet.

Unfortunately, this specific situation will not be resolved until and unless racetrack managers decide to hold a serious nationwide meeting in which they commit themselves toward more sensible scheduling that would work for all concerned. Realistically, when was the last time any of us heard of racetrack managers meeting for any reason that would help the game, much less act in their own self-interest.

If and when that ever does occur, the same racetrack managers should pay more attention to another problem they have created: In too many cases, horseplayers, especially newcomers trying to learn the game, are stopped cold by the way racing secretaries write up races to get horses in. And all you need to see to know what I am talking about here is the written eligibility conditions for just one race that was run last week at one track.

Frankly, I defy anyone to tell me what horses are eligible for this and other races that have similar, convoluted, ridiculously complex, eligibility conditions that accompany the past performances for so many races at so many tracks. The track I am using for this example will remain unnamed, but these were the eligibility conditions that were set up for a race at that track last week:

“6 Furlongs, Claiming $15,000, Purse $18,000. For 3 year olds and upward which have never won three races, or a race since December 26, OR two races for a claiming price of $10,000. 3 year olds 118 pounds, older 123 lbs. Non winners of a race since May 15 allowed 2 pounds. Claiming price $12,500.”

Frankly, such complex eligibility conditions are not even the most complex offered at that specific track and repeated elsewhere. In each case, there are few experienced players who really understand what kind of horse or horses would best fit these races, much less would a newcomer have any clue.

And there is one more point to be made about the way racing conducts itself to its own detriment.

When so many races are offered at so many tracks, and the horse population is strained to meet the demands, only the very best horseplayers know the most important element in handicapping goes beyond the record of each horse per se. More often than not, it is the way horses train between starts!

After all, the majority of horses at every level tend to race once in every three weeks or once a month, or even longer. So, with that, it is vital to have an understanding of how well a horse turned in its 5 furlong training drill, or whatever the specific trainer utilized to get this specific horse and all the others in his or her care ready to run its best.

That is why the Triple Crown can be so enlightening, because almost all workouts as they are conducted are either televised or recorded for viewing on the Internet. Not so the $10,000 claimer, or the allowance horse entered in a race today.

Frankly, that is something racing can change and should.

Why not make accessible every workout session at every track for public viewing on that track’s website?

There really is no reason this cannot be done, no reason it should be resisted and there would be no better way to bring more fans into the sport as well as give existing players the tools they really need to properly handicap races.

Should you wish to comment on this and other points raised by me this week, please feel free to write me at [email protected] I can assure you your thoughts will be treated with respect.

Steve Davidowitz, author of the best selling “,” has covered racing since Secretariat, lives in Vegas & is writing a new book, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days.” Contact Steve at [email protected].

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