As a result, NYRA had to drop six racing days from its winter schedule. No big deal. But a reluctance by horsemen from more permissive states to participate in New York could have a serious impact on the showcase Saratoga meeting this summer. The solution, a uniform national medication policy, is nowhere on the horizon.
No good deed goes unpunished may be an exaggerationâ€”but not by much.
NYRA took a step this year toward dealing with a perception that pharmaceuticals are more influential in the outcome of races than equine ability and horsemanship. The pre-race cutoff time for certain medications was extended by several days. The reward for doing the right thing: field size decreased by an average of one horse per race, leading to six racing days being dropped during February and March.
A decline from an average eight-horse field to seven might not seem to be a big deal, certainly not enough to start eliminating racing days. The math says otherwise. An eight-horse field produces 56 exacta combinations and 336 trifecta possibilities. A seven horse field drops these numbers to 42 and 210. The comparisons are starker in three- and four-race horizontal wagers. These declines translate to a substantial loss in handle for the track as well as payoffs to winning bettors.
The primary reason for the shorter fields is a 75 percent drop in ship-ins from neighboring states, which arenâ€™t as stringent in their medication rules. If racing were serious about dealing with the drug issue, other Mid-Atlantic states would have fallen in line with NYRAâ€™s new policies. At least they are thinking about it. A meeting of Mid-Atlantic states as well as Illinois and Massachusetts to discuss uniform medication policies was held Feb. 6. But all they did was talk.
The ideal would be uniform medication rules nationally but this will happen the day after Congress balances the budget and pays down the national debt.
Racing jurisdictions arenâ€™t partners, theyâ€™re competitors. Every horse that doesnâ€™t ship to New York might help fill a race at its home track. Besides, there is probably a little â€śwho died and left you boss?â€ť attitude toward following New Yorkâ€™s lead. So NYRA suffers for attempting to do the right thing.
Scratching a few days during the winter is hardly a cause for consternation. Four-day (or less) weeks should be the norm during winter. But what is there to lead anyone to believe this wonâ€™t be a continuing problem year-round? Shippers arenâ€™t as important during the Belmont spring meet when snowbird horses return to swell the local population and 2-year-olds from local outfits hit the track. However, the situation could have a negative impact on the showcase meeting of the year at Saratoga.
A sizable contingent of Kentucky horses bring quantity and quality to stakes, allowance, high-class claiming races and maiden special weights at the Spa. Shippers from other Mid-Atlantic states also show up on Union Avenue in greater numbers than they do on Hempstead Turnpike.
If enough out-of-town outfits decide they donâ€™t want to play by the tougher New York medication rules, race, there are two alternatives. One is awful, the other not so bad. To replace the higher class races under the current schedule, more bottom-level New York-bred beaten claimers will have to be carded. The other option is to cut back to five days a week. Saratoga has become the only major track in the country that still races six.
Del Mar bit the bullet and reduced its agenda to five days and still is able to card only eight, sometimes seven, races on weekdays.
The other Southern California tracks struggle to card four days a week, even during the prestigious Santa Anita winter meet. The horse shortage is so acute out West that a pair of Grade 2 races, the San Antonio and Robert B. Lewis went to the post with four-horse fields and the Strub had only six break from the starting gate the first week in February.
Imprudent scheduling was a contributing factor. It defies logic to schedule the Strub for 4-year-olds a day before the San Antonio for older horses. Combine the two fields and there would have been an attractive San Antonio.
The entire three-race Strub series, designed to attract the previous yearâ€™s top 3-year-olds and ease them into their new division as older horses, needs to be re-examined. At the very least, one of the two-turn races should be eliminated. A seven-furlong Malibu, the traditional opening day feature when the horses are still 3-year-olds, leading into a two-turn race in January for new 4-year-olds would maintain tradition while bowing to current reality. It would also steer 4-year-olds into races like the San Antonio, where they belong.
In fact, one of the foursome in the San Antonio, Basmati, is a four-year-old. In a race that turned out to be a farce, he was the only one to seriously take it to Game On Dude, who towered over the field to such an extent that he went off at the legal minimum of five cents on the dollar and still created a minus win pool.
Basmati attempted to push Game On Dude down the backstretch while Clubhouse Ride and Make Music for Me appeared to be content to vie for the best of the minor awards while getting undeserved black type. (Scenarios such as this are something the graded stakes committee should look into, just as they do when graded races are taken off the turf.)
Basmati wound up the only starter not to earn black typeâ€”another example of no good deed going unpunished.