Friday, July 06, 2012

Babying babies

By Brendan O'Meara / @BrendanOMeara

So Saratoga and Del Mar put on the kid gloves this past week. The two famous racetracks approach the juvenile races with tact and caution. Let’s rehash.

Saratoga will limit field sizes in juvenile maiden races to eight in sprints and ten in two-turns.

“The catalyst behind limiting the field sizes in the maiden races for juveniles was two-fold,” said NYRA Vice President and Director of Racing P. J. Campo. “The smaller fields are expected to produce more cleanly run events while also creating the opportunity to showcase more high-quality races during the meet and beyond. We expect this change will strengthen NYRA's juvenile stakes and allowance programs by helping horses gain the experience they need to compete successfully at higher levels.”

I like this. It has merit, especially with the new Kentucky Derby Points System that will be in play in 2013. But I’ll get to that. Hold that thought.

Horsemen even like the idea. “Protecting our horses is an important mandate,” said New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association President and NYRA Board Member Rick Violette Jr. “Larger fields of inexperienced young horses often result in roughly run races. This approach will offer a kinder, gentler and, perhaps, wiser introduction to racing for young horses, and could, in fact, extend their careers.

“Owners will have a better opportunity to fairly evaluate the performances of their horses in manageable fields,” Violette added. “This also will increase the chance that young horses will improve mentally and physically from their first races, rather than having to recover from them.”

Violette has a point. These horses are greener than a kid smoking pot for the first time. It helps the horses develop, but I’d wager that it keeps the jockeys safer too. After all, green horses will do just about anything: bear in, bear out, jump the fence, etc.

Del Mar, too, followed Saratoga coat tails as well. Del Mar wasn’t quite as restricting in sprint races as they will allow a maximum of ten horses per race, excluding stakes races.

Presumably there will be an over-subscription of horses so the racing offices will have to card more juvenile races, specifically maiden special weights and maiden claimers.

"I have been trying to get Del Mar to do it for years," trainer Bob Baffert told the North County Times. "It's a great idea. Young horses can't develop as well in large fields."

And big fields they’ll face in the coming year. With only 36 races eligible for points on the road to the Kentucky Derby, those 36 races will be crowded. The average field size will likely be 12-13 horses, culminating, of course, with a 20-horses melee in the Derby. This allows these horses to build confidence with smaller fields then tackle the larger fielded stakes races. This will properly ensure that the horses are as ready as they can be come the winter.

The better they develop the better the product on track will be which benefits fans, horses and horse players alike.

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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