His column, which appeared at The Paulick Report on Groundhog Day, ironed out several strategies to make the sport of horse racing better. Ultimately what makes the sport better is to make it better for horse players. And all his ideas feed to this river.
Pope starts by suggesting that the money bet on horses such as Uncle Mo should be distributed among the top connections since it is Uncle Mo (and others) who drive much or all of the handle; so why not reward those connections?
That’s why we have Grade 1 races with five-horse fields. The result is a non-competitive race that few people come out to see and few people wager on it. Such a race might generate less wagering revenue than a $5,000 claiming race with a full field.”
Otherwise it’ll be the 2006 Santa Anita Derby all over again. What I find troubling is the reaction by readers to Pope’s ideas. Most consider his piece “nonsense” and fall back on “that’s not how the real world works.” These are also the people who, undoubtedly, complain but never contribute anything worthwhile to the discussion. Out of the two dozen or so comments I skimmed, most bash and only one offered something of substance (this after a typical anonymous insult):
“How about this for the problem of graded stakes with small fields, associate the grading to the field size. Grade 1 must have 10 or more entrants, Grade 2 must have 8 or more and Grade 3 must have 5 or more.
The Grading matches the purse. If the field slots it in as a Grade 3 purse is $125,000 on up, Grade 2 purse is $250,000 on up and Grade 1 $350,000 up.
This way you're not giving up a large purse for a short field that creates limited wagering interest.
The Derby’s 20 horse field certainly has a lot to do with it's appeal to fans and bettors alike.
The ridiculous 4 and 5 horse graded stakes makes our sport look silly.”
What also makes “our” sport look silly is when its patrons spit on new ideas.
I think everyone who follows thoroughbred racing would agree that it is and has been in a sorry state for decades. Every so many years you get a Zenyatta and it’s all bubble gum and rainbows.
As soon Bernardini is done with her we’ll forget about Zenyatta until she delivers a healthy foal. (You thought there was pressure on Nicanor? Just wait until Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra’s first foals hit the track.)
Then it will be onto the three-year-old classics, the summer racing, the Breeders’ Cup campaign, and gyrating about who will win the next year’s renewal of the Eclipse Awards.
Let’s put something — anything — in motion. If this sport is going to die why make the change radical enough to either vault it into a new age or kill it humanely?
I’m sick of running on a treadmill. Are you?
Brendan O'Meara is the author of the forthcoming book "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. You can learn more at The Blog Itself, follow @BrendanOMeara, or go to his web site http://www.brendanomeara.com.