UNCOUPLED ENTRIES FAVOR RACETRACKS, NOT BETTORS

By John Scheinman 

              Picture the New York Yankees at their zenith, when they won 20 World Series in a 44-year period beginning in 1921. No one could touch them, other teams in baseball hated them, and nearly every young ballplayer wanted to be in their lineup. 

              Now picture these Yankees, overflowing with talent, forming a new ball club, then another, and perhaps even another, all just as powerful as the original. These new Yankee teams join the American League, while virtually no other team owner could afford to field a second squad. Say there was no baseball rule to stop them. Now, the Yankees would have four chances to win the pennant. 

              “This would never happen,” you might say. “They’d never allow it,” but this is exactly what has happened in horse racing, and to see it in stark relief you need look no further than the Grade 1, $500,000 Diana, one of the premier turf races for fillies and mares in the country, this Saturday at Saratoga. 

              Just six of 15 nominees are entered to compete, and four of them come from the stable of Chad Brown. Three of those have one listed owner – Peter Brant. Yet, the New York State Gaming Commission, which oversees racing in the state, and the New York Racing Association, which operates Saratoga, is OK with four independent representatives from Brown in a six-horse field.  

              It wasn’t always this way, and it needs addressing. In the past, the state considered it worthy to protect appearances of integrity in racing. The racing and Yankees analogy diverts at gambling, because racing unlike baseball is principally a betting game. The state used to mandate coupled entries to at least appear to acknowledge the conflict of owners and trainers competing against themselves. 

              Obviously, no more. The coupling rules in New York have been steadily eroded to the point where we have this embarrassing representative of the prestigious Diana. 

In 2010, with the registered North American foal crop in the middle of a nine-year decline, the state racing and wagering board modified its rules and allowed the uncoupled entry of a trainer’s horses if they didn’t have the same owner. NYRA president at the time Charlie Haywood told the Albany Times-Union that uncoupling, because of increased betting interests making a race more attractive to play for gamblers, would net the tracks $7 million a year. 

              Five years later, New York went further. Horses with common ownership had been running coupled as a single betting interest except in stakes races worth $1 million or more. The racing and wagering board threw that out and dropped the threshold to stakes worth $50,000. According to a story at the time in the Blood-Horse, only two public comments were submitted to the commission about the change – both from NYRA in support. 

              This opened wide the door for rising so-called super trainers, such as Brown, who not only have the most horses, but also the best horses. It’s no secret in racing that Brown pretty much dominates the filly and mare turf division. 

              Discarded and disregarded were the possibility of a trainer playing favorites in a race, jockeys riding in a manner they might not otherwise for competing owners and insider betting coups. 

Trainer Chad Brown photo NYRA Media

              This is not to even remotely suggest Brown and his owners are cheating; they’re simply exploiting the rules to their benefit. In section 4025.10 of the state’s codes, rules and regulations, subdivision “e” states: “The commission steward may require any horses entered in a race to be coupled for betting purposes prior to the commencement of wagering on-track and off-track, if such steward finds it necessary in the public interest.” 
              If the Diana this Saturday doesn’t qualify for intervention, what scenario might? 

              In the Diana, Brown sends out Rushing Fall, owned by eFive Racing Thoroughbreds, who has won 8 of 9 starts and 4 Grade 1 events, and the three Brant runners: defending race champion Sister Charlie, winner of 7 of 11 lifetime with 4 Grade 1 victories; multiple graded stakes winner Homerique, and relative lightweight Thais, who finished third last summer in the Grade 1 Beverly D at Arlington. 

              Fans might question why Brown and Brant would stack their horses like that in a single race instead of shopping for spots to win at racetracks around the country. The answer is: If one of the lesser lights like Homerique or Thais can get a placing in a Grade 1 race as prized as the Diana, it will enhance their value when it comes time to breed them. Runner-up money doesn’t hurt either. 

              The trainers who wind up re-routing to spots out of town are those with precious few good horses who don’t want to waste a career-best effort by running fourth to a suite of Brown bombers. They will look to Delaware, Monmouth or Laurel, where the deck is not quite so stacked.  

              According to Daily Racing Form Formulator stats, Brown has competed 311 different horses in the past year, a mind-boggling total considering how many trainers with superb horsemanship credentials feel lucky to have 20 in their barn. 

              The uncoupling of runners was designed to grow field sizes; it hasn’t worked out that way. It’s just left marquee races diminished and bettors looking on with an uneasy feeling.  

              NYRA is in a tough spot and needs to take a creative look at how to protect the quality and prestige of races developed over decades. The racing and wagering board, rather than trying to avoid miring itself in controversy or argument, ought to proactively look at developing rules to combat the problem in the best interest of the game – even if it hurts some feelings to level the playing field. 

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9 Responses

  1. Everything in racing is designed to make an already hard came more difficult. That is one of the reason that racing is declining. Making a game where hardly any new bettors win,does not grow the game. Most of the new bets are designed for one big winner, which makes for good press, but sends home many losers who will not return.

  2. Aaron-
    Big payouts create headlines and removes money that would otherwise be churned back into the betting pools. NYRA is headed further in that direction with the Empire 6, which will replace the traditional Pick 6 at some point during the Saratoga meeting. This isn’t helping to grow the game.

  3. The traditional Pick 6 at Saratoga is by far one of the most exciting bets in the country. I know NYRA is just playing follow-the-leader with this decision, but how did they come to it? Is there ever a fan or bettor survey? Did I just miss the call? The bet, as has been pointed out in the past, creates a perception of inclusiveness, but, as Mark says, it just ties up people’s money, and when you do hit, the takeout is prohibitive. Except that you rationalize because your investment was less than the traditional Pick 6. The whole thing is insidious, and I really wish NYRA wouldn’t do this. My personal perception, crazy as it might sound, is that a traditional Pick 6 is a grownups’ wager, a classier wager. The Rainbow and Empire Pick 6s are roadside attractions, like South of the Border.

  4. Do I care if Brown has four entrants in a race? No! I, being a stupid gambler on the nags, for decades have totally ignored ALL stake races, coast-to-coast. I love the current format where only Philly and Delly operate on Monday and Tuesday – mostly cheap claiming races that run to form and deliver prices. Most stake races have an odds-on favorite that seems to never win 50% of the time or so many blue bloods that figure that the race becomes a coin toss.

    Anyone who bets the pick six is (imagine this, Alice) dumber than me. To write that the ‘pick six at Saratoga is the most exciting bet in the country’ requires me to ask: what is the excitement? How many times have you won the ridiculous bet Mr. Schienman?

    The pick six has sent on-track patrons along with OTB patrons and those betting from home to seek loans or declare bankruptcy.

    You want to ‘ grow this game’ as Mr. Berner writes, start eliminating sucker bets and attempt to give horseplayers an opportunity to win a few bucks by promoting and offering bets where the odds are more favorable to cash a ticket.

  5. I said it is “one of the most exciting bets in the country,” not “the most exciting bet.”

    I rarely play the p6. I have to have two singles to even consider it. It’s not my bet, but it is an exciting bet. I have found on multiple stories that people respond by assuming that I bet what I advocate for. I am able to understand the value of something even if it’s of no value to me. That’s why Howard Cosell wrote “I Never Played The Game.” You don’t have to to get it. Like you and Monday and Tuesday racing: To each his own. My point is the Pick 6 is a better bet for PIck 6 players than the Empire 6.

  6. Boy, you got me scratching me butt. You write ‘I rarely play the pick six. It’s not my bet, but it is an exciting bet.’ Yet, you advocate it!
    So, if you rarely ever bet the pick six and, apparently have never won it, why do you write in your last post ‘but it is an exciting bet’?

    Now you know why I drink Foster’s Alice.

  7. Again, you’re saying something I haven’t – that I’ve never hit the Pick 6.

    It is an exciting bet. Why are we even fighting over this?

    (Looking up the drink)

  8. Hi,
    Nice website and section here.
    There’s not only the ‘pure’ size/scale effect of uncoupled-entries, but also, the tactics are also being manipulated.
    As a horseplayer, it’s additional information, and (asrsuming that the ‘best’ or ‘ace’ horse of the entry is the one being aided) it can even help me. Yet, I’m not sure how I feel about it.

    W/out digging too far back – Last race day 7/21
    Race5 – You had Castellano on the #6(A- or a B part of entry) try to quarterhorse in order to hang the 7 wide into the first turn (9f dirt ‘Toga). While this didn’t end up helping the #2 (the ‘A’ or ‘A-‘ part of the entry), it did sink the #7 and end up setting up well for the winner #4.
    Race10- You had a scary rival #2 RESTORING HOPE, so Brown seemed to sacrifice the #3(again w/ Castellano on a ‘B’ entry half) to set up the race for #7Identity Politics. Just like race 5, they managed to sink the rival, but only gain place, and a well-bet #8Boraccho capitalized from the set up.
    Race11 Caress s.- This one I’m less certain, but the way it happened was in line with what is even more worrisome. There’s a big rival even-money fav. called #5Morticia… Irad Ortiz is riding for Brown on #4Significant Form (owner S. Brant?) a F&M who had a late ‘surge’ last time but unproven form. Brown only has 1 in the race! Jose Ortiz has a mount for Ryerson #3 Firekey. The #4 tries to sit a trip and doesn’t run a big one, intentionally or accidentally, the #3 Firekey moves prematurely and boxes in the fav. #5Morticia…

    7/19 – Lake George Stakes – I skipped the 3 horse affair (and all 3 were uncoupled entries for the same barn), Flipped back on my ADW feed and happened to catch the ‘Replay’, However, -I had forgotten the sorry three-horse stakes, and I initially thought that one of the turf triple crown/tiara contenders was performing a special workout in between races (I think we’ve seen some of these, once in a blue moon Curlin? comes to mind) – Who is the star?? I said “I don’t know… All three of those are nice horses, but it’s pretty obvious that the work is designed for the horse with the rider in the red cap” So I strain to see who the red-capped jock is riding, and then realize it was the Lake George, and sure enough the red-capped jock won. Nothing really out of the ordinary as I spend a lot of time watching races, and I knew it was a 3 horse uncoupled entry, but what surprised/bothered me, was that the jockey in the red cap was riding the long shot of the group. Why would they set it up for him?

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