03/28/2012 1:54PM

A Proposal: National Stakes Draw Day


Remembering well when entries taken 48 hours in advance was a new thing, and what an incredible luxury it was having past performances one day ahead of time because of it, I thought it was cool last week when entries for the richest race of the weekend, Sunday’s $800,000 Sunland Derby, were drawn and made available to the public 96 hours in advance.

Even better was something that happened this week. Entries for Sunday’s outstanding Louisiana Derby Day card at Fair Grounds, which includes three other six figure stakes to go along with the $1 million headliner, were drawn and published on Monday, 144 hours in advance.

For the most part, the 72 hour out entry schedule that prevails today at most tracks – there are still a few 48 hour holdout tracks; shame on you, you know who you are – works great. It’s not too far away from race day that we see too many scratches because horses got sick or injured in the time between entry day and race day. But it is far enough in advance to make past performances available to horseplayers well ahead of time, which is, after all, a very important thing.

But when it comes to stakes races, I think Fair Grounds and Sunland are the latest to show us that, with a concerted, coordinated effort, there is an opportunity to create something potentially valuable here. Why not draw all major stakes races – all Grade 1 and 2 events for sure, and whatever stakes that would make sense on light weekends – farther in advance than 72 hours out, and make something special out of it?

This could work primarily because stakes races really are distinct from other races. It could work with racing offices and horsemen because far more often than not, both groups know precisely which stakes horses are going to run in a given stakes race as many as six or seven days beforehand.

This could also really resonate with the racing public. Sure, most of our handle is devoted to claimers, maidens, and allowance races. But most of our energy seems to be devoted toward stakes horses and stakes races. These are the races we talk about the most, almost to exclusivity. These are the horses two otherwise reasonable horseplayers will yell at each other about until blue in the face. So why not capitalize on this passion? Giving horseplayers extra time to talk about the sort of races they talk about the most – and you can do that best after a race has been drawn - figures to only generate more interest. Hey, you might even realize a slight increase in handle. I know when I have extra time to look at a race I might not have originally cared for, I’ll often uncover (or invent!) a redeeming feature, and find myself suddenly loving the race. And I bet I’m not alone on this.

So, here’s my idea, which is certain to go nowhere because it would require a cooperative effort within the industry, and we know how that works. But what the heck:

The way it stands right now, unless July 4 lands on it, Tuesday is pretty much a black hole in the racing week. Why not make Tuesday National Stakes Draw Day?