07/28/2014 2:08PM

Bergman: Cultivating a better tomorrow (Part 4)


In his continuing series on improving the sport, Jay Bergman looks at a way to revamp the system and breathe more life into our sport for fans and bettors. In the first three parts of this series, Jay looked at some of the problems the sport deals with and specifically focused on the on-the-track product. Below is an excerpt from part three to lead into the final installment, his formulated system for the future of racing:

At the core of the motionless or less movement races dilemma discussed in parts one and two, is the structure we are currently living within. Horsemen, drivers and trainers have the incentive to get a check, any check each week. With conditioned racing the norm in most locations, the objective for many trainers is to keep horses within the ranks where they can earn purse money. At the same time slipping off the board once in a while will allow the horses to drop in class and therefore face easier competition with a better chance at winning. This scenario has played itself out on a regular basis, with drops in class generally producing odds-on horses and imbalanced fields.

It works well for the horsemen, but not as well for the betting product.

Obviously the way we have structured racing has determined the ebb and flow of behavior on the racetrack, and that behavior is not working to achieve a solid and more interesting product to bet on. It has in too many instances left odds-on horses and races lacking in any serious start-to-finish movement.

At the core of our need to revise and reform our product is to find a way to create action that is compelling from start to finish. The substance of this revision is to bring the horses closer together to each other within the second and third quarter of races and not just early and late.

In seeking a way to measure activity within a race and reward it I will set forth an outline designed to be utilized on a half-mile track. To be certain, this is just a “draft” to be reviewed and hopefully perfected. Unlike some in this field, it is not my goal to act as the sole voice in the room. If this is an idea that will float, it’s one that shall require many voices to perfect. The goal is to achieve a product that all can be proud of, not to define an individual.

To review, we have suggested that 75 percent of each purse be divided to the top five finishers as it is today (50-25-12-8-5). The remaining 25 percent should be broken down as such: The race winner will get 12.5 percent, the remaining shares will be split among the top four horses based on activity points, with 5 percent, 3.5 percent, 2.5 percent and 1.5 percent of the total purse going to the top four point earners (with the exception of the winner) in order.

Thus the winner of each race will still receive 50 percent of the total purse no matter how many activity points he earns.

We’ve also stated that horses that are used within the race and earn points should be able to drop freely while those who don’t qualify for points should not be allowed to drop in class. In order to make this model more effective, we suggest that earnings achieved from activity points should be subtracted from the horse’s total earnings in most recent starts. Conversely, horses that lack a minimum amount of activity earnings in their most recent starts simply would not qualify to drop in class.

How to earn activity points:

The system we are devising hopes to credit horses that create action during the first, second, and third quarter. It’s to be assumed that past that point the horses will decide the race and those finishing in the top five will get their just rewards. Therefore we will attempt to breakdown a chart that defines movement in the first quarter based on post and advancement through the first part of the mile. The objective here is to reward on a scale from the outside in. In other words, a horse leaving from the outside and gaining positions will earn the most points while ones leaving from the inside will earn the least, if any.

The first 1/4

Horses improving 3-4 spots based on post and first quarter call receive 1 point

Horses improving 5-6 spots based on post and first quarter call receive 2 points

Horses improving 7 spots based on post and first quarter call receive 3 points.

Horses that allow others to tuck in front of them in the first quarter without moving to the outside afterwards receive -1 point.

The second 1/4

Horses that pull to the outside from the quarter-pole through the second turn without cover receive 1 point. With the exception being a horse regaining the lead from the pocket.

Horses that pull from the quarter through the second turn to follow cover receive ½ point.

Horses that improve four or more positions from the quarter to the half and race on the outside earn 3 points.

Horses that improve three positions from the quarter to the half on the outside earn 2 points.

Horses that improve two positions from the quarter to the half on the outside earn 1 point.

The third 1/4

Points earned from the half to the three-quarters will be based on two factors. First, will be that the individual third quarter must be timed equal or faster than the second quarter. Second, horses will be rewarded for racing without cover and advancing three wide. Those simply following cover will earn no additional activity points. By using both factors we’re assured that outside horses don’t earn points while pace and movement is stalled.

Horses racing without cover through a third quarter equal to or faster than the second earn 2 points.

Horses racing three wide without cover commencing on or off the third turn earn *2 points.

The race leader at the quarter, half and three quarter poles will receive 1 point per call.

(*regardless of the pace of the third quarter.)

The ideas set forth here are designed to create a betting product with a broader scope. It should come as a surprise to no one that bettors like to feel they have a chance to win, not just when they place their bets, but during the actual running of the race. Tweaking the system to create more movement likely will create more of a pace and should in part allow horses previously too far back, to now contend for the top prizes.

There was a time when the odds were much more balanced in harness races. A time when a closer or a speed horse had similar chances to win and the odds on all horses more accurately matched the morning line than it does today.

The sport has offered far too much purse money over the time since the dawn of slot-induced purses, without so much as creating a product to attract both new and old bettors to the windows or other wagering devices.

The good news is that there is sufficient money to take on this experiment without any suffering. Those horsemen that sit on the rail and look to pick up checks can still do so, the checks may be a tad smaller but that’s the price that should be paid for not helping to put on a good show.

The winners and movers will earn a lion’s share of the purse and be able to earn drops in class quicker than the non-movers.

Some might argue that this system should only be in place in conditioned races and not in claimers. While that may be true, there’s no reason to exclude anyone, each and every race should be important to the industry and the audience we’re trying to attract.