Updated on 09/17/2011 10:41PM

Dealing with those not in it to win it


NEW YORK - There were 14 betting interests in the Breeders' Cup Turf last Saturday and 13 in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Those numbers would have been reversed if a couple of rule changes worth thinking about had been in place.

The Classic could have had 14 rather than 13 if the Breeders' Cup permitted also-eligibles in oversubscribed fields. Rock Hard Ten was declared from the race Friday morning and Lord of the Game could have been added to the field before the start of advance betting.

The Turf would have had 13 rather than 14 betting interests if Shake the Bank had been coupled in the betting with Better Talk Now, the stablemate he was entered to help. Instead, over $100,000 was wagered on a horse who was neither entered nor ridden with any intention of winning the race.

Of the two issues, an also-eligible list is the more complex, though not the administrative nightmare its opponents foresee. In races every day where entries exceed starting berths, there are also-eligibles who are assigned a betting number at entry time and who can draw into a race if there are scratches.

If the Classic had operated the same way, Lord of the Game would have been number 15 at entry time and A.P. Arrow would have been number 16. When Rock Hard Ten (number 1) was declared Friday morning, Lord of the Game would have drawn in as the 15, and the 1 and 16 would have been scratched. Had no one defected from the field, the two also-eligibles would have been officially scratched at noon Friday.

This is no more complicated than what takes place at tracks across the country every day. Allowing even just two also-eligibles in any oversubscribed Cup race would ensure full fields and give additional horses on the cusp a chance to compete. The only downside is that as many as 16 scratches would be announced from the card, but these would be known and disseminated over 24 hours before post time.

As for coupled entries, the Breeders' Cup went to a system of no coupling several years ago, and 98 percent of the time this has been an improvement. Think how much better a betting race the 1988 Juvenile Fillies would have been had D. Wayne Lukas's five starters been separate betting interests instead of coupled as a five-ply entry at 7-10. In the 1996 Turf, bettors should not have been stuck with a four-ply entry of Singspiel, Swain, Shantou, and Wall Street at 11-10 because of overlapping owners and trainers.

Perhaps, though, there should be an exception in extraordinary cases such as this year's Turf. Shake the Bank was entered solely as a rabbit and lucky charm for Better Talk Now, who had won two Grade 1 races this year when Shake the Bank sprinted off to massive early leads before being virtually eased. Both times Shake the Bank was ridden in a kamikaze manner that ensured both a fast pace and an off-the-board finish.

In the Turf, he ran as a separate betting interest under Breeders' Cup rules and predictably finished dead last after opening a seven-length early lead. His only chance of winning the race was if all 13 of his opponents had been pulled up, yet he went off at odds of only 81-1, attracting more than $35,000 of dead money in the win pool and probably hundreds of thousands more in exotic bets from those who unthinkingly hit the "all" button.

You can argue that anyone stupid or lazy enough to bet on Shake the Bank deserves what he got, but it is still at the very least unseemly for a track to allow betting on a horse who not merely lacks the ability to win - that happens every day - but who it knows will be ridden in such a way as to ensure defeat. That's why the Belmont stewards should have coupled Show Boot and Crafty Player with Saint Liam in the Woodward, when they were entered purely as rabbits and were beaten 61 and 62 lengths. Instead, they burned tens of thousands of dollars going off at only 13-1 each.

Some will argue that it is inconsistent to couple horses sometimes and not others, but inconsistency in the name of fairness and integrity is also known as good judgment. There are trained human beings rather than robots in the stewards' stand in order to make such calls, and this should be an easy one. In the rare cases when a horse is entered solely for the benefit of another, with an announced intention of being given no chance to win on his own, he should not stand as a separate betting interest.