07/13/2010 11:00PM

Faster horses migrating from New York to Monmouth


PHILADELPHIA - If you give the cash away, they will come. And if the good horses come and field sizes increase, players will bet more money, possibly a lot more money. That was the theory of this summer's Monmouth Park meeting.

The huge handle numbers demonstrate that the public likes the product so the second part of the theory is proving true. So how much better are these horses than the horses at the 2009 Monmouth meet and, if they are better, what track is getting affected?

Beyer Central now has enough data to make a determination. The Beyers clearly show that Monmouth is getting faster (and better) horses at this meet than it got over the same period last year. And that is affecting the quality of the horses running at Belmont Park.

"I have adjusted the pars to reflect the new reality," said Mark Hopkins who does the Beyers at Monmouth and Belmont.

During the first six weeks of last year's meet, older males in maiden special weight races on the main track at Monmouth averaged an 83 Beyer. This year, it is 91. Last year, $5,000 claimers averaged 72. This year, it is 77. Conditional claimers running for $5,000 averaged 63 then and 73 now. It is not so stark at every level, but the data is pretty clear.

Turf races are no different. Last year, first-level allowance races for older males averaged an 84 Beyer. This year, horses at that level are averaging a 91 Beyer.

These are not the same horses running for more money. These are better horses running for more money.

For every action, there generally is an equal reaction. At Belmont, during the first six weeks of the Monmouth meeting, first-level allowance races for older males are down from an average of 100 to 97. That is still better than Monmouth, but the gap is narrowing. It was 11 points last year, just 4 points this year. Races for $7,500 claimers at Belmont are down from 80 to 72.

"The one thing we've been seeing for the last three years is the deterioration of New York racing," Hopkins said. "The slippery slope is even getting steeper ... With the purse structure at Monmouth, what you would expect would happen has happened. They're getting all the good horses in the allowance classes and in maiden races. When you get to the claiming races where the purses are ridiculously high at Monmouth, you see the same thing."

Trainers like to keep their owners in business. So they are doing the only sane thing. They are running for the money.

"How can you pick up the phone and talk to an owner and say. 'I think we ought to run at Belmont, where the purse is $50,000, as opposed to Monmouth, where it's $85,000?' " Hopkins said.

You can't, of course. Not if you want that owner to keep horses with you.

One could argue that it might be easier to win in New York, where the field sizes, given the money disparity, are going to be smaller.

One could also argue that this might be a short-term situation, given the political realities in New Jersey. That may certainly be true, but the Monmouth experiment clearly is working as hoped.

"The turnaround is really dramatic," Hopkins said.

Knowing the past data probably would be irrelevant at Monmouth, Hopkins erased the Monmouth pars from the Beyer system when the meet began so he could just look at the races in relation to each other and not past years.

Updated pars are back in the system, reflecting the kinds of horses that are now running at the Jersey Shore. And it is a far faster group than in 2009.

By the way, Jersey-breds are still Jersey-breds. There isn't a ton of data yet, but it appears they have not gotten any faster even though they are running for so much more money. That program has been so devastated recently that it will take years to catch up to the money. And there is no guarantee the money will still be there, even if program ever caught up.

What this all means long term is a discussion for another day. What it has meant short term is quite clear.

The horses at Monmouth in 2010 are far faster than the horses there in 2009. Our system allows us to make an apples to apples comparison and the data on our par reports could not be any clearer.

Now that Saratoga is upon us, it will be interesting to see if the trend continues. We will know more around Labor Day, but the early returns are unmistakable.