07/27/2012 4:54PM

Letters to the Editor July 29


Concentration of racing talent stagnates the game

As an owner and track patron, I have found it difficult watching the integrity of the sport consistently called into question in recent years. While there are many issues in the game that need fixing, including the abolition of performance-enhancing drugs and stiff adjudication for cheaters, for the most part racing jurisdictions have done a creditable job with drug policies, and the majority of horsemen are not utilizing illegal substances. If this is true, why are some trainers suddenly posting extraordinary winning percentages?

Perhaps the answer lies in the advent of the "supertrainer." Over the last 10 years, fewer trainers have gained control of a larger population of horses. This is especially true of the higher quality (allowance and stakes) horses. In years past, trainers would limit their stables. Nowadays, certain trainers will take any horse available. Some make an effort to attract the better quality 2-year-olds. This endless pursuit of "grab all you can, while you can" has dire consequences for the industry because it leads to a lack of competition. Racing offices have more trouble filling races, and the high concentration of quality runners with fewer trainers leads to a lower quality racing product. Ultimately, smaller field sizes and lower quality racing has a negative impact on handle, and the whole sport is damaged.

A look at the 2012 spring/summer meeting statistics at Belmont serves as evidence. Increased purses brought a wider array of trainers with quality runners. This increased competition created a more normal bell curve in terms of winning percentages among leading trainers, a range of 15-25 percent. Most would agree that is a return to normalcy. The inverse was true over the winter, where higher purses did not bring increased competition but instead more racing from a few powerful stables. This monopolization of talent led to win percentages often in excess of 25 percent.

Racing management should think about modernizing. Stall allocations should be restricted, and mandatory roster reporting should be enforced. Racing secretaries should have systems in place to monitor and account for horses they have at their disposal. These policies may create greater opportunity for competent yet smaller trainers to grow their stables. Giving a few trainers 100-plus stalls enriches nobody other than the trainer, and has clearly been a major contributing factor to the decline of the product.

Perhaps if we can start to get the easy fixes right, we can move past the ridiculous notions that the abolition of Lasix and the limiting of 2-year-old field sizes will improve the sport.

Anthony J. Perrotta, Jr. - Red Bank, N.J.