04/03/2017 9:37AM

Zoccali: Revamping the current condition sheet

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Quality of product is a phrase that goes far beyond what it appears to mean on the surface.  In harness racing, quality of product is often defined by the caliber of horses in a given race on a racing program or the overall quality of the horse population throughout a meet.

However, the overall quality of the racing product is also impacted dramatically by field size and the competitiveness of those fields.

To simplify, bettors want to bet on races with big fields that provide value for their wagering.  A high-percentage of short-priced favorites is the antithesis of what the racetrack’s goals should be.

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While a racetrack can’t do anything about the overall horse population in the industry, which has declined steadily over the past decade, they can put together a racing format with conditions that maximize the potential of their racing programs.

Five years ago The Meadowlands implemented classified racing, which initially created the efficiencies outlined above.  The fields were large, they were competitive and favorites were winning at only a 30-percent clip. Over time, horsemen support for the program waned a bit and the overall decrease in horse population impacted the classified system of racing as well.  Classified racing does not work without a sufficient horse population, due to the race office’s need to combine classes, which leads to short-priced favorites.

My contention is the present money-condition system of classifying races is antiquated and limits the potential of the harness racing product. Bottom-level money conditions consist of horses that struggle at even the lowest levels when mixed with horses that have far classier backgrounds and are dropping down to this level where they typically dominate at a short price.  It’s just not a good racing product.

I genuinely believe that the thoroughbred system of classifying horses is far better, generally speaking.

Therefore, if I were writing a condition book for a standardbred racetrack, it would look like this:

Maiden AllowanceN2L AllowanceN1X ClaimingN2L Alw7500s
Mdn/Claiming AllowanceN3L AllowanceN2X ClaimingN3L Alw10000s
    AllowanceN3X ClaimingN4L Alw15000s
    AllowanceN4X Open Claiming Alw25000s
    AllowanceNC    

The goal is to prevent races with short fields or with prohibitive favorites while not alienating horsemen.

Here is a breakdown of each category of race.

Maiden:

Trainers will have a choice based on their horse’s ability to enter the horse in an open maiden race, which will be more difficult, or a maiden race with a claiming price condition.  Those races with a claiming condition will vary in claiming price.  As it stands now, it becomes the luck of the draw as to how difficult a non-winners of one (maiden) race is.  Providing a two-tiered system to horses, with sub-sections of one of those tiers will help horsemen classify their young horses better.

Allowance:

Horses that have broken their maiden will have the option to move into Allowance company.  These races carry lifetime win conditions or carry a condition referred to as “non-winners of a race other than.”  This condition opens the race up in that the condition doesn’t include certain races in the number of wins in the condition.  For example, wins earned in maiden or claiming company would not count against the horse in terms of number of lifetime wins.  In addition, some of these races may include an optional-claiming price that would vary depending on the condition of the race.  In other words, if a horse does not fit the condition of the race, he can be entered into the race, but could be claimed out of the race for the claiming price listed.

Claiming:

This provides a “cheaper” option to trainers that have a horse that has graduated out of the maiden ranks but is not good enough to compete in any allowance company.  Naturally, the claiming races will have varying claiming prices assigned to them than can range from as low as $5,000 to over $100,000.  In addition, claiming races can have win-conditions assigned to them as well, which allows trainers to classify their horse at a level that best suits their horses’ ability.  In addition, this system would likely increase the number of claiming races and could bring about a new era of high-level claimers that so many harness racing fans refer to when speaking of the “glory days” of harness racing.

Starter Allowance:

This is a very useful condition, but thoroughbred racing doesn’t use it very effectively.  This condition is meant to allow better claiming horses to race in a condition in which they don’t have to be entered for a claiming price but can be more competitive than in the tougher condition-allowance races.  If they have a start for a certain claiming price, they qualify for the starter allowance that lists that claiming price as the condition attached to the race.  The error thoroughbred racing commits is that they don’t put a time-condition on these races.  Essentially, if a horse raced for a $15,000 claiming price nine months ago, they may still be able to race in a $15,000 starter-allowance, which means “horses that have raced for a claiming price of $15,000 or less.”  Therefore, a horse that has gotten much better than when he raced for that claiming price, would dominate this level of starter-allowance.  There would need to be a time condition referring to when they raced for the claiming price, as well as a performance condition, so a horse couldn’t win the same starter-allowance five races in a row.

The ultimate goal here is to provide the betting public with the best racing product possible, while also allowing trainers to classify horses in a manner that they can perform to the best of their ability.  I believe the outlined conditions above would be a positive step in accomplishing that, while simultaneously mitigating some of the impact of the dramatic decrease in horse population that we have seen over the past decade.  Of course, what I outlined is a simplified version of what the condition book would look like.  But the purpose of this column is to show that there is an alternative to the present structure of writing races in harness racing out there.  I believe this alternative will prove better for bettors and horsemen alike.