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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Helping the Small Outfits

By Bill Ashabraner, horseman and guest columnist

I salute Frank Lewkowitz’s letter to the editor in the Sunday, June 6 edition of the Daily Racing Form for saying that California needs to accommodate the small owners and trainers. It’s obvious that racing everywhere cannot survive without them. The sooner people in charge of racing admit this and do something about it, the quicker the bleeding will stop.

Monmouth is giving away $1 million a day in purses. All that is doing is hurting all the tracks around them. In my opinion, it’s doing more harm than good. The one good thing I see is that each starter gets at least $1,500 regardless of where they finish. There are so many pluses to this – it helps the small stables with two to ten horses stay in business by helping pay the monthly expenses of a $2,000-$3,000 training bill.

In Kentucky, where I raced most of the time, if every starter got $1,000 per start regardless of where the horse finished, it would change racing completely. How? With bigger fields which, in turn, results in bigger handle, and that is the ultimate goal for everyone involved. Where does the money come from? Here are two possibilities:

Example one: Everyday racetracks from New York to California will have a $40,000-$50,000 allowance race with six horses or less, with one scratch and a 3-to-5 shot in it. This race will have one of the lowest handle of the day. Racetracks call that quality racing. That is not what I call it. What about you?

I’m not saying drop all allowance races – just the ones for which the racing office has four horses entered. They beg two more to enter, knowing one is going to scratch. That should be a race you drop. The mega outfits will not like this idea; it would make them enter their horses in bigger fields and more competitive races.

Example Two: Give 55% to first place finishers in races instead of 60%, leaving 5% to go towards a fund that would pay all finishers after fourth place $1,000 per horse for running. Then take the 3% usually awarded to the fifth place finisher in races and add it to the 5% you put into the fund to pay all finishers after fourth place. Any money not used would revert back to the winner.

This would give the small outfits some badly needed relief and a chance to survive this tough game of racing we all love so much. It will also help big outfits whose owners are having a bad run of luck. Racing is on a downhill spiral. This just might turn it around – or at least slow it down.

Here’s a big problem for small owners and trainers: you run your horse for a $5,000 claiming tag and he runs second or third. Then someone claims him out of his next start, where he also finishes second. You lost him without getting one win after putting 60 to 90 days of training and several thousand dollars in your horse.

Solution: Once you horse has started for a claiming price, let’s just say from $5,000 to $25,000, you can enter him to be claimed or not to be claimed. This is called an optional claiming race. Once your horse has won two of these races, you have to raise him or enter to be claimed.

For instance, your horse runs ten times before you win two races. He also ran second three times and third three times. He has made $20,000 or more in purse money. This will keep your owners happy and keep the small outfits in business. This will not be very popular at the racing office or the with mega outfit that claims your horses. Who says you have to keep them happy?

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