Flatter: Do the math to explain small fields on Belmont day

Flatter: Do the math to explain small fields on Belmont day

Elmont,
N.Y.

5
5 7 6 5 5 8.

No,
that is not a phone number. Actually, now that I bothered to look it up, it is. It belongs to someone about a half-hour away in Massapequa.

What
I was thinking of here was the number of horses in seven of the Grade 1 races on Belmont Stakes day. Other than the Jaipur and the Manhattan, those are the field
sizes.

Take
more than a passing glance at social media this week, and it was like the
racing world responded to the dearth of horses Saturday at Belmont Park by pegging its twitching needle. Or at least something that rhymes
with twitching.

Seriously,
though, who did not see this coming? As some teachers in junior high school begged
me, do the math.

The
Thoroughbred foal crop is about half the size of what it was 15 years ago. The
Jockey Club reported it went from 34,358 in 2007 to 17,840 in 2021. Is anyone
really betting that 2022 will not be the seventh straight year it has shrunk?

In
1992, the average North American racehorse started 8.03 races. In 2021, The
Jockey Club said that number was 5.95.

The number of stakes to be filled is not shrinking. Especially when outfits
like the New York Racing Association try to stack big races to create
big days. Yes, the Met Mile should be back on Memorial Day where it belongs.
But if there were not all those other Grade 1s on the Belmont undercard,
how many people would show up to bet? Especially since we will be going on five
years since there was even a chance at a Triple Crown on Belmont day.

Tony
Kornheiser has made a mantra out of something the late TV sports producer Don Ohlmeyer
told him years ago. “The answer to all your questions is money.” Since I cannot
go five minutes with stealing something from Uncle Tony, here I go again.

Actually,
pay no attention to the man behind the keyboard that was used to peck out this
column. Check out what Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher had to say on my podcast
about the small fields.

He
mentioned how some horsemen probably were scared off by the stars in some of
the races, like Flightline and Speaker’s Corner in the Met Mile. How “there’s
not a lot of upside to being third or fourth in those races” because of top-heavy purses.

But
then he got to the more basic money.

“I
think a big part of that is just the cost of racing in New York,” Pletcher said. “It’s
very expensive for trainers to run in New York. I think that’s the one thing that people have missed. One of the things that NYRA needs to take a look at is
just how much it’s costing trainers to stay in business. The labor costs are
outrageous.”

That
was the very reason Kiaran McLaughlin got out of training more than two years
ago in order to become a jockey agent. Now he handles Luis Sáez’s book. That is
better than handling the more than $300,000 he was fined by the New York state
government for trying to work around the hourly $15 minimum wage.

McLaughlin
was not alone in getting pinged by the state Department of Labor. So were Chad
Brown, Jimmy Jerkens, Leo O’Brien, Linda Rice and Doodnauth Shivmangal,
according to a Daily Racing Form report in late 2019. That was just a
fraction of the trainers who have felt the pinch.

At
the time NYRA was said to be trying to find a way to give trainers a break on
their workman’s comp payments, but that was only part of the problem.

Asked
if he felt the higher cost of doing business was being addressed, Pletcher said, “It wouldn’t be obvious that
it is. All of our expenses continue to go up. Labor goes up. Shavings go up.
Straw goes up. Hay goes up. Everything goes up.”

He
admitted the purse structure in New York is strong, but not so strong that he
and his peers were not getting squeezed.

Oh, yeah. There is the less sexy issue of medication. Lasix has been weaned
out of almost all the big stakes across the country. If the drug was used to get horses back to the track sooner, its
absence might be another reason that the Grade 1 races Saturday look so thin.

“That
part I don’t know,” Pletcher said. “I think that’s something we have to be
braced and ready for. No race-day medication is something that’s going to
happen globally. It’s certainly another one of the many factors.”

It
is going to get more complicated in three weeks, when the Horseracing Integrity
and Safety Act kicks in. A complete Lasix ban is part of HISA – kind of. State
regulators are allowed to get a three-year buffer while the government studies
the impact of the ban.

Even
then, that will not reverse the other trends. There is no sign that there will
be a population explosion among Thoroughbreds or that trainers are suddenly
going to use their horses like every-day relief pitchers or that big-name stakes
are going away or that inflation will be resolved. That last one is something
we all appreciate. Or depreciate.

Again,
as Mr. Schoonover and Mr. Dorsey tried to get me to do at Bidwell Junior High in Chico, Calif., do the math. When there are only so many horses to put
in so many races, something has to give. Thus, 5 5 7 6 5 5 8.

At
least it is not 2 2 2 2 2 2 2. That happened overseas on the Mount
Ararat card. By the way, I hear a sailor had all the winners that day.

#Flatter #math #explain #small #fields #Belmont #day

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.