Commentary

Constructive, realistic fixes

Updated: February 25, 2011, 12:21 PM ET
By Bill Finley | Special to ESPN.com

"Can we please stop bashing the sport (which is deserved in many cases) and start coming up with ways to fix it? Every writer under the sun has had their say about the demise of horse racing, but very few (if any) have had constructive/realistic fixes." -- SaratogaSpa77

SaratogaSpa77, whoever that might be, posted the above comment in reaction to colleague Jay Cronley's recent column, "Our Game Today." I don't necessarily agree with SaratogaSpa77. Constructive criticism of a sport in deep trouble is something to be valued and appreciated. But I was intrigued by the challenge the reader issued. You want constructive/realistic fixes? Here goes:

  • Reduce the betting unit for all exotic or multiple race wagers to 10 cents. The popularity of the 10-cent superfecta and the 50-cent Pick Fours and Pick Fives speaks volumes. People want to play these bets, but they want to have a realistic chance of hitting them without having to put up several hundred dollars. Every trifecta, superfecta, Pick Three, Four, Five and Six should cost just 10 cents per wager. Even 50 cents is too much. Look at the V-75 in Sweden. It's a 10-cent bet that is equivalent to a Pick 7 and it handles around $12 million every week. That's 12 million in a country that has about as many people as North Carolina.

  • The four or five top tracks in the country have to get together and coordinate their post times. There is nothing more aggravating for the player than to have three races go off within four minutes off one another, something that is completely avoidable. Here's how it can be done, at least at this time of year: Gulfstream, Laurel, Aqueduct, Tampa Bay Downs and, maybe, Oaklawn should coordinate their schedules and work together on their television broadcasts. The schedule will call for a race to go off from a different track every seven minutes.

  • Get rid of all entries in any race worth $50,000 or more. Bettors are crying out for good betting races and fleeing from those events with five horses and a 3-5 favorite. To think someone would play around in a stakes race or anything with a big purse to cash a bet is ridiculous. To get rid of entries would make a lot of races more attractive to the player.

  • Every track in the country should change the conditions of their graded stakes races to ban the offspring of prematurely retired horses. Any horse whose sire was four or younger at the time the horse was conceived would not be eligible. Do that and never again would a star horse be rushed off to the breeding shed after their 3-year-old year.

  • A track that no one pays any attention to, some place like, say, Suffolk Downs or Beulah, should try morning racing. When you run in the afternoon and go up against simulcast giants like NYRA, Gulfstream and Churchill, who is going to play your product? You could run your first race at 10:00 am and have the entire morning to yourself. It's worth a try.

  • Rebates. Who ever isn't giving them should. Whoever is giving them should increase them. And don't just give them to the guy betting $500,000 a year. There's no reason why the $10 bettor shouldn't get something small back. All rebates do is encourage more play and they are a way of lowering the effective takeout. In the long run, everyone wins.

  • Stewards should be made to be more transparent. Every time the stewards have to make a decision regarding an inquiry or an objection they should have to come on the in-house television afterward and explain themselves. Too often, we get the opposite. Look at what happened with the Life At Ten debacle. After all this time we still have no explanation as to what went on and we had a steward saying that the best way to handle things is to no longer allow jockeys and/or trainers to talk to the television reporters before a race. Great, let's give the betting public less information, not more.

    Are you happy now, SaratogaSpa77?

    Bill Finley is an award-winning racing writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated. Contact him at wnfinley@aol.com.

    • Bill Finley is an award-winning horse racing writer whose work has also appeared in The New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated.
    • To contact Bill, email him at wnfinley@aol.com