Short Fields: How do Owners Combat Such?

September 10, 2019

An Owners Rx to Combat Short Fields

By Michael Valiante

Nick and Delora Beaver started Bell Gable Stable in July of 2017. In a very short period of time it grew to be a mid-sized stable, racing to-date primarily at Delaware and Laurel. I reached out to Nick recently to get his perspective on what tracks could do to combat the problem of short fields.  While some of his comments were given with Delaware Park in mind, a number of them could be applicable to other tracks on a case-by-case basis. The Beaver’s moved their entire operation from Chesapeake, Virginia in an effort to make the Mid-Atlantic area their home base. That plan has been a challenge this year given the problem of filling fields at Delaware Park.

The primary suggestion Nick had for tracks that are having a tough time filling fields was for the racing secretaries to do a more creative job by writing a variety of conditions. For example this year at Delaware there has been a preponderance of cheaper maiden claiming races and higher level allowance races.  Mid-level claiming races are rarely written except as extra races, that often do not fill, in part because trainers are reluctant to commit to the extras for fear that the race will not run. This chicken and egg conundrum is a challenge for both trainer and track. In addition, given the busy schedule of trainers he felt it would be beneficial for tracks to lengthen the time from when they communicate to trainers the races that are going to be run and when the entries need to be submitted to the Racing Form.  This would give trainers more time to respond and let the racing office know that they want to enter a horse.

Given the popularity of turf races among owners, trainers and bettors, Nick suggested it would be a productive use of track capital to ensure turf courses were in top shape. The handle from fuller fields that turf races often produce could more than offset additional expenditures.  When the weather necessitates that a race come off the turf, a bonus could be offered to owners to keep their horses in the race.

He also felt that tracks need to make sure they are catering to their most loyal trainers and owners.  These are the ones that are supporting the local economy in the greatest way and helping to sustain the employees and ancillary jobs connected with the track.

From a marketing perspective tracks need to find a niche that distinguishes them from other local tracks.  This is especially important in a region like the Mid-Atlantic which has so many tracks, a number of which virtually run all year long.  In the case of Delaware Park, Nick felt that twilight racing would be a distinguishing feature. From June through August starting a card at 3PM would allow the track to run cards without adding lights which might be prohibitively expensive.  From a purse perspective mid-level tracks needs to hit a sweet spot of purses to be higher than the cheaper tracks but at the same time fit their purse budget. 

I reached out to an owner for his opinion because I have never been an owner and I wanted to get that perspective.  If I may be permitted to editorialize for a moment I found it interesting Nick felt, as I do, that owners and bettors are the chief stakeholders of the sport.  If tracks do not satisfy the needs and desires of these two groups there will be no prescription to cure the ills that currently infect it.

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