Uncoupled Entries, They Stink

June 15, 2020

Uncoupled entries, get rid of them…

There are so many things wrong with horse racing today I often find myself hard pressed to wager. In my wildest dreams twenty years ago I could have never imagined feeling this way. Thirty years ago I’d have told you it was an impossibility, and here we are. I went to the races every live racing day for many years running, and I mean many, now I go 10 times a year if that.

I’m not going to go into the multitude of issues racing faces here. Not today anyway. Today I’ll talk about one. Granted, I may be in the minority on this, but maybe when you’re done reading it you will either join me, or at the least understand my perspective.

I don’t mind being in the minority. Not in the least. We all have our thoughts and opinions. Everyone in this game understands the preference to large fields, myself obviously included.

The shot callers in racing, although seem to hate and shun the gambler, their customer, make a large wager on us themselves. Ironic no? They wager, and successfully I might add, that we will bet on whatever product they put out, and under whatever rules of the day they go with. That stinks.

There is a long list of horses who ran coupled. The 1 and 1A and 2 and 2B were common at one time. Secretariat ran as an entry in the Wood Memorial and lost to his stablemate Angle Light. That is why he was 5-2 in the Kentucky Derby where he was also an entry. In the very first or inaugural Marlboro Cup, the then equivalent of todays Breeders’ Cup Classic, Secretariat ran as an entry with stablemate Riva Ridge. Believe it or not he was not the only entry in that small field.

It was common and it was better. A lot better, especially for the bettor.

For those wondering how anything that can reduce field sizes can possibly be better for the bettor, I’ll explain. You either understand or you don’t.

Last year at Saratoga I was in the paddock following a stake. An owner who had won a stake earlier on the card was talking to a jockey agent. They were standing right next to me. I couldn’t help but overhear what they were saying.

The agent congratulated the owner, and then stated there must be some interesting conversations at your house when you beat your husband like that. This owner’s husband, also a prominent owner ran the favorite in the race the owner standing next to me had won. Both horses ran uncoupled, and both were trained by the same trainer. The reply went pretty much like this. No, not really, we have an agreement between each other and also our friends we race against in stakes, whoever wins kicks money from the purse back to the others. We keep it friendly that way.

I’m not going to get into the rules of racing or conflicts of interest or anything like that just now. If you are alright with that scenario and betting into it so be it. I don’t like when it is friendly and financially beneficial to “them” and not disclosed or financially beneficial to “us.”

Why is it we are supposed to assume the participants in racing are beyond any cheating or collusion? Do they extend us the same courtesy? Try going to the track and placing a wager on credit. Try asking for lunch and telling them you’ll pay for it next Saturday when you come back. Forget lunch, try it with a cup of coffee and you’ll see what they think of most of you. Most, not all.

So many people at every level of the game have been involved in what shall we say are improper racing practices. Why are we asked to lie down for uncoupled entries in the same race?

Let us say Chad Brown or anyone really, has three horses in a six horse field and they are uncoupled. I use Chad as an example because it happens with him more often than others but it can be anyone. How do you think the pre race conversations go? Is it at the least probable or maybe possible they go like this?

Okay, you move first and go to the lead if you can get it. You sit off the pace and make a run, if the speed comes back you’ll be in position and if not maybe our other horse holds on. You sit back and don’t ask him for much except a good finish and gallop out. The other two are fitter but we are pointing for that stake next month with your mount. Stay out of trouble and any fights.

The sharper players I know use all a trainers horses when they have multiple uncoupled entries. You almost have to unless you enjoying inflicting self pain. Does anything sting as much as losing to the trainers other horse at a longer price and watching high fives in the winners’ circle while you tear up your tickets? Sure if we assume all was on the level it lessons the sting, but what do they say about assuming? Does anyone care to calculate what having to use extra horses you may not like in your wagers does to a bottom line, especially when you factor takeout and everything else? It is a killer.

What about the other guy who thinks he is the smartest person in the room? He thinks he can not only handicap the race but also the intents and intangibles. He is just going to use the horse he likes. Never mind the rest, after all he is the smartest guy in the room, or the pool. How many times over the course of the year does this guy use the one pointing for another race, or the one not as fit as the others? He might as well be playing three card monte, this poor soul has no shot and he doesn’t even know it. He is so far behind he thinks he is in front.

These things are part of racing. We are not talking betting coups or anything truly nefarious. Yes, those things happen too, but we can leave them out of this and still illustrate the point. You can’t stop a barn from giving a horse a race. Some trainers have to race their horses into shape. We all know how anything can happen and horses hustled into or put into races to fill them and make them go have won. It happens, and will continue to. When it comes to uncoupled entries however, it can be structured to give the bettor the best shot and most protection without penalizing anyone else. I am all for that.

At the end of the day I believe uncoupled entries hurts the players bottom line much more than a few shorter fields would.

Everyone has an opinion on how to bring new blood to the game. Racing management acts on very little of it and they themselves apparently have no clue. I say one paramount for new blood is retaining your old blood. Does anybody know anyone who is a bettor and was asked their opinion about the new whip rule in California? Of course not.

You either get it or you don’t.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

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  1. waltertnyc Jun 15, 2020 at 9:48 pm

    As a weekend warrior, I may fall into the category of being so far behind I think I am ahead at times. But my fruitful journey handicapping the game over the last few years has come about because I invested a good deal of time to understand the nuances of CB’s barn. The Just a Game is going to be fun for me this coming weekend, as I don’t see uncoupled entries the same way. It’s another layer of the handicapping challenge for me. I look at it as an opportunity to interpret some of the repeating, predictable angles of the Eclipse Award winning barn – workout tabs, jock selection, likely targets selected for the horse, visual reads in the paddock, previous barn commentary, and more. And, yes, sometimes “all” of the barn is the sharp play, but not always.

    I’m pretty sure that the biggest bet I made all meet at the Spa ’19 (vertically and horizontally) was in the race you over heard the discussion about. If I’m right, I had the favored filly who wasnt able to grab the track having too much ground to make up under Irad that day, and Johnny V (wife) took it down with Javy (husband) just slightly back. I agree with you that a well executed jockey game plan amongst multiple uncoupled entries from a barn can produce a layer of variance that is tough to dope out with shrewd handicapping. But I can also count on this strategy to produce the best possible outcome for all of his head. I think all of the Chadzactas, Chadfectas and Eclipse Awards speak to that.

    Therefore, I don’t see sharing a taste of the purse amongst the husband-wife-team as a negative. I think celebrating the win in the barn/household can serve to reduce possible resentment developing between owners. I don’t know this for certain, but, in this specific case, I think it is worth considering that this can actually foster competition. Owners in the same shed can run against each other at the highest level for the sport of it. It sounds naive typing it now, but don’t the parties involved have such a stack of FU money that this at least worth considering? At the same time, I also don’t think this is a one-size fits all for all barns, races, horses and scenarios. So, I get that my consent for this type of dealmaking can be a double edged sword.

    Can’t help but think that Magic Star jumping into the hedges at Churchill on Sunday set you off to write this article on beliefs you had already held before that happened. For what its worth, I had Catch A Bid in that spot thinking there was no speed in the race, and Gaffalione only had one move from the outside post on her. At the same time, there’s no question I was wrong in an earlier comment to your Clubhouse Notes the day before the Shoemaker Mile. I thought Raging Bull was the one based on my read, and although he won, Without Parole was absolutely loaded while stifled behind the leaders in late stretch. Irad just couldnt find a way out. So while I don’t always read the tea leaves right, I don’t think the possibility of profit sharing in this exact scenario is underhanded or against the spirit of the game. I think it is worth considering as another layer of the riddle we interpret, and game we love.

    1. Jonathan Stettin Jun 16, 2020 at 6:09 am

      I like your take Walter. I don’t agree but I do like it. Magic Star had nothing to do with this article. I was planning on writing it for a long time and just finally got around to it. More spur of the moment get this one done already more than anything else.

  2. Wmcilmail@aol.com Jun 16, 2020 at 6:41 am

    Outstanding article. As a player on mainly big days who often partners with buddies in pick 4 and 5 I have stopped playing those bets if the sequence has uncoupled entries. I have no knowledge of intent and the equity is limited by forcing a spread scenario. It is a disservice to the betting public.

    1. Jonathan Stettin Jun 16, 2020 at 2:09 pm

      Thank you

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