Monday, October 20, 2008

New York Moves Toward Uncoupled Entries

The New York State Racing and Wagering Board – the state agency responsible for regulating thoroughbred racing – has proposed a rule that would allow trainers to enter a maximum of two horses per race as uncoupled entries, i.e., separate betting interests.  The rule, which was announced by the Board on October 10th, could be adopted any time after the public comment period ends on October 29th.

Coupling of entries has always been a hot-button issue for bettors.  When a trainer’s horses run uncoupled, and the 20-1 longshot wins, while the 8-5 favorite runs up the track, many handicappers are quick to suspect chicanery. And who knows, in some cases they may be right.  So the pressure for requiring a trainer to couple entries has always come from bettors and those in the press who say they’re representing the bettors.

Uncoupled entries are already permitted in New York in stakes races. The proposed rule would allow them in all races.  Coupling of entries as a single betting interest would still be required, as it is now, when two or more horses in a race have the same ownership (in New York, that means a 25% overlap in ownership among the horses), whether or not the horses have the same trainer.  Obviously, the potential for game-playing is greater where there’s common ownership, as the same entity ends up with the purse, no matter which horse wins.

New York trainers have been seeking the rule change for years.  They say, with a good deal of truth, that the rule limits their options for entering horses, and makes it difficult to explain to their owners why some horses get in and others don’t. A particular issue has been the rule that, if a trainer enters two horses in a race that will have superfecta betting, then only one can race, with priority established according to which one has the better date (don’t ask – the date-preference system deserves a column all its own), and not by which one the trainer really prefers.  Uncoupling the entries would eliminate the superfecta-race problem, while at the same time making it easier for the racing office to attract enough entries so that the race could be used for superfectas.

That’s the real reason for the change – since it isn’t always possible to get bigger fields, this is a way to get more betting interests and a bigger handle without having to beg more trainers to enter their horses.  In the face of double-digit declines in handle around the country, the Racing and Wagering Board has dusted off the long-pending rule on uncoupled entries to try to provide some short-term relief.

Along with permitting uncoupled entries, the proposed rules would also reduce the field size required for various types of bets.  Exactas could be used with as few as three betting interests in a race, compared to four under current rules. The minimum for trifectas would drop from six to five for all races; now it’s five for stakes and some allowances and six for all others. And the minimum for superfecta races would drop from eight betting interests to seven, with a further proviso that a late scratch – after the horses have left the paddock –down to six betting interests would not cause the entire superfecta pool to be refunded.

If you put together the decrease in required field sizes for the exotic bets and the new rule on uncoupled entries, it’s pretty clear that the state is doing what it can to keep handle – and the portion of handle that goes to the state –as high as it can in difficult economic times.  I don’t expect many handicappers to find real overlay bargains in five-horse trifecta fields or seven-horse superfectas, especially given New York’s high takeout on multi-horse exotics, but perhaps that’s not the point.

For those who are so inclined, you can send comments to John Googas at the Racing and Wagering Board.  His email is Comments are due no later than October 29th.


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