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Monday, August 27, 2012

Too Much Class?

On a recent weekday evening, I was scouring through data at a Midwestern track seeking potential opportunities for an advantageous wager or two. I finished five races worth of research and was struck by the pure number of different race conditions listed in the Past Performances. Of the horses running in the first five races, there were over 75 unique classes listed in their Past Performances. The concept of Stakes versus Allowance versus Claiming is simple enough, but the challenges faced by racing secretaries to fill races has created a whole new set of race conditions ranging from Non – Winners of a certain amount in a year to State-Bred races to endless numbers of different Claiming conditions to Starter Allowances to several subsets of Optional Claiming races [Granted, in the example above, some of the 75 unique conditions were simple differences in the values of the allowance races before and after changes in purse structure (i.e- $17785 nw1x vs $18995 nw1x) which reflect the same overall class. However, to the uninitiated it can all look like hieroglyphics].    

This need to fill races has created an unintended consequence: Further alienating new customers from becoming regulars. Class in the modern era is difficult enough for an expert to comprehend, let alone a newcomer. I rely on an in depth data service to help me discern which races are the strongest since pars and other methods of pure class analysis are too antiquated in the modern era. I have a tough enough time explaining the simple nuances of the game to newcomers without the myriad of classes involved, which is enough to make your head spin. 

 Horseracing can actually take a cue from Greyhound Racing with respect to this issue where in general, a simple letter system for grading races is utilized. In most jurisdictions the top level races are “A” races with descending levels of class down to “E” and “M” for maidens. If a dog wins a race at the “D” level, it moves up to “C”. If it goes a certain number of races without hitting the board at its current class, it moves down a level. This is simple and self-explanatory.

One of the great things about horse racing is the total number of moving parts in the handicapping puzzle so this is not to advocate moving to a letter grade system in a wide spread manner (nor would that be logical in a sport where a majority of races are of the Claiming variety). However, wouldn’t it be nice if the track program and simple past performances could include a letter grade or number system to help those without a more familiar grasp of the game with the subject of class?

Of course, this is a truly minor issue in the realm of all that ails the game. By no means is this small issue a make or break proposition for long term survival. However, as stated previously, due to the lack of institutional inaction on the higher level issues of takeout, medication uniformity, access to the product, and marketing, we’re left with tiny incremental ideas to help improve the game where possible.

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