by Frank Vespe
Last week, Parx Racing hosted two stakes for older horses. Laurel hosted four. And Aqueduct had three of its own. That’s nine stakes for older horses — all within four days, and a couple hundred miles, of each other.
So it’s no great surprise that the tracks were tripping over each other for horses.
For the distaff set, there were three 1 1/16 mile stakes: the Nellie Morse at Laurel (on January 3, for fillies and mares four and up) and the Affectionately (January 1) and the Bay Ridge (for New York-bred fillies and mares on December 31). Those three races attracted a total of 26 runners.
On the boys’ side, there were two sets of overlapping races. Parx and Laurel each held a sprint stake: the seven-furlong Valley Forge at Parx and the six-furlong Fire Plug at Laurel. That pair of races drew 16 runners.
And all three tracks had a route stake during the week: the Auld Lang Syne at Parx, Native Dancer at Laurel, and the Alex M. Robb (for New York-breds) at Aqueduct. Those three also drew 26 runners.
The nine races, in total, drew 74 horses — about eight per event.
That’s not terrible — but of course, it could have been better. With a little coordination, the tracks could largely have avoided each other, giving each a larger horse population to draw from. That would have made for fuller fields and better betting opportunities — and, thus, more wagering.
But that’s not the way horse racing typically works.
Of course, the tracks aren’t colleagues per se; they’re competitors, each trying to maximize their share of a shrinking wagering pie. And those old habits — built up through long years of battle — die hard.
Who’s to blame? Who knows? It’s a safe bet that each track will point at one or both of the others.
But, as Ferrari tells Rick in Casablanca, “[I]n this world, today, isolationism is no longer a practical policy.”
A lesson that, in horse racing, still needs to be learned.