The Week In Review: As Short Fields Proliferate, It’s Time To Go Back To Circuits (2024)

The Boiling Springs Stakes at Monmouth, scheduled to be run Sunday, is contested annually at a mile-and-one-sixteenth on the turf and is for 3-year-old fillies. With those conditions, it should be an easy race to fill. Not this year. The racing office did not get enough entries and the race was scrapped.

Not that any of this should come as a surprise. There is a glut of racing in the Mid-Atlantic states. When Colonial Downs opens on July 11, there will be eight Mid-Atlantic tracks running within a range of 400 miles. That's simply too much, and the result is too many small fields. When it comes down to it, horse racing is a product and too often the product we are offering to consumers simply isn't any good.

For many of racing's problems, there really aren't any viable solutions. But with this there is a relatively easy fix. Turn back the clock and return to the days when tracks cooperated with one another and formed circuits. Combine two horse populations at one racetrack and the end result will be much better racing, bigger fields and a healthy increase in handle.

The tracks most in need of a break are the ones in Maryland. They do well in the late fall, winter and early spring when there is less competition, but the summer cards at Laurel more often than not are lacking. On June 23, the feature races at Laurel had a three-horse field.

A transition is underway in Maryland and the tracks are in the process of being taken over by a state-run agency, the Maryland Thoroughbred Racetrack Operating Authority (MTROA), which will replace The Stronach Group. Veteran racetrack executive Corey Johnsen has been brought aboard as the interim CEO of the MTROA and he has not hidden his desire to cut a meaningful amount of dates from the Maryland schedule. If that were to happen, forming a circuit with either Delaware Park or Colonial Downs would make the most sense.

“There are serious discussions between Maryland and other members in the Mid-Atlantic about creating breaks in the schedule,” Johnsen said. “That will allow for more competitive and entertaining racing throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The Maryland horsem*n and the Maryland thoroughbred breeders understand that it's in the best interest of the industry to consider taking a break and working with the other tracks in the Mid-Atlantic.”

Delaware Park used to be part of a circuit that also included Pimlico, Laurel and Bowie. When it opened in 1997, Colonial and the Maryland tracks worked together and Maryland shut down while Colonial operated.

While racing in Maryland is virtually year-round, Delaware runs from Mid-May through mid-October. Meet somewhere in the middle with Delaware consolidating its meet to run from June 1 to August 31 while Laurel/Pimlico would be shut down during the period.

To make this work, you're going to have to take care of the breeders. There's no reason why Maryland-bred races can't be part of the Delaware Park cards. Delaware and Maryland will also need to provide for free shipping between the two tracks.

Yes, Delaware and Maryland horsem*n will have fewer opportunities at their own tracks, but the consolidation of racing dates should yield significant purse increases. Every track in the Mid-Atlantic region receives either direct payments from slot machines, Historical Horse Racing Machines or government subsidies. That money makes up a large portion of the purse funds and it's not going anywhere. The purse pie stays the same, but the slices become bigger when they are divided up amongst fewer races.

The same type of compromises could be worked out between Colonial and the MTROA.

The other circuit that makes sense is Parx-Monmouth. Parx races year-round while the Monmouth meet this year is scheduled to run from May 11 to September 15. Cut the Monmouth schedule to run from Memorial Day to Labor Day and let Parx have the rest of the calendar. Both tracks race only three days a week and by joining forces, they likely could add at least one more day of racing.

Two make something like this work at Monmouth, Laurel, Colonial and Parx, you're going to need the cooperation of the management teams at these racetracks, as well as the horsem*n's groups. It's never easy to get so many factions on the same page in a sport where everybody is looking out for their own fiefdom. But if this is done right, the opportunities to race won't change and horsem*n should be running for bigger purses. Everyone should be better off.

A Quarter Horse Trainers Shows How to Get It Done

Despite some quick workouts, a $650,000 price tag at OBS April and a stellar pedigree, the bettors largely ignored Mischief River (Into Mischief) in Saturday's first race at Los Alamitos. It's easy to see why. Probably very few bettors had ever heard of his trainer Jimmy Glenn Jr., and that's because he is a Quarter Horse trainer. But Glenn and his partner Chris Galpin decided they wanted to take a crack at winning some big Thoroughbred races and they bought two horses at the OBS sale. The other is a so-far-unraced filly by Frosted who cost $150,000.

It's not easy to make such a quick transition from one breed to the other and Glenn also had to worry about a Bob Baffert first-time starter named Privman (Justify) who was made the even-money favorite. But Privman was no match for Mischief River, who beat the favorite by 1 1/2 lengths.

“The race speaks for itself,” Glenn said. “And it worked out better than I could have imagined. We were really happy and felt so blessed that it worked out the way it did. I know Bob (Baffert) has a lot of class horses, but we felt like we had a good horse. It was fun to compete at that level with those guys. He's a really good horse and they are hard to find.”

Glenn said the Aug. 11 GIII Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar will be next and he hopes to go from there to the GI Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 8.

Kingsbarns Finally Living Up To His Potential

When Kingsbarns (Uncle Mo) won his first three starts, including the GII Louisiana Derby, he appeared to be a horse that was well on his way to stardom. But he finished 14th in the GI Kentucky Deny and then was beaten as the 1-2 favorite in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth. That was his last start of the year.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, he picked things up this year, winning an allowance and then the GIII Ben Ali Stakes. Off that effort, he was made the 7-10 favorite in the GIII Pimlico Special but finished second, seemingly losing his momentum.

He was starting to take on the reputation of an underachiever but that all changed Saturday at Churchill Downs, where he won his first Grade I race in the $1 million Stephen Foster Stakes, which lured a quality field.

“Obviously winning a Grade I is a tremendous accomplishment,” Pletcher said. “I think we've seen this year he's been able to settle better than when he was a 3-year-old and show that new dimension. He sat a perfect trip today and really kicked well when turning for home.”

The older male handicap division is wide open, and Kingsbarns now belongs in the conversation when it comes to the best horses in his division.

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The Week In Review: As Short Fields Proliferate, It’s Time To Go Back To Circuits (2024)


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