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Horse Racing: More horses means more excitement

Sunday, February 16, 2003

By Pohla Smith, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The Meadows, with the cooperation of the horsemen, is conducting an interesting experiment with nine- and 10-horse fields.

Instead of the No. 9 horse starting on the extreme outside of the gate as usual, it is starting as a trailer behind whichever horse the driver chooses.

In the two races each night with superfecta wagering, a 10th horse has been added to the field. It also is a trailer, and the driver can choose his starting spot as long as he stays outside of the No. 9 horse. That means the No. 10 horse could be no closer to the rail than the No. 2 post.

The experiment has been in place for two weeks and will continue at least through this week.

"We've been thinking of things to try to make the races more exciting, more competitive," The Meadows' general manager Drew Shubeck said. "The No. 8 and No. 9 horses are having trouble winning.

"We're trying to stimulate betting and have a little higher payoffs with the exotics and make it more competitive out there. We don't use a slanted starting gate so the No. 9 horse is at quite a disadvantage."

Shubeck and The Meadows Standardbred Owners Association agree that two weeks of racing are not enough to make any conclusions.

"It's just too early. We're just letting it ride," said Elmer Schwenegger, executive director of the MSOA, after horsemen met with Shubeck Friday afternoon. "We need to see some more of what's happening."

Nevertheless, track announcer and racing show host Roger Huston, who loves the numbers part of the game, has compiled some interesting statistics for races with nine- and 10-horse fields since the experiment began Feb. 4.

"There are little subtle differences," Huston said. "Prior to the nine- and 10-horse trailers, the winningest post was No. 3, then No. 1, 5, 4, 2, 6, 7, and 8 and 9 were tied.

"Now the order is 1, 2, and 3 tied; 4 and 5 are tied; 6 and 7 are tied, then 9, 8, and the 10 is winless."

Those numbers become more interesting when you realize the first set was compiled over 88 races and the new set over 41.

"They have had half as many races with the No. 9 horse as a trailer," Huston said. The number of wins is identical -- four and four. But the percentage is double.

"I guess that was to be expected. What's unexpected is that the 10 hasn't won yet."

But Shubeck seems to be getting the more competitive superfecta races he hopes for.

"The percentage [of the 10 placing in] the superfecta is two-thirds and two-fourths in 11 races," Huston said. "The No. 9 has hit in the superfecta five out of 12 races, which also is very good. So as far as the superfecta, the trailers have made the No. 9 and No. 10 very competitive."

Huston said another statistic he computed may be "happenstance."

"When all nine are on the game, we have winning favorites 32 percent of the time. Now in six days, it's not quite 38.7 percent winning favorites," he said. "I can't give you a reason why except maybe the races are running truer to form with the trailers."

And Huston has one more observation that he hasn't been able to quantify.

"In the races there seems to be more movement," he said. "There are more horses hung to the 3/8ths pole, and the second quarters are faster than before. They're anywhere from one-fifth to three-fifths of a second faster.

"Before the experiment it was rare for a second quarter to go faster than 30 seconds. Now half the races get there in 30 seconds or faster. I think six of 12 got there in 30 seconds or faster Thursday night."

Shubeck is hopeful horsemen will allow the experiment to continue into March. If it does, it will be fun to revisit Huston's numbers.

Another milestone

Jockey Mary Doser won her 1,000th career race at Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., Feb. 8. She is believed to be the 14th woman thoroughbred jockey to reach that milestone. Julie Krone leads all women with more than 3,500 victories.

New NTRA members

The NTRA has several new members: Hawthorne Race Course in Cicero, Ill., Evangeline Downs in Lafayette, La., the California Authority of Racing Fairs and the New York City Off Track Betting Corporation.

Pohla Smith can be reached by phone at 412 263-1228 or by e-mail atpsmith@post-gazette.com .

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