DECLINING RACE-FIELD SIZES

A documented trend in American horse racing is races with too few runners. 

Equibase just released its economic indicators for the third quarter 2022, which showed an average field size of 7.09 compared to 7.65 in the third quarter of 2021.  This decrease came despite the number of races also declining by 2.84%—from 10,436 races in the third quarter of 2021 to 10,140 races in the third quarter of 2022.

I thought of these statistics last week while reading the past performances for a 6-furlong $5,000 maiden claiming race.  The purse was $11,300.  The seven entries consisted mostly of 2- and 3-year-old geldings with one glaring exception.  That entry was an 8-year-old gelding with a pair of third-place finishes from 34 career starts, all maiden claiming, and earnings of $10,218.  Predictably, he ran fifth with a chart note “failed to menace.”  In most of his races, the gelding has lost by double-digit lengths.

Two questions: Why would an owner continue to foot the training and upkeep bills for an 8-year-old maiden gelding with a wretched record and no promise?  Moreover, why would a racing secretary accept a horse with virtually no chance? 

The first question has no satisfactory answer, but the second question does.  Racing secretaries are searching for horses to fill fields, as reflected in declining field sizes.  And this goes for graded stakes races on down to the cheapest claiming races.

In this regard, carding fewer races is a good strategy, within limits, of course.  Ideally, races would be full of competitive horses.  But reality dictates otherwise.

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