With the Thoroughbred foal crop at its lowest level in years, Monmouth Park like many other horse tracks around the U.S., is trying to find ways to fill Thoroughbred race cards in 2014. This year, Monmouth plans to offer bonuses to owners and trainers “for every runner in a non-state-bred race as well as a bonus for owners of horses finishing fifth through last” according to information released Thursday, January 30 from Monmouth Park.
Specifically, trainers will receive a $300 bonus for horses entered in open company turf and dirt races. Owners will receive $700 for every open company dirt race starter who finishes fifth through last place and $500 for every open company turf runner who finishes fifth through last place. Horses finishing first through fourth receive the traditional payouts.
While at first blush the payouts sound like a good idea for racing, these types of incentives, which have been used in the past at other tracks, have done little, if anything, to improve horse racing and often attract the placement of wrong horses into races. As reported by Matt Hegarty in his article in the Jan. 30 Daily Racing Form:
“In the face of steep declines in the foal crop, a handful of racetracks have adopted programs paying horsemen for starting horses over the past three years, including Del Mar and Gulfstream Park. The programs have sometimes drawn criticism for providing incentives for horsemen to start unfit horses in races and for rewarding mediocrity or worse, but many horsemen’s groups support them.”
New Jersey Thoroughbred breeder of the year, Bo Smith, owner of Smith Farm and Stable in Millstone Township also expressed his concern over the new bonus structure.
“To give a bonus to horses that fail to make the top five is rewarding failure and incompetence,” said Smith. “...The unfortunate and inevitable outcome of such folly will be a dramatic increase in the number of horse breakdowns as experienced in the recent past in New York. Horses racing over their heads and competing weekly in order to gain bonuses will not improve our [New Jersey’s] racing product. The only reasonable bonus is the 40% paid to NJ breds competing in open company and only being paid if they actually finish in the top three.”
Most horsemen agree that a bona fide way to fill fields with competitive horses is to increase the size and quality of the foal crop. The Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association recently agreed to more equitably share revenues between purses and owner/breeder incentives to stimulate growth in the state foal crop and a better racing product.
The 2014 Monmouth Park meet, featuring 57 days of live racing, is scheduled to run through Sunday, September 28. New Jersey-bred runners will continue to be eligible for a 40% purse bonus when running against open company.
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