With field size an issue as winter turns to spring, two racetracks located about 45 minutes apart are reinforcing policies designed to keep horses on the grounds.
Hollywood Gaming at Mahoning Valley Race Course in Ohio and Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in neighboring West Virginia on their overnight sheets are referring horsemen to handbooks or stall application forms that discuss the matter. Thus far in March, Mahoning Valley has averaged 6.51 horses per race and Mountaineer 5.80 horses per race, according to The Jockey Club Information Systems.
The Mahoning Valley stall application form states those granted stalls "shall enter and race the horses listed which have been assigned free stall space by Mahoning Valley in races for which they are eligible unless the racing secretary shall agree otherwise. Starts in March and April will count heavily in fall 2015 (stall) allocations."
Mahoning Valley began its winter/spring meet Jan. 1. Mountaineer began its 2015 season March 1.
"Horsemen will be allotted stalls with the understanding that their horses are ready to run," the Mountaineer handbook states. "(Mountaineer) reserves the right to ask horsemen to leave the property, after a period of inactivity, if they do not enter horses when suitable races are available. Trainers stabled on the grounds are expected to race exclusively at (Mountaineer)."
Mountaineer will allow horses to ship with permission of the racing secretary.
An average field size of less than six horses per race could be unprecedented at Mountaineer, which this year is racing against Mahoning Valley, which opened last fall, for two months. The track also cut purses 25% because of concerns it won't have enough money to run its allotted 210 programs for 2015.
With larger stables still racing at southern venues and some local horses waiting until spring and state-bred money, Midwest tracks have been feeling the shortage of horses. Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois so far has averaged 6.55 horses per race in March, while Turfway Park in Kentucky is at 6.84 for March. As recently as January average field size topped nine horses per race at Turfway, which ends its meet March 29.