A Level Field Within

By Fred A. Pope
The Holy Grail in competition is a level playing field. It is natural for people to try to gain an advantage. A jockey "race riding" to advantage is acceptable. Giving a horse a performance-altering drug is not.

Are some trainers, owners, jockeys, and others cheating? Is there cheating in the wagering system? Based upon news accounts, both perception and reality seem to be "yes." The racetracks are working to improve the tote system, but only the participants can stop cheating in the races.

Our American system encourages more races and makes it necessary for permissive medication, which can mask performance-altering substances. Does that mean those who race their horses on medication are cheaters? No. Medication just contributes to the environment that allows cheating and adds to the perception of cheating.

Bettors want even more than integrity. They want races with horses likely to run to their past performances. Instead of packaging races for bettors, racing is increasingly packaged to benefit those within the industry. Races for claimers and maidens serve a need and appeal to the Thoroughbred family, but are not the best betting products. Handicappers are wary of races with infirm horses and maidens with no past performance because they are so tough to predict. They sit out even graded stakes with short fields.

What if we had races combining the integrity of not cheating with full fields of horses likely to run to their past performances? We would have both a Level Field and a superior betting product. The simulcast market is screaming for such a product.

A small number of like-minded racehorse owners can create Level Field racing. The first step is when they say: "We would rather lose than cheat." Then they must back up those words. First, with higher standards to convince each other and bettors they will not cheat. And secondly, by packaging their races to win in the simulcast market.

Handicappers believe "past performance" is key to predicting the outcome of the race. Cheating destroys handicapping. Level Field racing will empower it.

Too many governments and businesses depend upon the current system for it to change. It doesn't have to change. We can quickly insert a new and improved product into the simulcast market and deliver to the betting public a brand of racing that is better for them. A Level Field, if you will, where less is more.

In an article titled "A Level Field Within," which you can access online at bloodhorse.com, is a plan to establish Level Field racing.

A short series of Level Field racing days can provide test market results. The only approval needed is an agreement with the parties at one host track to send the races into the simulcast market. The results from those test days will allow the group to plan for the future. The reality is that every racehorse owner being asked to create Level Field racing may have five or six horses that need medication for each one that can race without it.

When I presented my plan for the National Thoroughbred Association to the late John Franks in 1996, he had about 1,000 horses in training. We both knew most of his horses would not be in NTA races, but he wasn't offended. Franks committed to a major league because he recognized what it would have done for the sport. He was a great sportsman who loved Thoroughbred racing.

That's what Level Field racing requires now--men and women with the means and love of the sport to step forward together. It is ironic that the breeders' lofty goals of only hay, oats, and water can provide the basis for such a solid marketing strategy.

Every sport has a beacon, a brand within the sport, that leads the way. We need a beacon within the sport of Thoroughbred racing. There is no downside to establishing Level Field racing. The upside is something many thought was long gone. Please take time to read "A Level Field Within" at http://www.bloodhorse.com/pdf/LevelField.pdf.