NYRA: Eight is enough

The list of challenges the sport of horse racing faces is long. Not appearing on that list of problems: "Field sizes are too big!"

The correlation between field size and handle is proven. The more horses in a race, the higher the payoffs and the more attractive the betting propositions.

But that didn't deter the New York Racing Association from its upside-down world decision to limit field sizes in juvenile maiden races at the upcoming Saratoga meeting.

Juvenile maiden sprints will be limited to eight starters, and juvenile maiden routes will be limited to 10, according to a press release sent out while most people were focused on barbecue and fireworks.

The timing of a press release is a good indicator of how the sender really feels about the message. This one screams, "Let's hope we can sneak this one by without too much scrutiny."

Here are the obligatory, lab-crafted quotes from the press release:

“The catalyst behind limiting the field sizes in the maiden races for juveniles was two-fold,” said NYRA vice president and director of racing P. J. Campo. “The smaller fields are expected to produce more cleanly run events while also creating the opportunity to showcase more high-quality races during the meet and beyond. We expect this change will strengthen NYRA's juvenile stakes and allowance programs by helping horses gain the experience they need to compete successfully at higher levels.”  

“Protecting our horses is an important mandate,” added New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association president and NYRA board member Rick Violette Jr. in a statement. “Larger fields of inexperienced, young horses often result in roughly run races. This approach will offer a kinder, gentler and, perhaps, wiser introduction to racing for young horses, and could, in fact, extend their careers.

 “Owners will have a better opportunity to fairly evaluate the performances of their horses in manageable fields,” he continued. “This also will increase the chance that young horses will improve mentally and physically from their first races, rather than having to recover from them."


Violette's assertion that owners were having trouble evaluating their young horses because of field size is laughable. And there is absolutely no statistical evidence that 9, 10, or 12-horse maiden fields are bad for horses. On the horse safety/future issue, NYRA has fixed a problem that did not exist.

As far as the clean trip issue goes, the only spot I have noticed even a hint of a problem is on the turf course, which is narrower and tighter than the main track. I would see nothing wrong with NYRA instituting different field size limits for turf vs. dirt based on track dimensions. That would make sense.

Speaking of the turf course, that brings me to an issue that NYRA should consider addressing. Turf sprints, particularly turf sprints restricted to New York-breds, have multiplied out of control on this circuit. When I think Churchill Downs, I think Kentucky Derby. When I think NYRA, I think turf sprint for New York-bred maiden claimers.

NYRA should be thinking of ways to improve its entertainment/wagering product. The NYRA Board apparently thinks its racing is so good that it can afford to take a step backward in field size. (Large fields are the only thing that make the New York-bred races bettable at times!)

The eight-horse limit on juvenile maiden sprints is particularly troubling, because eight runners is the minimum number of horses I believe it takes to make an interesting pari-mutuel field. With these new field size limits, NYRA has put the ceiling where the floor should be.


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Pete Denk

Now comes word that Del Mar has instituted a 10-horse limit on its juvenile maiden fields.

Still dumb, but at least they didn't go with 8.

05 Jul 2012 12:53 PM

Back in the day, Nashua broke his maiden in a 4.5F sprint at Belmont, coming from 8th and running away from a 21 horse field.  I’m not suggesting fields that big (which were quite normal back then), but to me an ideal size would be up to 12.

05 Jul 2012 1:13 PM
Pete Denk

Receiving comments from owners on Twitter, indicating that one of NYRA's main goals with this is ... more maiden winners to fill the 2yo stakes. Can follow me @petedenk

05 Jul 2012 1:36 PM

If that's the case then they should have more races on their daily cards like maybe increase by one for an additional maiden two year old race. This would make for more wagering opportunities and encourage more owners to start their two year old horses early on.

05 Jul 2012 1:52 PM

For over a year, NYRA has been trying to raise interest(and handle) by creating more Pick-6 carryovers.  Their method is to have more maiden races, especially those with first-time starters.  If they limit the fields, more maidens will be available to schedule additional maiden races.

Look at Friday's card(July 6th).  SIX Maiden races!!

05 Jul 2012 2:02 PM

One more reason why I play many more English races than American. There is rarely trouble with 30 horses in a field in England, of any age. Nor do we need starters IN the gate, terrorizing horses whom they don't know how to load anyway. This is one instance where going back to the 19th-century version of racing in USA is  a good idea.

05 Jul 2012 2:05 PM
Paula Higgins

I think a field size of 10-12 is reasonable for juveniles. The Kentucky Derby is way too overloaded. That field should be trimmed somewhat.

05 Jul 2012 2:09 PM
Pete Denk

Agreed, Paula. If there is one race that *might* be too big it is the 20-horse Kentucky Derby.

Interesting post by duncanP.

American racing should always be looking to improve. And we should scan for ideas everywhere, including internationally. Thanks for the insight.

If our trainers really are whining that they ca't evaluate their horse in  field of 12, that is really weak horsemanship.

05 Jul 2012 2:26 PM
Old Old Cat

If this move is to create more 2yr old winners for stakes and allowance races, then they have to write Maiden Special Weight races, not claimers.  I will have spent over $60K on my filly by the time she runs, and that's not to lose her in a cheap claiming race.  

05 Jul 2012 2:49 PM
Pete Denk

Who's the sire Old Old Cat?

05 Jul 2012 4:16 PM
Pete Denk

I assume NYRA will have AE lists for the maiden races then? AE is a slight pain in the butt, but better than <8 horse fields.

05 Jul 2012 4:57 PM

Sounds ridiculous to me.  Yeah it sounds like lesser fields equals more races.  What Belmont under lights next?  They allow Guyana Star Dweej to drink his beer, don't allow nasal strips for IHA, have a starter in the lane of Big Brown, upset all the horses before this Belmont days before moving to a stakes barn, have all those Aqueduct breakdowns for big purse money running horses that should not have been running, I too think they should be concentrating as I have said all along, on marketing efforts.

Agree with Paula, 10-12 field size is about right and lessen the Derby field.

05 Jul 2012 5:19 PM

Does it really matter what the powers to be do? We disagree with our Goverment but do nothing about it. The same crooks are there year after year, Horseracing is no different, they set the stage, make the rules and like our goverment they want to basically tell us how to spend our money.......Lets move on we have no say and deep down you know its true.....So Pete lets move on to the weekend some decent races to handicap and enjoy. Field size is irrelevent, if you like a horse you are gonna fire on them regardless if he facing 7 or 11, horseracing and poker are alot alike you look at race one(you get your cards)and you either holdem or you foldem SIMPLE AS THAT.. SO lets all live in the moment and enjoy the goodtimes while they last. This years breeders classic could be one for the ages, with the dude,bode,paytner,take control,Wow Bafferts loaded,union,dullahan,both dans,etc plus royal delta and maybe camelot.....Wake up Robbie..

05 Jul 2012 6:28 PM
an ole railbird

 the reasoning of the people in new york, has never ceased to amaze me.

the quickest way to get me to stay home from the races, is to hang up a bunch of maiden races.

  the mind set of new yorkers, is un like ,any other in the world.

  have a nice day    "an ole railbird"

05 Jul 2012 9:23 PM

Ole railbird:  you are so right!  I used to play NY every day, but no more.  Maidens, maidens, maidens!  I now go over the entries at the tracks and usually play the ones with the least maiden races.

05 Jul 2012 11:26 PM

I guess in the real world we need maiden races, but the way racing is now with virtually all tracks available to bet on the internet, I know I can get the form for any track I want and play any track I want.  So if I feel like it, I skip the maiden races and concentrate on the claimers and allowance (stakes if they happen to have one listed that day), and I pick my spots and don’t feel like I have to bet on a race because there is not alternative.  The downside of course is that I’m not personally at the track much anymore, but the upside is that at least I bet and contribute to the game.  

06 Jul 2012 1:00 AM

Personally, I don't care much about the size of the field when it comes to any races.  I don't even care about the size of the Derby IF the track is big enough to give each and every one of the runners a good break.  Paula mentioned that the Derby needs to be trimmed and I agree with that simply because of the way they set up the starting gate.  Every one knows what happens to the inside horses in that race, if you get the one hole, you're pretty much done.

In the case of the NYRA's decision to limit to 8, if that makes it a safe trip for everyone in the race, then I don't see any problem with it.  Is that the real intention of NYRA ?  I don't know, I don't even know if they were actually thinking about the horses.  What is their true agenda for doing this ?

My issue is actually that we're running 2 yr old babies, some say it's good to get them ready for their 3 yr old season but we've seen quite a few that never transition their 2 yr old form to their 3 yr old so I'm not sure it's really a good thing to race them at 2.  If we start running them at 3, maybe we'll get to see them run when they're 5 or 6.

06 Jul 2012 1:53 AM

Will limiting the field size encourage some people to crank up their 2 year-olds that are probably not ready for the races in order to collect a check from the slots inflated purses that we will see at Saratoga?  In a juvenile sprint at Saratoga, you will only have to beat 3 horses in order to collect a check. Yesterday at Belmont, 5th place in a $70K MSW received $2,100. The trainers that like to crank up their juveniles early in the season probably wish they didn't already ruin them by running in the juvenile races at Keeneland in April.  If anything should be done to protect juveniles, it should be limiting the date that tracks can start writing juveniles races.  However, since there are no uniform rules on anything, this will never happen.

06 Jul 2012 9:47 AM

Looks like there are a bunch of jokers with plenty of free time on their hands and decided to reduce instead of increasing the numbers of two years old in a race.WOWWWW.

06 Jul 2012 10:45 AM
Michael J Arndt

Sounds like the inmates trying to run asylum with this column and comments. Have any of you ever worked for.months to get a horse to the races and then had him pinballed and injured out of the gate?  I am guessing not. If this bothers anyone so much the pass the race and have to wait three or four minutes to bet the next one from B.F. Downs, I will be amazed. Ya'll will still be jamming the windows, calling out 84 different ten cent superfectas and bitching about how you shoulda hit it but your rider got your key horse in trouble when he had so much horse blah blah blah blah blah. Sigh....

06 Jul 2012 1:16 PM

10 would have been reasonable and if 16 or more are entered split the race. I agree with Pletcher that at 6 to 7 Furlongs it should be more than 8. If handle is off 10% or more on these races I wonder how long it will take to adjust that number.

06 Jul 2012 2:24 PM
Pedigree Ann

I'll tell you what I object to and that is two-turn races of any kind for 2yos before October. Especially on the 7f inner turf courses at a lot of mile tracks. Those 2yo leg joints do not need the stress of two tight turns, one of them when at near full speed, just out of the gate. Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed did not run in 2-turn races before mid-October if at all; too many one-turn races (Remsen, Breeders' Futurity, Ky JC S) have become 2-turn races for no good reason.

06 Jul 2012 3:31 PM
Pete Denk

Michael J. Arndt, good to see you here.

Injuries are unfortunate, but I don't see how outlawing fields of 9 or more in sprint races and 11 or more in routes is the appropriate solution.

And if by inmates you mean bettors, yes I think they deserve to have some say. NYRA ignored them with this move. More maiden races with smaller fields is the last thing bettors want, at Saratoga or any track.

06 Jul 2012 8:29 PM
Minnesota Kid

Michael J Arndt,

That was honestly insulting and kind of funny--I like that.

Just one question--Where is B.F. Downs?

06 Jul 2012 8:47 PM
Michael J Arndt

Pete, the bottom line is this, I worked the windows for 25 years, taking bets. 8 horses in a race is about 6 too many for alot of players to have a 50/50 shot of picking a winner in a race full of first time starters. They are doing all but the sharp players a favor in the short term, and doing all players a favor in the long term by hopefully getting the maximum number of Saratoga 2 year olds, the best in the country, on to their fall campaigns with a race or two under their belt and 100% healthy. When you see fields like the Hollywood Gold Cup, and other top races drawing small fields is that so many of the talented horses never make it to age 4. Time to get realistic about the fact there is not an endless supply of horses anymore, the crop is down 50%, and we need to think long-term. There are plenty of other races to bet for those who think 8 horse fields are not big enough.

Minnesota Kid - B.F. Downs is out in East Bumphukk.

06 Jul 2012 9:01 PM
Minnesota Kid


I agree that some long-term thinking is needed. One partial solution to dealing w/ the shrinking foal crops would seem to be some racetrack contraction.

Sure, no racing fans want to see their home-area track be one of the plants to close, but I think most people that follow horse racing realize that there are simply too many tracks, too many scheduled races.

Pete Denk,

I see my main man Trinniberg is entered in both races in Miami tomorrow, as many of us expected he would be.

If you owned 51% of him, would you rather be 6-5 ML (3-5 post-time?) for 90k or 3-1 ML (2-1 post-time?) for 240k?

06 Jul 2012 9:16 PM
Pete Denk


Yes, there is a horse shortage, and the breed is experiencing soundness problems.

Your assertion is that field size in 2yo races is the problem???

07 Jul 2012 11:16 AM

Another not very wise decision by the NYRA.  The NYRA frequently acts as if they don't get it at all.  

I, as a bettor, prefer a larger field because the payouts are much better.  Pure and simple.  I want bang for my buck on the betting side, as well as the entertainment side.  I'm more likely not to bet in a race that has less than 10 horses in it.  That's the truth, and I'm not alone in that sentiment, either.  

From an entertainment standpoint, smaller fields are not as exciting to watch, unless there is a built-in rivalry in the race to spark the public's imagination - such as Affirmed vs. Alydar, Alysheba vs. Bet Twice, Real Quiet vs. Victory Gallop, and more recently, I'll Have Another vs. Bodemeister.  That is the only time I want to see less than 10 horses in the a race.  

Churchill Downs seems to have figured this issue out awhile ago.  One of the reasons the Kentucky Derby is a huge draw with both television audiences and attendees, along with the being most coveted of races with the owners & trainers is because there is a 20 horses field in this race.  Most of the horses in the race are usually of equal or close to equal level in talent.  It is not a given that the odds-on favorite will more than likely win the race as it is in other races because there are many mitigating circumstances built into this race.  The race is then more entertaining, and the chance of a pretty good payout is excellent each year.  The race thus becomes much more exciting to watch, and the viewer & bettor always has the feeling that given the right breaks, their horse(s) has as good of a chance of winning, or populating an exotic wager they have placed, as the next horse.  Churchill heard the cha-ching of ever-increasing amounts of money filling their tills when they allowed the Derby to be a 20 horse field.  Makes me wonder why NYRA hasn't yet learned this lesson as well.  Instead, they are making up not very plausible and very transparent reasons why they should lessen the field size of their races.  

NYRA is trying to pull another fast one in this matter.  They're not doing a very good job of it, either.

07 Jul 2012 11:19 AM
Pete Denk

Minnesot Kid-

Looks like Trinniberg's folks took the easy money.

I too would have leaned toward the age restricted races. He can run against older for big money in the fall.

07 Jul 2012 11:22 AM

If the intent by the NYRA is supposedly to make it easier for owners to enter and evaluate their 2 year olds in maiden races, why not add another race or two to the card at least several days a week?  That would accommodate more horses in total and is a better solution than to shorten the current fields.  Field sizes seem to be fine at the 10-12 level for most races.  Why not keep them there and make the wagering more inviting for the bettor?  

07 Jul 2012 11:37 AM

We are in the information age if a colt such as Nashua was running in a maiden race I know in 2012 there would be a lot less than 20 taking him on,unless they want to get beat.Eventhough there is and will always be backstretch chatter EVERYONE is tuned in nowadays a talent such as Nashua would be known about before getting in the gate,his odds would reflect this.

07 Jul 2012 2:23 PM

From a betting standpoint, 8 is not bad.  I've seen quite a few races with 6 or less where the heavy favorite loses.  Why ?  Because people take the oddsmaker's word that that horse is the best so he puts him at 6-5 or less, then people just start betting that horse.  There's a lot of heavy favorites that are sucker bets.  In any size fields, it's all a matter of finding the true value horse.  Like I've said before, betting is all guessing regardless of what you read on the form because horses do not know what their odds are, there'll be days where they'll be the best and not be the favorite.  The forms, beyers, bris etc etc etc are all just tools, it doesn't give you the winner.  It helps you "guess" who the winner will be.  Unless Zenyatta, BC or Frankel is in the race :)

Pete : I'm a little confused about this discussion actually, is it because less horses for maiden races equals less betting ?  Because like a couple here have posted, gamblers will bet any race regardless.  I don't think there's an issue with running 8 in a maiden race.  It's more than the minimum number of horses to have the superfecta.  2 or 4 more will not make much difference, in fact, it'll probably be make it harder to hit and be more expensive because you have to spread out your bets more.  I've seen races at belmont where fields were down to 3 and the money pool is huge... and the longest shot wins lol.  Or are you guys discussing the horses well being ?  Or just venting on the stupidity (and corruptness) of the people running NYRA ?  I'm from the west coast, we're no better here but I guess that's horseracing.  There's really not much we can do about it.

07 Jul 2012 3:38 PM

Something that was mentioned NYRA wanting more in the Stakes races makes sense to me as an important reason they want smaller fields in the maiden races.Out of the winners of MSW there will be more stakes nominated 2yos more for the stakes races if Im not mistaken it cost more to nominate for a stake than a MSW.More$$$$$ what an original concept.

07 Jul 2012 5:47 PM

As horse racing fans, we are obviously familiar with the Equibase results charts, which tell us exactly what happened in a given race. And -- having viewed countless such charts over the years -- we have come to learn the terms and abbreviations used in the comments section on the far right of the running lines. We have come to expect phrases like "Inside, easily", "Lugged in str, readily", and "6w into lane, improved" when it comes to describing in brief the trip that any given horse receieved.

But tonight, I have come across quite possibly the most priceless and surprising comment of all time:

"Hit by goose 1/8"

From the footnotes of the chart:

"Higher Case . . . was struck by a flying goose just inside the furlong marker . . . finished willingly but just missed."

The link to the chart:



07 Jul 2012 9:32 PM



07 Jul 2012 9:45 PM

Very happy to see my future ex-wife win the HGC!  Baffert did the right thing giving the mount back to her.

08 Jul 2012 5:33 AM


I was more worried about her after the race when she turned to make a belated wave back to the crowd.  For a second she wasn't too steady and it looked like she was going to fall off.

08 Jul 2012 2:21 PM

Laz : Yeah I saw that too.  Enjoyed watching her get all excited and happy about the win.  

08 Jul 2012 7:59 PM

Pete if you are going to be areporter do you'r homework NYRA does not run statebred maiden claimers or claiming races on the turf short or long.

08 Jul 2012 8:25 PM

Omaha, please be nice to Pete.  He is doing a great job and knows his stuff.  This might be a stretch but there are optional claimers for State Bred horses on the turf (1st race today).

Here's one for those complaining about the number of entrants in a New York maiden race.  Belmont Park, May 31, 1957; 3rd race; an $8K maiden claimer at 5F for two-year old fillies; 34 fillies were entered (there was no also eligible list) and 28 actually ran.  Personal Regard won the race in 58 4/5 coming from 6th place by a neck.  She was 7-2 and was a field horse (the field had 15 horses coupled).  The last place filly was Mid Killarney beaten by 24 lengths.

08 Jul 2012 11:40 PM
Pedigree Ann

Yes, Laz, but the NYRA scuppered the straight chute when they put in turf courses at Belmont - the chasers had had to put up with crossing it, but flat runners couldn't, apparently. NY trainers didn't ship down to Delaware or Monmouth, either - it was a matter of pride for them and the owners to win the maiden in NY.

The NYRA has been just full of lousy decisions. In the mid 1970s, they decided not to run 10f races out of the chute anymore, because 'people wanted to see the horses better early on.' Starting on the turn may be less fair and safe for the runners but hey! gotta think of the fans, right? (PS Jumbotron makes it academic - start using that chute again!) Saratoga used to have an Ellis-style one-mile chute on the first turn; why was that trashed? More variety to races, and if you want to run 2yos long, they can get a better, less stressful run-up to the backstretch turn.

09 Jul 2012 10:42 AM
Pete Denk


NYRA runs claimers and maiden claimers on the turf ALL the time, short and long.

09 Jul 2012 11:21 AM

Hey Ann:

Thanks for the history and I love your posts, I learn a lot from them.  And of course you are right.  It was the Widener Straight Course, the same course that Nashua broke his maiden in, in a 21 horse field.  I'm always keenly interested in “way back when”.  There seemed to be so much character back then.  

09 Jul 2012 11:45 AM
Pete Denk


My problem with NYRA's move:

1) They were not up front about the reasons for this decision. Claiming it was for the welfare of the horse is complete b.s. Fields of 9+ do not hurt horses. Big fields are not responsible for the soundness problems in U.S. breeding.

2) More maiden races with (mandated) smaller fields waters down the gambling/entertainment product.

The common sense approach would be to split the maiden fields when they get a ton of entries. But outlawing fields of 9+ in sprints and 11+ in routes is dumb.

09 Jul 2012 12:04 PM

The Hollywood Gold Cup was another case of the track, though listed as fast, actually being slow.  Game On Dude ran the 10F in 2.04.19 and received a hefty 107 Beyer, one of the better rated Beyers for a 10F race run that slow on a fast track that I can remember.  His final mile was 1.40.01; final 6f in 1.16.38; final 4f in 52.26; and final quarter when under pressure in 26.53.  Once again we get the true value of a Beyer number.

It will be interesting to see what Beyer Bob Baffert’s Gun Boat will get for his fine 6F effort in 1.09.92 (final quarter in 24.15) in the 4th race, which I think was exceptional given GOD’s slow time and the fact that the other 6F races were run in 1.12.38; 1.13.44; 1.12.20; and 1.13.03.  

We have to be careful when assessing Mucho Macho Man’s 108 Beyer for his Suburban ran in 1.46.58.  On Saturday there were only four dirt races carded and the first two races at a mile were run in fairly slow times (1.38.89 & 1.36.56).  If the Suburban time was judged solely against those two races I believe that MMM would have received a substantially higher Beyer.  But there was one other race, the Victory Ride, ran in 1.08.89 (94 Beyer) and this race probably made the Beyer people believe that the track really was playing fast, at least for the final two dirt races and therefore awarded what I believe was a lower Beyer number than what I expected, especially considering that Flat Out received a 113 Beyer for the same race last year ran in 1.46.66 and on a track where the dirt races were ran considerably closer to track record times than the first two races on Saturday.

Also, when we consider that Rachel Alexandra received a 111 Beyer for her Mother Goose run in 1.46.33 (the three year best time) on a track that was lightning fast I think that the Beyer people possibly erred and MMM should have received a Beyer maybe 4 to 6 points higher.  Such is the human decision when applying what they consider what the value of variants are worth.

Based on the 107 and 108 Beyers, who ran the better race on Saturday, GOD or MMM?  In terms of competition it was no contest as MMM ran in a race deep in quality talent. In terms of time, MMM also ran consistently close quarters throughout while GOD’s quarters tailed off badly for the final two quarters.  

09 Jul 2012 3:08 PM

Ann Nyra does run Maiden claimers on the turf just like every othr track however the only bred races on the turf are MSW 1X,2Xopt,stakes. how about NY trainers running i MSW at Delaware on Belmont day there was a Msw on the dirt without a Darley horse in it and a couple days before a Darley entry ran 1 2 at delaware I guess the Darley horses are not good enough to compete in NY.and Violette probably wants smaller fields so he has a chance to win one day he had a horse in at Belmont in a 2X scratches there runs two days later IN THE SAMR RACE At Monmouth and he is head of the Horsemans Assoc. Way to support NY

09 Jul 2012 9:23 PM

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