It is getting tougher and tougher to make a score at the track. There are many reasons why, but number one is, without a doubt, the seemingly never ending parade of races with 4-7 betting interests in them.
Whether you make horizontal or vertical wagers, short fields limit value and limit how much you can win. Yet these races are subject to the exact same takeout (which varies from track to track) as races with double or sometimes triple the field size.
What makes things worse is with 10 cent and 20 cent superfectas (which generally have the highest takeouts) available in 7 and sometimes 6 or even 5 horse races, Horseplayers unwittingly get sucked in because these bets offer the best payout prices despite the higher takeout. The result is less churn, which means Horseplayers go broke quicker. For example, an exactor pool that has $20,000 in it with a takeout of 20% returns $16,000 to the bettors collectively, but a superfecta with the same pool size and a 25% takeout, returns only $15,000. The reality is that many $2 exactors payout around the same as a 20 cent super on average.
It seems that no matter which track you handicap these days, short fields are prevalent. Horsemen like them, because there are less horses to beat. But pool size suffers the shorter the field.
From a business perspective, it makes more sense to pay higher purses to horses that beat more rivals, and the more horses the more betting dollars, the more the track and horsemen receive from betting. Maybe if tracks adopted this type of mentality, horsemen wouldn't shop around for short field races so much. Maybe horses would race a little bit more as well because more participants would not get a check for just running around the track.
What I find most troubling about these short fields is that almost every short field race has at least one or two horses off over a month. From a handicapping perspective, it makes for more of a guessing game, one that doesn't add value, but makes the race too unpredictable in light of a high takeout rate. One needs to be right a lot more in shorter field size races because payoffs are smaller, and guessing if a horse was off due to soreness or because the trainer aimed for this race creates too many mixed results which destroy one's bankroll in a hurry.
I realize there is more going on when it comes to lower field size. The recession in 2009 and the overall downturn of horse racing has knocked out the race horse population and the participants in the industry as well has reduced in size.
Field size has also been victimized by the backstretch drug culture. Horses are too drained to race frequently, like they did in the 40's through the 70's. Now horses only have a few races to get ready for a year, whether they run for 10,000 or in Stake Races. It is more important that they are ready for those races, so many are fine tuned with the best legal and best non detectable drugs available. And I can't stand the Lasix apologists. It is blatantly obvious that horses have made less starts per year ever since Lasix was made legal. It is also a known fact that Lasix drains most horses and significant weight fluctuations occur.
And then you have breeding. Horses retiring at 3 to become sires. Retired because of injuries or because they made it big at 3. Oh, did I mention they were also part of the backstretch drug culture as well? This leads to inferior horses being bred. Immature horses who were better than other immature horses, or horses who were injury prone are responsible for siring most of the horses we bet on each day now. Is it a wonder that they can only run effectively once a month? But this is where the greed culture of breeders, bloodstock agents and pinhookers come into play. It isn't about the good of the game to get a young horse to run a 10 second furlong to try to make it stand out in the sales ring. And if buyers would just take a deep breath a look at the reality that spending loads of cash on a yearling is foolish (in the past 13 years, the most a winner of the Kentucky Derby sold for as a yearling was $60,000, in fact, 8 were homebreds)
For the good of the game, a quick simple rule. A horse cannot go to the breeding shed until they hit 5 (I prefer 6, but 5 is realistic). This will also give the public more of a chance to get to know good horses. The longer their career, the more they become familiar to the mainstream public. For example, the media will mention California Chrome's next race, and if he keeps winning, he'll keep getting mentioned, and if he were to stay on for another year, and kept being competitive, more potential fans and eventually long term Horseplayers may be created.
Also for the good of the game, a Triple Crown for 4 year olds and up should be created. Lets have 3 one million dollar plus races starting in July and ending in August. It can even be the same distances as the three year old Triple Crown events. This should give incentive to owners to keep their horses going longer even if they put up a fight over the 5 year old minimum breeding shed age. It may create horses that are bred for stamina and longevity, that the public can familiarize with, and not some shooting star that puts the smile on the face of a pinhooker.