This is a place for friendly and civil discussion of horse racing of all types including handicapping.
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Why risk that, by having horses and jocks do so many things they've never done before; distance, size of field, level of competition, all place an unprecedented level of stress for all involved. In my opinion, it is simply amazing luck that no terrible spills have happened.
It's all a matter of degrees. Why risk running gimped up cheap claimers at lesser tracks? The Derby is fascinating in that there have not been more injuries. It's gone on so long, I think perhaps that's more than luck. With the best horses and best jockeys, contrary to outward appearances of a 20-horse stampede, over the long haul it's a good deal safer than training horses at Santa Anita. I do believe in steps to make racing safer. I applaud the major circuits going to no race-day lasix, if they in fact follow through on it. I am all for policing other drugs to the extent possible, and if there is a way to solve the breeding issue of producing less-sturdy horses over the next decades, I'm for that too. And to some extent, I'm playing devil's advocate. But I don't favor limiting the Derby field. IMHO this hue and cry following a possibly dangerous situation is an over-reaction. Even though some on here have repeatedly, for a long time, said 20 horses is too many, it is also a unique handicapping opportunity which has produced large scores which I have followed on this forum year after year. (Still waiting for one myself.)
Where was the hue and cry after the Oaks last Friday when a horse got put in a vise by the two on either side of her, 20 yards out of the gate, resulting in horse and rider rolling on the track?
First, I am not for any undue risk, whether it's cheap claimers or Derby horses. They are creatures that deserve the same concern from an ethical basis. Secondly, a lot of TC runners over the years, have not been the same afterwards. It is asking a lot of these horses, so they are "lucky" to some degree to get out unscathed. Also, when juxtaposed with the potential for catastrophic injury to horse and rider, the opportunity for a big score pales. As for the Oaks issue, the absence of the proper amount of attention given to that, doesn't justify a similar lack of concern over what happened in the Derby. The former should be criticized, while the latter should be lauded. I also am about consistency, so they ALL should be called out. You assume that everyone that advocates for smaller Derby fields are aware of the incident of which you speak, and chose to ignore it. Just to be clear, I don't know to what degree a 14 horse field would reduce the danger "coefficient". It is merely my opinion, not based on any hard data, that the Derby should present a set of circumstances similar to what the participants are accustomed in American races. I don't think anyone can argue that despite the fact that spills can occur in small fields, there is some increase in likelihood as the fields get larger, else why not do away with the point system and simply allow unlimited numbers?
I think people underreacted to the Oaks, and overreacted to the Derby. All the negative mainstream criticism about horse racing can only lead in one direction, IMO, which is the elimination of the sport. It doesn't make sense economically, like it used to, which also puts it in danger. Is it really worthwhile for states to spend dollars on administering a sport which only adds to coffers if it is coupled with slot machines? Various ways to make a dangerous game safer are just a matter of degrees. Horse racing and safety are horns of a dilemma. I don't want it to go away, and to me the degree of safety provided by limiting the derby entrants is not worth the excitement it provides, especially since by historic numbers, lots of history, it is safe. I've been to enough races, and watched enough, to see a dozen or more horses break down. One of those was in the Kentucky Derby, Eight Belles. Not due to crowded conditions, but it was the Derby so I have to count it as such. Perhaps, for a safer option, horse enthusiasts could follow harness racing. I have no idea what its safety record is, but I can't recall seeing a horse put down at a harness venue, and they do have much greater longevity on the track.
My concerns about 20 horses are that Churchill is the wrong venue to race a field of that size; that the race requires two starting gates; and that the race was plenty damn exciting, and offered decent payouts, when it was a 14 horse field. I can’t see a positive reason, other than the greed of Churchill Downs, to have that many runners going in the Derby.
And while I’m on my mini soap box, I’d also remove the inclusion of a horse from Japan, as well as the winner of the Dubai race from the automatic entrants. Put more focus on horses who run the major US preps. If the Dubai and Japan winners are hell bent to race in the States, there’s always the Breeders Cup ....
and that the race was plenty damn exciting, and offered decent payouts, when it was a 14 horse field.
When was it ever a 14-horse field? I can't find the number of entrants per year, but the initial Derby in 1875 had 15 horses. In 1974, it had a record 23 entrants, after which the limit was set at 20.
According to an article I read, the average field size in the history of the Derby is 13.2 horses, but the average field size since the turn of the century is 19.1, with no field smaller than 16. Clearly there were many fields 14 or less, prior to the last two decades.
Since 1981, there have been only three fields under 14 entries: 13 in 1997, 1985 and in 1980. The average field size 1981-1999 was 17.37.
The 1994 Derby (won by GoForGin) had 14 runners
I found this link. I am mistaken - I thought the Derby had a smaller field not too long ago. I guess I was thinking about betting interests. It used to be that horses owned by the same barn would go as an entry, and there was always a “field” entry consisting of several horses...
It's been a high number of entrants ever since 1980. In the 21st century, 19.05 average. 1981-1999, 17.37 average. 1970-80, 14.73. 1950-69, 13.55.
Here are the tabulations I made:
2019-2000: no years under 16 entries