Jason Beem's Thursday Column for Oct. 26, 2023

October 26th, 2023

Jason discusses whether or not horses with no hope in a race are entitled to "take a shot" or shouldn't be allowed to enter a race in which they don't belong.

A good Thursday morning to you all! I mentioned in last week’s article about Mountaineer that the track analyst Mark Patterson was talking on air about connections entering horses unrealistically vs. people who are “taking a shot.” I figured with the Breeders’ Cup now just over one week away, this was a good time to talk about this idea when it comes to both racing horses but also betting.

So the instance that cued Mark up to talk about this was a horse running at Mountaineer last week in a $4,000 claiming event, and Mark mentioned that the horse had the distinction of running in a Grade 3 race the previous year. However, at no point in the horse’s career did his form indicate he should be anywhere but a $4,000 claimer. This past year’s West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer had three or four horses who were entered in the prestigious Grade 2 event with at best $4,000 claiming form. They were legit no-hopers who all went off between 103-1 and 126-1 in the final odds. They finished in the last four spots and were 20 lengths behind Lord Miles, who finished sixth. 

So the question is what is the line between “taking a shot” and something that probably shouldn’t be allowed. I mean if a horse is eligible for a race and deemed safe to run by the veterinarian, is it any place for us as bettors or fans to be upset? I actually kind of think there is. I mean, I’m eligible to play in the NHL, but if I skated out there against Jack Eichel or Nathan MacKinnon, I’d obviously get shredded into Swiss cheese. Similar to these no-hope horses, there’s basically no shot I’d contend in a spot like that. However, the thing that looms a bettor chance than me winning would be me injuring one of the serious players. A horse backing up through a field in traffic can be a dangerous thing. The slower they’re decelerating, I suppose the quicker the decision the jock has to make to avoid it.

I’m sure some of you are probably thinking “but 99-1 shots do sometimes win.” And yes, they do. A horse is only going to be 99-1 if they are deemed pretty hopeless by the public. That’s where the crux of my question comes in. How do we determine that a horse shouldn’t be in a race they’re eligible for? Ricks Natural Star, of course, is the horse that comes to mind and should be the poster child for entries like this.  He was a complete no-hope in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1), yet due to publicity or just insanity, went off at only 56-1! He was up close early before retreating very quickly and was distanced out of the race by the time they went into the final turn.

I really do think there should be some hints of potential contention for a horse entered in a race, but I also don’t know what that looks like. I mean a horse who’s run last in two maiden events and was beaten 20 lengths probably deserves at least a couple more shots to see if the light goes on, right? Plus, with field sizes shrinking as they have at most tracks, are we really in the business of denying entries to sound and eligible horses?

I’d be curious to hear your guys thoughts on this debate because I’m kind of open to both sides of it. I know I’m fence-sitting in that regard, but it’s just hard to want to tell someone they can’t enter a race. But I also get why maybe sometimes we should say no.

Everyone have a great weekend!