NYRA making bet on a rule change
Ending coupled entries to add betting opportunities
By MARK SINGELAIS, Staff writer
First published in print: Wednesday, June 30, 2010
COLONIE -- In today's fourth race at Belmont Park, trainer Bruce Levine is scheduled to saddle Catty Madeline and Exonerated in a turf race.
Because they're both running for Levine, Catty Madeline and Exonerated are listed as a coupled entry, Nos. 1 and 1A, meaning they're considered to be one horse for betting purposes.
There are five coupled entries on today's Belmont card, continuing a longstanding practice in New York that is coming to an end.
Starting July 14, a state rule change will allow a trainer to enter two horses as an uncoupled entry, provided they don't have the same owner.
As a result, the horses will be considered separate betting interests. Racing officials say that will increase wagering and give bettors more options at tracks, including Saratoga Race Course.
"It was just a logical thing to do," New York Racing Association president and CEO Charles Hayward said. "The horsemen are happy about it, the owners are happy about it, and it provides more choices for the bettor to bet on."
For example, if the rule was in effect now, today's fourth race at Belmont would have nine betting interests instead of eight.
Hayward said uncoupling will earn NYRA $7 million a year in net revenue, with an increase of $140,000 in handle for every race in which the betting field increases.
Although the impetus for the rule change would appear to be the recent horse shortage, Hayward said NYRA first approached the state Racing and Wagering Board about the proposal in May 2006.
"You've heard about the challenges of filling fields," state Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini said. "Well, filling fields with coupled entries doesn't really help the wagering business. We think this is a small yet important thing to make NYRA and Finger Lakes a little better."
Coupling entries was meant to protect the public interest by addressing the conflict of a trainer having two horses competing against each other.
However, trainer Rick Violette pointed out that horses are uncoupled in most tracks around the country, and local fans are allowed to bet those races via simulcast.
"That's a little bit of the hypocrisy in New York state," Violette said. "If the powers that be had a real issue with uncoupled entries as far as integrity, then they'd have to turn off the simulcasting, and they weren't going to let that happen."
The rule change comes with a safeguard: Racing and Wagering Board steward Carmine Donofrio is still allowed to couple entries for betting purposes if he "finds it necessary to do so in the public interest."
Two horses must still be coupled if they belong to the same owner, except in races in which the gross purse is $1 million or more.
Violette envisioned the uncoupling being particularly helpful in, say, a weekend allowance race that would have only five betting interests including coupled horses.
"Those five-horse fields might turn into seven or eight horses," he said. "It's a win-win. More betting interests, more opportunities, more horses."
Mark Singelais can be reached at 454-5509 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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