The horse racing industry continues to struggle with the concept of avoiding scheduling conflicts between tracks.
One of the topics that draws considerable discussion among horse racing fans and industry officials is the scheduling of races, particularly during days where multiple tracks are running cards featuring major graded stakes races. These cards, usually on Saturday or Sunday afternoons, tend to draw the most viewers, fans and players, with many gamblers playing multiple tracks on a single day. In many ways, the big days are great for handle, and many player, whether a big racing day or a run-of-the-mill Wednesday afternoon, wager more money when playing multiple tracks than when they are playing just one.
It's next impossible to schedule every track in the country to avoid conflicts with one another during a day (without major changes to the industry) - there are just too many tracks and too many races to accomplish that goal without severely cutting back on the number of tracks running at the same time on a single day. But what we can do, and, in my opinion, quite easily, is at least attempt to set up a post time schedule for the major tracks that doesn't create conflicts from the outset. Case in point: yesterday's cards at Aqueduct, Keeneland, Oaklawn Park and Santa Anita Park.
Below is a comparison of all the scheduled post times for each of the four major tracks on the afternoon of Saturday, April 14th. (all times are Eastern).
Right off the bat, you can see multiple conflicts with yesterday's schedule. Not a single race had been run and we already knew that approximately nine times during the day we would likely have multiple races go to post within three minutes of each other, including the first two races at Keeneland and Oaklawn that were scheduled for the exact same post time. Later on in the day, we were treated to a three-way royal rumble between Oaklawn, Aqueduct and Santa Anita; on two occasions races were scheduled to run within three and two minutes of each other, respectively. Check out the spacing at 5:30pm:
AQU10 - 5:31pm
OP9 - 5:32pm
SA5 - 5:34pm
Just a half-hour later, Santa Anita and Oaklawn each scheduled a race within one minute of each other.
The obvious point that one might make is, "sure, we can schedule more time between races, but there are always some delays that will cause races to bunch up". And that statement is absolutely true. But why start the day already planning for races to bunch up? Can't we at least start the day with the intentions of spreading out races in a reasonable and sensible manner? Additionally, even if there are slight delays during one race, is it not possible to get back on schedule later on? Otherwise, why even schedule post times?
Major delays, such as injuries or inquiries/objections, will still cause major problems with the schedule but at least those events aren't intentionally created.
I took all of yesterday's post times for Aqueduct, Keeneland, Oaklawn and Santa Anita, dumped them into Excel, and tweaked the times to come up with the schedule below. In this revised version, every race at the four tracks is scheduled to go off no less than seven minutes apart from a race at another track.
The schedule above builds in 30 minutes between each race at the specific track, and no less than seven minutes between races at multiple tracks; and we could build an even greater buffer if we so desired. No times are set in stone, it's simply a matter of opening up Excel, laying out how many races each track wants to run on the day, and then tweaking the numbers until things start to look organized.
Coordination is probably limited to three or four tracks under these circumstances, but we're usually not looking at more than four tracks running a card with major stakes races on a single afternoon. Tracks not running a card with major stakes action will end up running races that overlap with some of these, something that is already occurring.
If we wanted to really change the way we present our product the to public, and if the industry so desired, it could create a NATIONAL (gasp!) racing schedule; the tracks could work together on scheduling post times, as well as collaborating and coordinating real-time information of actual start times on race days (something like a track official at one track telling the others that they are running four minutes late and the other two tracks adjusting their post times accordingly). That way, even if delays occurred at one track, the other tracks could adjust their schedules, thereby keeping everyone evenly spread out during the day and maximizing the number of races that fans can watch and wager on over the course of an afternoon.
These are all things that can be done by the industry right now, requiring nothing more than a real, concerted effort by the parties involved. This is not atom-splitting work. It's a team oriented approach for an industry that is "in it together".
We are living in the simulcasting age of the sport of horse racing. Billions of dollars are bet on the sport in the United States every year, most of which occurs off-track. The most die-hard fans, the horse players, tend to play multiple tracks during a single day, something the industry should embrace and encourage, not frustrate.