In a sport facing multiple important issues, the marriage of jockeys Katie Davis and Trevor McCarthy would be unlikely to hit anyone’s radar screen. But when the newly married couple decided to ride in New York on January 1, they were probably as surprised as the rest of us to learn of an antiquated rule: state regulations provide that when both are entered in a race, they must be a coupled entry regardless of common ownership of the horses simply because they are married to one another.
For those not fully conversant with the arcana of horse racing, a “coupled entry” means that two (or more) horses will run as a single betting interest to avoid possible collusion. It has been most often employed when separate horses have a common ownership interest. It used to be that a trainer with two or more horses had to run as an entry even if there were no common ownership. But it is a rule that has been loosened over the years, so that most stake races no longer couple horses even when owned by the same individual and trained by the same trainer.
The regulation of the New York State Gaming Commission provides:
All horses trained or ridden by a spouse, parent, issue or member of a jockey’s household shall be coupled in the betting with any horse ridden by such jockey.
Davis is the daughter of a trainer, sister to another, and sister of a jockey. When riding against a sibling or a horse trained by her father or brother, there is no coupled entry. It is only marriage that has affected her business (as well as that of McCarthy).
The rule is ludicrous on its face. If prior to marrying, McCarthy and Davis had – forgive me while I blush – cohabited, they would have been required to be a coupled entry on the track if not in the eyes of the law. While their relationship may have been widely known on the backstretch or in the racing office – and I neither know nor care if it were – there was no pari-mutuel implication.
Racing has enough issues that warrant further investigation. Every time I see the name of trainer Wayne Potts in the entries I wonder why New York allows him to train at its tracks when he has been banned elsewhere for falsifying his claim to be actually training the horse. Need I mention drugs? When a trainer with multiple violations (including 58 in Saratoga in one year) is elected to the Hall of Fame, and this year’s ballot includes a trainer recently suspended for a drug violation following close to four dozen other violations, one may think it is only trivial matters that attract the attention of regulators.
Racing does not need to be involved in the legitimate, personal lives of its participants. If they actually believe that a married couple may collude during a race, some one should point out that there are stewards who observe the actual running of a race and can take enforcement action if they suspect collusion. Even if the stewards fail to pay attention, there is an army of losing bettors who will raise the issue.
The racing world is a collection of close knit communities around the country. Its insularity means that a lot is known about the personal behavior of its participants, by both those on the backstretch and in the offices. Do we really want a world where jockeys are called into the racing office and asked if they have been living together in recent weeks? Or should it be treated like other behavior (illegal drugging) that folks prefer it to go unmentioned. It is beyond absurd that a public and legally sanctioned relationship is punished, while private ones that, nonetheless, violate the rule are not punished. Indeed, the regulation is simply unenforceable – until that cohabiting couple marries.
I think there can be little doubt that one of the riders in the marriage has been punished. Katie Davis has said that NYRA’s Racing Office has discouraged trainers from selecting Davis because the race might not go because of insufficient entries, according to a Bill Finley piece in the February 7 Thoroughbred Daily News. After what must have been an exhaustive investigation, Pat McKenna, NYRA’s spokesperson said her accusations “are completely false and without merit” according to Finley’s reporting. McKenna added that “NYRA has consistently advocated for modernized rules regarding coupled entries….”
Trevor McCarthy has been the more accomplished jockey and is going to get his share of mounts. Katie Davis has the same issue other less-experienced riders have in attracting mounts. In what has to be a supreme irony, Finley reported that she lost her first win on a disqualification – after her brother Dylan claimed foul against her.
Finley also observed that enforcement of the antiquated rule may be costing NYRA in its handle, calculating that for every reduced betting interest because of the coupling rule it may be losing $90,000 per race. We know that field size is an important consideration for every track since larger fields increase the betting handle and the track’s revenue. It is why NYRA instituted reforms following a spike in catastrophic injuries, preventing the Racing Office from having a say in whether a vet could scratch a horse in a pre-race exam. (Unfortunately, it went in the other direction when it increased the purse-to-claiming ratio that its Medical Examiner acknowledged heightened the risk for horses.)
Despite NYRA’s spokesperson claiming the organization’s vigorous interest in updating coupling policies, it is New York’s Gaming Commission that has the responsibility for regulations. Expecting that body to act promptly on anything is a fool’s errand. As one example, it has been considering revisions to the rule regarding the usage of the whip. You know, the same topic that has been addressed by other major racing organizations is recent months. The Commission’s Chairperson actually said at its December, 2019 meeting that it has been considering this matter since 2015 — seriously.
This is a body that redefines soporific. It has had just two meetings this year and has yet to even raise this matter. Joe Biden signed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill on day 51 of his administration. It is now 117 days since this ridiculous rule has been adversely affecting two jockeys, trainers, owners and bettors.
So Katie Davis will just have to suffer her potential loss of income until the NYRA and the Commission decide whether they really care about this injustice and take simple steps to correct it.