One of the cornerstones of microeconomics is that people respond to incentives. Pick up any principles of economics textbook and you'll probably be confronted with the four principles of decision making before you end chapter 1. One of the four is that people respond to incentives. Thanks to the British Horse-racing Authority (BHA) we are now going to see if horses do to.
Enter Mad Moose. Some of you may have heard about the enigmatic 10 year old who in January was banned indefinitely from racing after failing to start, when under orders for a fifth time, in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek at Sandown in December 2013. In fact, in some of the recent races were the horse did "start" he was so far behind when he got going that all chance of winning the race was gone.
The decision of the BHA was interesting. Those in charge claimed that the decision to ban the horse was based on the fact that they wish to protect punters from betting on a horse without getting a run. For those unfamiliar with betting, when a horse is "under order" (white flag raised) no money can be returned. Mad Moose backers lose out every time the horse fails to run when under orders.
The question as to why the BHA feels the need to do this must be posed. Surely, the horse's odds reflect the chance he may not start? Anyone that reads Mad Moose's form will see the letter "R" (refused) before his name on numerous occasions. It's not as if this information is hidden or there is a lack of transparency. If a punter still wishes to back the horse why should they be prevented from doing so?
Thankfully, last week Mad Moose was granted permission to start running again. I wonder what the horse thinks? Will this punishment work? Hardly. The horse surely didn't know he was suspended!
If he does start (as hoped) in his next race, maybe we can surmise that horses do in fact respond to incentives. Unless he enjoyed his time off that is. If he fails to start again I wonder what trainer Nigel Twiston-Davis will do? As they say, you can bring a horse to water...but you can't make him start!