As per usual, Del Mar started their 84th season with a bang last Friday. They only had 21,000 plus on track but that was by design, as they limited the amount of patrons for opening day to accommodate those that were in attendance, without long concession and wagering lines. The first three days of the meet were loaded with both quality and quantity. A good example of this was that the two stakes on Saturday went to the post with 14 and 15 horse fields respectively. The handicapping was tough, especially on the turf, where with the full fields it was all about the “trip”. Many of the races found the best horse getting tangled up and trapped with nowhere to run in the lane, thus creating many of the good prices that were found with the 1st week of racing. The main track was definitely biased as the outside lanes were much better than the inside and the better riders caught on quickly and were actually steering their mounts to the outside for the run down the lane. Rally wide closers were winning most of the sprints. On the turf course it was pretty much the same. For the most part, speed was not holding, especially in the two turn route races, but getting the right trip and not getting stopped were the keys to success. Racing returns with a four day week this Thursday with an 8 race card highlighted by the Cal bred Fleet Treat stakes where Ceiling Crusher looks to be an odds on favorite. She is undefeated in four career starts and her last two wins have been by a total of 32 lengths. After just three days of racing, the Rainbow pick six pool is already up to $195,122, but this is a very poor wager to play with their gigantic 46% takeout. The only time to play into this pool is when there is a mandatory payout and they will have a couple of those this meet. On the human side of things, jockey Umberto Rispoli is riding the turf course as good as ever and won three on Saturday while both trainers, Bob Baffert and Phil D’Amato got the hat trick on Sunday. We will have selections out this week for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
COMPUTER ASSISTED WAGERING CRISIS: With all the positives going on in racing at this time of the year with both Del Mar and Saratoga in full swing, we really hate to talk about the negatives in racing. But these next two issues are very real and affect our everyday way of wagering on the races. Betting on horses is the lifeblood of our industry and without wagering in this country, there would be no horse racing. It funds the purses that the owners race for, it creates thousands of jobs throughout the industry, and it even affects the breeding side of the business. Yet today, throughout the country, the Computer Assisted Wagering groups make up about one third of the handle nationwide and they play with a distinct advantage over all of the rest of us. They are able to bet very late into the pools up to the last micro second and often control those pools and then in addition get up to 10% rebates for their action. The everyday player is betting into pools where they have no idea what value they are getting and we are losing players each and every day to other forms of gambling in this country. And the sad thing about this scenario is that the race tracks are doing very little if anything to correct this issue. The “CAW” groups are getting last second looks at pools that we have no shot of ever seeing and this gives them the distinct advantage over the rest of us in finding fair wagering value. And the race tracks just look the other way because they make up such a large portion of the handle. And don’t forget the gigantic rebates these groups get in addition. In California, regardless of what the tracks say they are doing to address this situation, they are in a no win position to do much of anything. Without being able to get any other forms of gambling in at the race tracks to help subsidize the purse structure, California tracks are totally dependent on their wagering handle. And that’s just not good enough to compete with other states such as New York, Florida, and Kentucky that have the “racinos” already in place. When you have a decreasing foal population year after year, there just aren’t enough horses to go around. The summer season at Del Mar is the lone exception to this, as they have full fields for most of their meet with their excellent Ship and Win program, but that’s only 8 weeks out of the year. What about the other 44 weeks of the year where tracks struggle to put out a decent program. If the tracks don’t get tough with these CAW groups, there is only one thing we can do as everyday players, and that is to stay away from the pools that these groups live in day in and day out. Those pools that they are most active in are listed in sequence by their action, i.e. the pick six, the late pick five, the Superfecta, the late pick four, the Trifecta, and all rolling pick threes. In other words, go back to betting like you did 40 years ago, bet to Win and Place, and if you must enroll in exotic wagering, the early pick five and the early pickfour is the way to go. California still offers the 2nd lowest takeout in the country next to Hawthorne's 12% in WIN wagering at just 15.43% while the early pick five takeout is just 14% vs. 23.68% for the late pick five. It isn’t fair but many things in life aren’t fair.
GOLDEN GATE FIELDS: 1st Racing, or the Stronach Group if you prefer, dropped the bombshell on the California racing community just last week that they are shutting down racing at this location on December 18 of this year. They have been “bleeding” financially at this location for at least the last five years, or so they say, and they wish to consolidate all of their apples at the Southern California location in Arcadia. That is certainly their prerogative, as no business should continue to lose money year after year without making any drastic changes. However, this really doesn’t give Nor Cal much time to really address the problem, as five months will go by quickly, and this leaves so many employees caught without any place to go for employment. 1st racing says no problem, just ship your horses to Santa Anita, and we’ll find races for you to run in. Well, unless they make drastic changes to their condition books, Nor Cal horses don’t fit in So Cal. Maybe 10% of them can run with those horses, but 90% of them are totally outclassed, and 10% will not add another race day to their weekly calendar, which is what they really want. The Stronach Group has tried to sell GGF for many years, and they almost did 10 years ago, to Abbott Laboratories in Livermore. But when doing the Due Diligence, Abbott Labs found so many environmental problems with the property, that they quickly walked out of the deal. The good news for Nor Cal racing is that they have options and both the California Horse Racing Board and the Thoroughbred Owners of California understand the importance and the value of an ongoing racing program in the northern part of the state. However, they do need a turf course and there are only two in Nor Cal, i.e. GGF and Santa Rosa. The former is going to be history and the latter is in such poor shape they are lucky if they can race there two weeks out of the year. So the Nor Cal horseman went to 1st Racing and asked to delay the closing of GGF until June of 2024. That resulted in a quick no response, which actually means NO!! It will cost $6 million to build a turf course inside of Cal Expo or Pleasanton, but it also takes six months to complete the process. Unfortunately, Nor Cal doesn’t have either the time or the money. The CARF group, which runs the fair circuit in Nor Cal, prefers to have it built at Cal Expo and to have year round racing at that location. That is a possibility, but they also have night harness racing at that location and they have to deal with that somehow. The Fair season would still go on in Nor Cal with their stops at Pleasanton, Cal Expo, Santa Rosa, Ferndale, and Fresno, but they would have to run much fewer weeks at either Cal Expo or P-Town. And that’s not a bad thing. These horses all need more time off during the calendar year, as do the players. Year round racing in California is fast coming to a halt in the very near future, and that’s a good thing for most. I do think they will get it all worked out eventually, it’s just that the Stronach Group hasn’t given them adequate time, but that’s not necessarily their fault. The Nor Cal horsemen knew this hammer was going to drop some day and they never did anything to prepare themselves for it. Now they are in “crunch” time and there is a certain amount of panic for trainers, riders, and their employees, not to mention the breeding side of this equation in Nor Cal. Turf Paradise in Phoenix does have a turf course, and they are going to run this winter. But they are up For Sale as well and they have all kinds of issues of their own. Nonetheless, the Nor Cal horses fit well at that location, so I see many heading there, at least temporarily. I do think this will work out eventually for Northern California, but time is not on their side. All in all, it doesn’t say much about the future of thoroughbred racing in this state, and the politicians could care less whether there is any racing at all. First it was Hollywood Park closing, then Bay Meadows, then Fairplex in Pomona, and now Golden Gate Fields. And as soon as Ed Allred passes at Los Alamitos, they are next, and I believe he is at least 85. Santa Anita is a gorgeous race track and one of the prettiest in the country, but so was Longacres up in Seattle, and they are long gone. The Santa Anita property is worth a small fortune, so it’s just a matter of time for that location. At the end of the day, money talks, and BS walks, if you know what I mean.