Archive for Santa Anita

Is Takeout the Key to California Racing’s Struggles???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Art Wilson of Inland Valley Daily Bulletin…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

TOC just doesn’t seem to get it

The guys and gals who comprise the Thoroughbred Owners of California may soon be receiving a huge thank-you note from the folks at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar, Fla.

The TOC may not realize it, but it had a huge hand in Tampa Bay Downs’ 8 percent increase in all-sources handle for a 90-day record meet that wrapped up last Saturday.

A lot of large bettors who normally might have been wagering on California races turned to Tampa Bay Downs this year after a new bill in Sacramento, strongly supported by the TOC, raised the takeout on exotic bets as much as 3 percent and spurred a players’ boycott of the California tracks.

The biggest winner was Tampa Bay Downs, which lowered the takeout on its pick three, pick four, super high five and pick six from 19 to 18 percent and saw its business flourish during a time when others in the industry are blaming the economy for slumping numbers instead of looking in the mirror.

The officials at Tampa Bay Downs obviously get it – less (takeout) equals more (handle).

It’s a simple formula, really, but one the folks at the TOC seem to have trouble grasping.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of our season,” Tampa Bay Downs vice president and general manager Peter Berube said in a statement. “Fans and horsemen alike enjoyed a relatively dry and warm winter here, which certainly helped us increase attendance and on-track handle.

“Overall, we credit our lower takeout, large fields, 18 percent more turf racing and greater access to the California market as key to our success, as well as a larger simulcast following nationwide.”

Large fields?

Whereas local bettors are stuck with more six- and seven-horse lineups than we can stomach, Tampa Bay’s field size increased 1.8 percent to 9.11 horses per race this meet.

Track management also rolled the dice and went with an 18.5 percent increase in turf races, which generally draw more horses, as a way to boost field sizes.

It all led to $30.4 million more in all-sources handle.

The boom in business also led track officials to raise purses in February, and they were able to do it without an increase in takeout like the one that hamstrung Santa Anita this past meeting.

Santa Anita president George Haines admitted on closing day of the Arcadia track’s meet that he would love to have had a low-takeout early exotic bet like the 50-cent pick five that Hollywood Park debuted on opening day of its spring-summer meet.

Unfortunately, the TOC didn’t see the need until it was too late for Santa Anita.

Now, Hollywood Park is reaping the rewards of an early pick five that has a 14 percent takeout and is quickly becoming the most popular bet in Southern California.

Want proof?

On Thursday, Hollywood Park had its first pick five and pick six carryovers of the season. Guess which one had the larger handle – the low-takeout pick five or the pick six, which includes a takeout of 23.86 percent?

Uh huh.

The pick five had a total handle, including a $107,487 carryover, of $907,117, compared to the pick six, which produced a handle of $655,774, including a carryover of $91,681.

There was $235,537 more bet into the pick five Thursday than the pick six, which is quickly taking a backseat to the new kid on the block.

As one longtime bettor wrote in a mass e-mail to industry officials: “It’s not rocket science yet it took how many months/years to get the (low-takeout pick five) put in? Good for Hollywood Park and everyone else that fought for this bet. I wonder how many CHRB board members and TOC board members get it? Lower the takeout and get on the right side of things for once.”

According to Equibase charts, Hollywood Park’s all-sources handle was down 8.4 percent through the first three weeks of the meet, and the total exotic handle showed a 10.8 percent decline from a year ago.

Hollywood Park’s numbers for all-sources handle would be down even more if not for the pick five, which has generated more than $2.7 million through the first 13 days of the meet – $352,750 more than pick six wagering.

The field sizes, which we were told would increase with the larger takeout, have shown a small decrease from 8 horses per race in 2010 to 7.72 – a 3.5 percent decline.

Yes, the TOC needs to wake up and admit that lower takeout means higher handle, which in turn leads to an increase in purses.

The folks at Tampa Bay Downs get it.

Let’s hope the TOC realizes the error of its ways soon, before we’re all betting Tampa Bay Downs when there’s no more racing in California.


Is Santa Anita’s Fast Track Costing Horses In The Long Run???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Brad Free of The Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

How Fast Is Too Fast?

Square Eddie is a good horse, and trainer Doug O’Neill was right. Despite not having started Square Eddie in more than one year, O’Neill said “He’s ready to win.”

He was more than ready, it turns out.

Square Eddie on Friday obliterated the Santa Anita track record for six and one-half furlongs, a record set more than 12 years ago by Son of a Pistol.

Square Eddie smashed it. He raced virtually gate to wire in 1:13.11, three-fifths off the old mark. He did it while geared down the final yards.

Records that are set by good horses can be a cause for celebration, and Square Eddie is a good horse. But he was racing in a second-level allowance race, not a graded stake.

And the way records are falling this winter at Santa Anita, celebration might give way to concern.

The Factor, a 2-year-old, set the new mark for six furlongs when he went in 1:06.98 on Dec. 26.

Twirling Candy, a good horse but not yet great, set the new mark for seven furlongs, 1:19.70 on Dec. 26.

That prompted one longtime Santa Anita employee to make this cynical remark: “It’s about time we got that bum Spectacular Bid out of the record book.”

Twirling Candy bruised a foot and has not raced since. Neither has The Factor.

Then the news broke Friday about Sidney’s Candy. He had raced a mile in 1:33.70, also on Dec. 26.

Sidney’s Candy is “off” and scratched from the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes on Saturday. Preliminary indications are the setback was not serious.

Horses get hurt everywhere. No one is blaming the Santa Anita track.

But three track records the first 13 days of racing does seem strange.

Square Eddie, a Grade 1 winner in fall 2008, is a good horse.

Let’s hope he is good enough to run fast, and then run again.

Because when horses run as fast as they have been running this winter at Santa Anita, one has to ask again – at what expense?


One Company, Two Approaches: Cater to the horseplayer or the horseman???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Richard Eng of Las Vegas Review-Journal…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

While Gulfstream caters to bettors, Santa Anita targets racers

This is a tale of two racetracks, Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita Park, which are operated by the same owner, Magna Entertainment Corp. and Frank Stronach.

At the same time that Santa Anita has raised its takeout on multihorse and multirace wagers, its sister track, Gulfstream, has lowered bet minimums and takeout, making the product more user-friendly.

Sounds like a case of Stronach’s left and right hands not knowing what the other is doing.

Santa Anita raised the takeout by 9.6 percent (to 22.68 from 20.68) on exactas and daily doubles and by 14.5 percent (to 23.68 from 20.68) for all other exotic bets. A predictable result has been a drop in handle of nearly 20 percent.

Meanwhile, Gulfstream has been creative in offering a 10-cent pick 6, a 50-cent pick 4 and pick 5 and $1 minimums on all other wagers.

The takeout in the pick 5 is a low 15 percent, making it one of the best bets in horse racing. It mirrors the Monmouth Park pick 5 in that regard plus has a similar carry-over provision if no one correctly selects all five winners.

I think a low-priced, low-takeout pick 5 is a good way to market to everyday horseplayers for this simple reason:

Suppose I take the time to handicap the five races in the pick 5. Not only will I play a pick 5, but I will bet many of those races individually, increasing my overall handle. That’s good business.

The takeout in the Gulfstream pick 6 is only 20 percent. But the most intriguing part is the entire pool will be paid out only if there is one unique winning ticket. When there is more than one winning ticket, 60 percent of the pool will be paid out and 40 percent will go to the carry-over pool.

The idea is to create a large carry-over pool that will spark more interest, and I think that will work, too.

Santa Anita offers a better price (15.43) in win, place and show wagers than Gulfstream (17.0), and in the trifecta and superfecta, which are a ridiculously high 26 percent at Gulfstream.

However, it seems like the philosophy of the two tracks is different. Gulfstream apparently listens to its fans in making the betting product more attractive. Santa Anita is trying to appease the owners and trainers who race there at a much higher cost to its players.

We horseplayers might be dumb, but we’re not stupid. I think, as a group, we are more discriminating than track managers are giving us credit for.


Back To The Future: Santa Anita’s Dirt Returns

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Andersen of the Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!


ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA – Santa Anita’s newly installed dirt track is scheduled to open for training Monday, the completion of a project that ends a troubled three-year period with synthetic racing surfaces at the historic track.

By opening the main track Monday, and the barn area Sunday, Southern California horsemen will have less than three weeks to acclimate their horses to the new surface in advance of the opening of the winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26. Santa Anita will have the only dirt track at the three major Southern California venues. Hollywood Park has a Cushion Track synthetic surface, while Del Mar has a Polytrack surface.

Installed over the last six weeks, Santa Anita’s new surface consists of 90 percent sand, using two types of sand, and 10 percent clay.

Because most horses are making a transition from synthetic surfaces, Santa Anita officials are urging horsemen to take a slow approach to introducing their runners to the new track.

“We’re asking them to give it some time to jog their horses and let horses get comfortable with it,” track president George Haines said. “It’s important to get open three weeks before opening day, so we can make any adjustments, if necessary.”

Earlier this fall, Haines said the new racetrack installation cost more than “$3 million.” Richard Tedesco, who has maintained Santa Anita’s track in recent years, will oversee maintenance of the new track, Haines said.

The track was designed by Ted Malloy, with frequent input from horsemen’s groups.

“We get horsemen every day looking at it,” Haines said. “We had a transparent process.”

Haines said Santa Anita’s maintenance crew was scheduled to begin grooming the track Wednesday and will work the surface for five days before Monday’s opening.

The timeline for installation has been largely met, despite a few weather-related delays in recent weeks, Haines said.

“We had a couple of hiccups but we were able to keep the schedule,” he said.

Santa Anita track chairman Frank Stronach committed to the installation of a dirt surface during the summer at the urging of horsemen’s groups. After the existing Pro-Ride synthetic track was removed in October, the base of the new track was installed in mid-November. In the last week, the installation of the upper layer of the surface was completed.

The base and upper layers of the surface will have a depth of 15 to 17 inches.

Santa Anita’s three-year era with synthetic tracks was plagued by maintenance problems and poor drainage. The track lost 11 days of racing during the 2007-08 meeting, the first with a synthetic surface, and five days of racing earlier this year because of poor drainage.


Does This Signal The End of Plastic Tracks?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Tracy Gantz of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!


ARCADIA, CALIFORNIA — Removal of Santa Anita’s synthetic surface began Oct. 11 as the first step in replacing it with a dirt surface. Track officials are close to deciding the mix of materials to be used as the surface material, with input from horsemen.

Plans call for installation of the dirt surface to be completed by about Dec. 1, said project manager Ted Malloy. Horses are expected to be allowed to begin training Dec. 5 for the Santa Anita winter meeting, which opens Dec. 26.

Malloy said the removal of the synthetic surface will take two to three weeks. Track management and horsemen are investigating several different dirt mixes to come up with the best and safest surface. Several plots of material are undergoing testing in the area just west of Santa Anita’s main oval.

Malloy and George Haines, Santa Anita’s president, said that the dirt surface will be made up of a sand component, clay and silt, and pond fines. The testing is examining several different mixes of these three materials.

Once Santa Anita management determines the best mix, it will undergo further testing under the direction of the California Horse Racing Board, Haines said. The University of California at Davis will test it, as will Dr. Mick Peterson from the University of Maine. Peterson is the executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory.

“We want to make sure we have the right parameters for the soil,” said Haines.

The CHRB still must approve a waiver for Santa Anita to return to a dirt surface. Originally, the CHRB mandated that all major California Thoroughbred tracks convert to a synthetic surface.

Santa Anita has undergone two renovations of its initial Cushion Track surface, installed in 2007. The track has not drained properly, leading to the loss of several days of racing. Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach in August announced he would replace the synthetic surface with dirt in time for the 2010-11 winter meeting.