Commissioner George Krikorian surprised the attendees to the May 24 California Horse Racing Board Dates Committee meeting by tossing out the idea of combining the So Cal and No Cal racing circuits into just one year-long racing circuit and no longer having two independent year-long circuits in California.
The combined racing calendar would include racing dates in So Cal and also in No Cal with no overlapping meets running at the same time, perhaps with the exception of the No Cal fair circuit during the Del Mar summer meet.
What would be the positive and negative effects of combining the circuits? What are the first reactions from the race tracks and horsemen? Below are some of the factors that must be considered as well as first reactions from some closely involved with the California racing industry.
Given the current concerns relating to a lack of inventory and the corresponding concerns with field sizes, number of racing days, the reduction in number of horses being bred in California, and the number of races per racing day, a reduction in racing dates may only be a matter of time.
A major obstacle to combining circuits would be generating the proper purse structure to keep horsemen and horses from leaving the state. Tracks that host live racing receive, in addition to the takeout on wagers played on site, the host fees for simulcast wagers, satellite facility wagers, and wagers placed through Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) companies.
Should there be no racing in So Cal for any predetermined amount of time, those host fees would be lost and the purse structures would have to be adjusted. Given that Maidens are currently running for purses of up to $100,000 elsewhere while competing in California for approximately $54,000, seeing those purse levels drop locally would make it hard to justify an increase in inventory of expensive, well-bred youngsters to California in the future.
Everyone knows the cost of living in California is high. It is doubtful horsemen could afford to uproot themselves from their local base, whether it be in No Cal or So Cal, to set up residence on a temporary basis in the other region of the state when the circuit shifts. This factor has already been proven during the Del Mar fall meet, as very few stables based at Santa Anita or Los Alamitos ship down and are based at Del Mar in November. Last fall there were only approximately 300 based at Del Mar while the rest remained in the Los Angeles area.
The shift in location would also have a major impact on the pool of help available to take care of those horses properly. The labor pool has already been affected by the recent minimum wage law changes and immigration policies. Finding enough help on a temporary basis would be a problem.
There is also no guarantee stables currently based in No Cal and So Cal would remain in California should their particular circuits go dark for any extended period of time. Not all of the horses based in No Cal fit the racing programs in So Cal, and the purse concerns could have horses based in So Cal shipping out of state for more lucrative options when the racing shifts to No Cal.
Finally, there has been a concerted effort in So Cal to keep track surfaces as consistent as possible moving from Santa Anita to Los Alamitos to Del Mar and back. The “El Segundo Sand” base is similar to all three surfaces. Combining circuits would bring the synthetic Tapeta surface at Golden Gate into play and may be a reason for many horses based in So Cal to ship out of state to compete when the racing shifts to Golden Gate.
As expected, the first reaction from officials at Del Mar and Santa Anita are negative, citing the fear of horses and horsemen leaving California due to the shifting circuit and, in the case of Santa Anita, the cost of operating such a large facility and the loss of revenue due to dark days created by the new circuit.
There will be plenty of discussion moving forward, and as CHRB Chairman Charles Winner said: “It can’t stay the way it is, because we are all going to pay the price at some point.”
Jockeys Corey Nakatani and Tyler Baze have each been handed three-day suspensions that run this Friday through Sunday. Both were cited for infractions from the same race – Nakatani aboard Diplodocus and Baze aboard Eckersley from last Friday’s third race.
• Wild Mischief, a 4-year-old gelding trained by Marsha Schwizer, refused to break in Sunday’s first race after doing the exact same thing in his previous start March 5. According to the stewards, Wild Mischief has now been banned from racing in California.
• Long-time So Cal based jockey David Flores has been riding in the Midwest among other places the last few years, but he is headed back to So Cal this week and will be represented by agent Joe Griffin.
• There are just 54 horses entered on Thursday’s eight-race card. The struggle was not unexpected following a five-day race week that included Memorial Day.
Santa Anita on Thursday, Race 7, Edwards Going Left (4): The three-year-old is improving rapidly since being claimed by trainer John Sadler from his career debut in February. He should be on or pressing the pace early and can improve his position from there.