Two months into their winter/spring meet, with overall field sizes averaging 7.34 horses per race (8.3 runners per race on turf and just 6.6 horses per race on dirt), Santa Anita on Sunday announced a new Sunshine Bonus program starting in April designed to increase the race ready horse population and field sizes thru the end of the meet June 21.
Horses eligible to the new incentive program must not have started in California in the last year. First-time starters and horses running in Stakes races are not eligible for the program.
Santa Anita will pay a 50 percent purse bonus to owners of horses that finish first through fifth in overnight races in their first start of the meet. Owners of those horses will also receive a $3,000 participation bonus, which basically works as a travel stipend for shipping to California.
Will the new incentive program help to significantly increase the horse population and field sizes? There are several obstacles that could hurt the program’s main objective.
Santa Anita will more often than not be running three days a week through the end of the meet. There will be less opportunities to race compared to other jurisdictions running at the same time such as Oaklawn, Keeneland, and Churchill Downs. Several Southern California based stables send horses to Kentucky in the spring for the lucrative Stakes programs that follow the Triple Crown trail. Those types of horses will not be impacted by the Sunshine Bonus.
Increased safety protocols at Santa Anita have had a positive effect – there have been just seven equine fatalities during this meet (including one freak accident and another possible cardiac event) compared to 18 catastrophic injuries at the same point last year. However, those safety protocols also make it much tougher on horsemen to race.
The increased veterinary exams, needing permission 48 hours in advance of any planned workout, and the longer medication withdrawal times give the horsemen limited flexibility to adjust training schedules as races struggle to fill. The new racing review committee has the power to arbitrarily deny any entry the right to race without a specific reason.
Some East Coast horsemen got a taste of the new protocols in California when the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita last November. Trainer Brendan Walsh brought two horses to California and was unable to start either one due to injury. Trainer Chad Brown was not allowed to run one of his two entrants in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf – likely pacesetter Thais. His favored Sistercharlie ended up finishing third in the race.
It may be difficult to convince owners to ship to California, especially with a purse structure lower than places like Oaklawn, Keeneland and Churchill Downs. The uncertainty about the ability to run their horses and races filling must be considered, too.
Santa Anita gets credit for taking a step in the right direction. But until there is a level playing field and uniform protocols, Santa Anita and California racing overall face an uphill battle trying to replace the estimated 300 horses that have relocated to other circuits.
Stronach 5 carryover
One innovation by The Stronach Group (TSG) that has proven popular with horseplayers is the Stronach 5. The $1 minimum bet is conducted each Friday with five races selected from TSG tracks such as Laurel, Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate Fields, and Santa Anita. The wager has a player friendly 12 percent takeout rate and this Friday there is a carryover in the Stronach 5 of $167,951.
The Stronach 5 races on Friday will be: Laurel Race 8 (approximate post time 12:49 p.m. PT), Gulfstream Park Race 8, Golden Gate Race 3, Santa Anita Race 3, and Gulfstream Park Race 10.
Golden Hour DailyDouble
Santa Anita and Golden Gate will combine to offer a new Daily Double each day called the Golden Hour Double. The sequence will be the final race at Santa Anita followed by the final race at Golden Gate.
The takeout rate is 15 percent and the minimum bet is $5. The wager starts Saturday with a guaranteed pool of $50,000.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Friday Race 8 – Tejon (No. 1). This early in the year, older horses have a decided maturity edge over three-year-olds. Five-year-old Tejon debuts for leading trainer Richard Baltas and second-leading jockey Abel Cedillo in a field where the rest are three-year-olds. Expect him to come out running.