There is an old saying: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Santa Anita and the Stronach Group are taking this opinion to heart and will be making several changes in the hopes of moving the needle in a positive way starting the day after Christmas.
There will be new conditions for Maiden Special Weight races and conditioned claiming races at Santa Anita this winter.
In addition to the regular Maiden Special Weight (MSW) races, there will also be MSW races restricted those horses who were sold at auction for $100,000 or less and for home-breds that were never offered at auction.
The purpose of this special condition (with the same purse structure as open MSW races) is to give those barns without the high price tag youngsters a chance to win a Maiden Special Weight.
This condition will also impact breeders, who depend on progeny of their stallions to prove themselves vs. MSW Company to help generate value as far as stud fees and market value at auction.
Having to face one high-six-figure purchase after another from top trainers like Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer, and Doug O’Neill has a tendency to reduce field size. Hopefully this new condition will increase participation and make for better wagering opportunities for the horseplayers.
Another new condition will be introduced for conditioned (restricted) claiming races.
Some of those races will now be restricted to stables with 20 horses or less only.
The idea behind this rule is to keep the smaller barns in business by allowing them to pay some bills winning races.
We have seen at places like Golden Gate what can happen when too few trainers have too much of the horse population. Those barns can control the entry box and field size and competitive races are negatively impacted as a result.
Keeping some of the small barns active and winning races is a win-win for the horsemen, the horseplayers, the handle, and in turn the racetrack.
We have discussed in this column before the lack of good young accomplished stallions in California. The scarcity of either solid proven stallions or young well-bred accomplished race horses retiring to stud in the state negatively impacts the California breeding industry in many ways, such as:
Negative incentive to buy good mares in foal to solid out-of-state stallions to foal in California and then be bred back to a California stallion, making that resulting foal a Cal-bred per the current California Thoroughbred Breeders Association rules.
It has been bad business to keep good productive broodmares in California since the stallion options are very limited.
Market value of recent horses bred in California have been very soft at auction given the perceived commercial value of the sub-par stallions and broodmares.
The Stronach Group has taken a good first step to correct this negative cycle by announcing this week they will retire Grade-I Santa Anita Handicap winner and Grade-I Pegasus World Cup runner-up Shaman Ghost to stud in California for 2018.
I can’t remember the last time a stallion with a comparable resume was retired and started off his stud career in California.
His stud fee will be $10,000, a very affordable number in the current breeding world. Shaman Ghost gives potential broodmare investors an option to bring better mares to the state to foal and be bred back to a commercially acceptable stallion.
The success of Del Mar’s Ship and Win program has led to Santa Anita creating a new version called Ship and Stay. While Del Mar paid travel stipends and a purse bonus for the first California start for horses from out of state, Santa Anita has taken the program a step further by offering the following:
• 20% purse bonus in the first Santa Anita start for a horse from out of state.
• 10% purse bonus in the second and third Santa Anita starts for horses shipped in from out of state.
Bonuses will go to the horsemen responsible for bringing the qualifying horses from out of state regardless of whether they have been claimed during the bonus period.
These innovative programs may or may not accomplish the desired results of more competition, larger field sizes, and more horsemen being part of the day to day action at Santa Anita.
That said, Santa Anita deserves credit for not just doing the same old thing.
It should also be mentioned that Santa Anita will begin their winter meet with a substantial overpayment of purses.
What is an overpayment? Each meet the purses are established based on what the anticipated handle will be.
When the purses paid out are larger than the final monies generated by handle, an “overpayment” has been made that will have to be accounted for at later meets through reduced purses, less races, and/or a combination of factors to balance the budget.
Good weather this winter after all the rain at last year’s winter meet would surely help close that gap.
Play of the Week
Los Alamitos, Thursday, Race 6: Yes I’m Ready (post 10). Juvenile needed Del Mar debut Nov. 11. He was stabled at Los Alamitos all summer, and at 12/1 has some upset value pressing the pace from the outside.
That was a winning formula sprinting opening week.