Every horseman I have talked with trainer, jockey or owner agrees that the major reason California has small fields and a diminishing live fan base is because theres too much racing.
Frank Stronach is a horseman, and a very successful one at that. With prospective champions Perfect Sting and Macho Uno in his barn, not to mention Preakness winner Red Bullet and Golden Missile, earner of more than $1.2 million in 2000, Stronach knows racing and he knows business.
But the magnate of Magna Entertainment and Magna International, a leading global supplier of technologically advanced automotive systems with more than 59,000 employees, begged to differ from the overwhelming majority opinion about the primary cause of racings woes in the Golden State.
"I think if you put on a great show, if the purses are high and you have great track conditions, you attract the horses," said Stronach, who purchased Santa Anita two years ago for $126 million. His growing stable of race tracks includes Bay Meadows, Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate Fields, Thistledown, Remington Park and Great Lakes Downs.
"When you have a huge facility (such as Santa Anita), you want to keep it busy. You want to have live racing. I really see it as having too many horses training over one track. Its as simple as that. Youve got too many breakdowns (creating the horse shortage). Any time I ship horses to California (to race), they leave the farm in perfect condition, but we have breakdowns."
Jack Liebau, recently appointed Santa Anita president by Stronach, sided with the majority.
"I think next year there will be less racing than now," said Liebau, who is also president of Bay Meadows. "For us to say that, were going to have to have certain legislation that will allow us to have unlimited simulcasting on dark days, and thats something also being discussed by all the tracks."
Ideally, common sense will prevail and two weeks of racing or more will be removed from Southern Californias schedule. Otherwise, it seems merely a matter of time before the Golden Goose in the Golden State becomes tarnished and is ready for the scrap heap.
Refresher course and advice for the New Year: one of the most important considerations to make money betting on horses is value. "I dont bet horses to win at less than 2-1," says nationally recognized professional gambler and clocker Gary Young. "I might single them in a triple and play some longshots around them in a triple, or play it on top of a couple of longshots in an exacta, but one of the quickest ways to fail as a gambler is to bet horses to win at odds of 2-1 or less. Thats one of the worst percentage plays you can make, so 2-1 is my cutoff point, 5-2 on first-time starters. Ive been betting first-time starters all my life and I know theres only one way for them to win and a million ways for them to lose." Young cites another common betting pitfall. "This will surely lead to failure: betting more money on a shorter-priced horse you dont like than on a longshot. Guys will bet $100 on a 5-2 shot, but if they really like a 12-1 shot, they only bet $20. Thats one of the worst things you can do." . . . Paddy Gallagher, a specialist in training turf horses, sees no appreciable variance in the Hollywood Park and Santa Anita grass courses. "I dont think theres that much of a difference," the native of Ireland and former assistant to Bill Shoemaker said. "They seem to be the same style courses. Theyre both terrific. Del Mar seems to be a different grass surface. But Hollywood and Santa Anita are both pretty fair and good grass courses." Gallagher expects dividends from Self Feeder and Walkslikeaduck, who could make his next start against Tiznow in the Jan. 13 San Fernando Stakes. Look for Self Feeder in the Jan. 20 San Marcos Stakes. Incidentally, some $400,000 has been spent to improve Del Mars maligned grass course. It took a beating and didnt keep on ticking last year, due to excessive traffic . . . Mike Mitchell says Golden Ticket, the colt he hopes will be his ticket to next years Triple Crown races, will make his next start under Frank Alvarado in the $150,000 Golden Gate Derby (Gr. III) at 1 1/16 miles on Jan. 13. "He washed out before the Hollywood Futurity (in which he finished third behind Point Given and Millennium Wind)," Mitchell said. "He never did that before, but if I was facing two horses like that, I might have washed out, too. That was a pretty impressive effort by Millennium Wind, considering it was only his second start and he only had a seven-furlong race going into it." . . . Breeders Cup Sprint champion Kona Gold will make his next start in the Jan. 28 Palos Verdes Handicap, says trainer Bruce Headley, who hopes to have the 7-year-old ready for a repeat in the 2001 Sprint, at Belmont Park on Oct. 27 . . . Millencolin was scratched from the opening day at Malibu because he still has a condition left for a softer spot. Look for him soon at Santa Anita, but not against Dixie Union and Caller One . . . The track played very fair the first few days of the meet. Horses were winning on the lead and from well out of it. Observation: Fresh horses, coming off lengthy layoffs, will fire first time out . . . Santa Anitas nightly replay show has been moved from 8 to 9 p.m. on weeknights, as was Hollywoods this past meet. The reason? Money. The 8 oclock hour is considered prime time. Starting in the 9 p.m. time slot can save the budget as much as $200,000 a season . . . D. Wayne Lukas doesnt look so imposing when hes not wearing his 10-gallon hat.