At last, something rival racing heavyweights Magna Entertainment and Churchill Downs, Inc. agree upon.
According to a media advisory from Magna-owned Santa Anita Park, "Southern Californias three major race tracks have reached an agreement concerning stall allocations during live race meetings at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
"The new policy calls for the track conducting a live race meeting to also control stall allocations at non-host tracks. The agreement was reached following meetings that included Santa Anita Park President F. Jack Liebau, Hollywood Park President Rick Baedeker and Del Mar executive vice president Craig Fravel.
"Horsemen will be allocated stalls based on several criteria, including performance during individual meetings and year-round totals. Increased scrutiny of stall allocations is one of many steps that will be taken in efforts to increase field sizes in Southern California."
The message to horsemen is this: if you want stall space, run your horses. Dont expect to use the track as a training complex.
Perhaps a handful of trainers do use existing racing venues as storage facilities for their stock. But most run their horses when theyre healthy and theres a race that fits conditions. Running is what the business is all about but not always. Towards the latter part of the recent meet at Hollywood, which is owned by Churchill Downs, Inc., almost every trainer I spoke with said they didnt want to enter their horses, opting to wait for Magnas prestigious season at Santa Anita, which offered greater overnight purse money.
Will this edict curb such informal boycotts?
"Maybe theyre just putting people on notice that the (live) track is not a training center," reasoned trainer Vladmir Cerin. He holds a graduate degree in kinesiology from UCLA and is one of the circuits more erudite spokesmen. "What theyre saying is, if you intend to race your horses, go ahead and train them here. If you dont intend to race them, train them somewhere else.
"If a trainer has 30 horses on the grounds (at a live race meet), and over the course of that meet has 20 starts, hes probably using the track as a training center. But sometimes horses get sick. Im sure this decision is an alternative. After all, trainers come to run their horses, but they could have bad streaks where they just cant run them."
The proposal would seem to have greater impact on small stables, outfits with a half-dozen or so horses but not necessarily.
"If a trainer has six 2-year-olds, they shouldnt be expected to run at the meet," Cerin said. "But a trainer shouldnt be ruled off the track for that. Their stock has to be considered first. Now, if the trainer has six 4-year-olds and theyre all working up to five-eighths of a mile and they never run, thats a different story.
"I think its a moot point anyway. Trainers come to the track to run and they have to train their horses to get ready to run."
Jenine Sahadi was caught off guard when informed of the advisory, which is news in itself, considering its tougher to keep a secret at a race track than it is to gain peace in the Middle East.
"I try to run my horses and I hope Ill continue to get stalls," the 38-year-old trainer said. "If they kick me out, they kick me out. Theres nothing I can do about it. I didnt even hear about it (the agreement). Thats the beauty of the race track. The trainers the last to hear."
One veteran horseman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was not in favor of the decision.
"I dont think its good for the game in the long run," he said. "You cant force trainers to do something thats not good for their owners or their horses, because its a business for the owners. The rule has always been that when a track is not conducting live racing but is offering intertrack wagering, horsemen can use that tracks barn area as their own."
HADRIANS WALL Despite finishing fifth, this son of Storm Cat closed big gap in his U.S. debut. Paddy Gallagher-trained Irish invader wont be a maiden long.
LUGU LAKE Cal-bred daughter of What A Spell rallied resolutely to just miss third in debut at 14-1; should handle claiming maidens in sprint next out.
PIRANESI Irish-bred turf router rallied for second, but couldnt overcome huge lead by freakish winner Climate. Can handle allowance foes for hot Darrell Vienna barn.
WEINHARD Oregon-bred gelding wasnt big on winning before his smashing allowance victory at 6Â½ furlongs. Set to string victories together.
Attention Kentucky Derby future book bettors: Hollywood Prevue winner Proud Tower is out of the Triple Crown picture. The speedy California-bred fractured his right sesamoid during a morning gallop and will be sidelined indefinitely, trainer Jose Silva says . . . Gary Stevens, weary of responding to media requests about Chris Antley, who was found dead in his home last Dec. 2, has taken a code of silence, even refusing an interview with ABC-TVs "20-20." . . . Bienamado, 2-5 winner of the San Marcos Stakes, will likely skip Santa Anitas $200,000 San Luis Obispo Handicap on Feb. 17 and train up to one of two Dubai grass races worth 10 times as much ($2 million) on March 24 . . . Golden Ballet, smashing seven-length winner of the Santa Ynez Stakes in her first start in seven months, is expected to surface next in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes on Feb. 10. Golden Ballets clocking of 1:22.30 for the seven furlongs had to be hand-recorded by timer Jeff Tufts because the teletimer malfunctioned when a wandering fan strolled in front of the beam that records the fractions . . . Field sizes at Santa Anita have averaged about 8Â½ horses per race so far, but the rainy season has begun, which could decrease the number. "We had a great January last year until the rains started," says racing secretary Mike Harlow. "I couldnt be happier with the way races have been filling so far." Last Saturdays card, for example, drew 99 entries, including four races of 12 or more, an average of 11 horses per race . . . With the March 3 Santa Anita Handicap expected to attract Tiznow, Freedom Crest and little else of proven caliber from Southern California, Harlow could draw as many as four handicap runners from the East Coast for the tracks marquee race: Vision and Verse, trained by Bill Mott; Guided Tour, trained by Niall OCallaghan; Pleasant Breeze, conditioned by James Bond; and the venerable Sir Bear, trained by Ralph Ziadie.