For the second time in a month, Santa Anita will be forced to cancel racing due to lack of entries. Thursday’s card has been axed and the inability to produce viable racing has forced the Southern California track into a panic state.
On Saturday, SA carded nine races. A total of 52 horses made up the nine-race card for an average field size of 5.78. The Grade 1 feature, which turned out to be a great race between Stellar Wind and Vale Dori, had three runners. Not surprisingly, horseplayers are forced to either wager on unbettable races or leave the game. It appears a bit of both is occurring.
There has been a lot of talk about the reduced horse population. This is absolutely true. In 1990, there were just over 40,000 thoroughbreds born. In 2016, that number was just over 20,000. As recently as 2007, the number of horses bred still hovered around 35,000.
In addition to the lack of horses, a very small number of trainers now have a much higher percentage of horses in their care. Trainers like Bob Baffert, Richard Baltas and Jerry Hollendorfer may have 400-500 horses between them. They could have 20 horses who qualify for a certain condition and enter just one or two. In the past, more of these horses were dispersed among other trainers and would compete against each other.
That leaves a very unattractive product for the horseplayer. Horse racing has wagering as its foundation. Without the opportunity for medium to large payoffs, combined with a track takeout that hovers around 23%, it loses its appeal among gamblers. One of the biggest draws horse racing has over other forms of gambling is the “bet little to win big” opportunity. Large fields produce large payoffs. Small fields do not.
There is still interest in the game as the big days have proven time and again. However, the typical weekday (and much of the weekend) product is tough to endorse. The game is at a crossroads and there will be changes. It cannot sustain the cyclical downward spiral without serious ramifications.
The first thing you’ll see is a reduction of racing days in So Cal. Look for Santa Anita to move to a three-day week (Friday, Saturday and Sunday). You also might see Southern and Northern California combine for one longer meet. None of this will thrill horsemen who want more racing options, not less. But if they don’t join track executives in authorizing changes that produce a better wagering product, the game will continue to wane.
One of the better racing days of the year is coming Saturday at Belmont. Not only will they run the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, but they’ll have numerous other Grade-1 stakes races. Superstar filly Songbird makes her long awaited return in the Ogden Phipps.
Play of the Week
It comes in the 7th race at Canterbury Park on Thursday. It is a maiden special weight at 5½ furlongs on the dirt. No. 2 JOHNNY THE JET is long overdue to break his maiden. He has hit the board in 6 of 10 career starts and has been in with tougher company. He was second from the outside 10 post in his last start.
The winner shipped in from Keeneland and went off at 3-5. The fourth place finisher from that race came back to win last week. He has not missed the board in six dry track races at Canterbury. Johnny the Jet is 7-2 on the morning line and is an absolute guarantee to run in the money. Post time is 7:32 p.m. PT.