Horseplayers are creatures of habit.
They are comfortable knowing there is an early Pick Five with a 14% takeout on the first five Southern California races each day. They know there are rolling Daily Doubles. They know there is a late Pick Four on the final four races each day in SoCal. Most players have their routines in place so they can be ready when their favorite track begins their daily race cards.
So what happens when horseplayers aren’t sure what time the races start?
Beginning with the start of Daylight Savings Time on Sunday, March 11, Santa Anita will go to an early first post time of 11:30 a.m. on Sundays. On the other race days, with the exception of Kentucky Derby Saturday, Preakness Saturday, and Belmont Stakes Saturday, first post time will change to noon.
There are some concerns with the change in post times from both a horseplayer and horseman standpoint. They include:
• Will the earlier first post times alter training hours? It is possible Santa Anita may need to close the track early for renovation as they prepare for the live race cards, especially on Sundays.
• With Daylight Savings Time in effect, the time change means it will be later in the morning before daylight hits the track. That could force many horsemen planning to work their horses to schedule those works later in the morning so the connections can see them. It could make for a crowded track if training hours are shortened.
• As a horseplayer, we have to balance our family time carefully since almost all major racing events are on weekends. Starting early on Sundays means less quality time on Sunday mornings with the family. If forced to make a choice, my family always comes first.
• From another handle standpoint, I believe one of the reasons the late Pick Four in SoCal is so successful is because it starts after the major tracks from the east coast have finished. It is the last major rolling bet each weekend. Starting early may mean more competition for each wagering dollar due to more competing signals.
One of the many reasons Del Mar is so popular is their later 2 p.m. first post time allows fans to do many things on their “honey do” lists first and still get to the track to play the full card of races.
With plenty of daylight through late afternoon, the horseplayer in me would be just fine with one standard weekly first post time. If anybody asks, 1 p.m. works for me.
Maybe it is because I am a creature of habit.
Conditions off slow
I commend Santa Anita for trying something new during the winter meet when it comes to writing race conditions. Among the new races are Maiden Special Weight races for horses who were sold at public auction for $100,000 or less and cheap claiming races for barns with 20 or less horses.
After the first two months of this winter meet, a first look at these new conditions suggests they may not be working as well as hoped.
For instance, last Sunday the fifth race on the card was one of the Maiden Special Weight races described above. It drew a field of just five horses.
Back on Jan. 7, trainer Chuck Treece won a cheap claiming race restricted to “trainers with 20 or less horses in their care in California” with Overcomer. The then-owners of the runner-up – Airfoil – filed a protest since trainer Treece had over 20 thoroughbreds in training at Los Alamitos at the time of the win by Overcomer. Many of those thoroughbreds were cheap horses that race under the lights at Los Alamitos, but that distinction was not spelled out in the conditions.
It is important to think outside the box trying to generate increased field sizes and participation, but it could be time to re-think these race conditions and/or be thoroughly explicit so there is no confusion.
2-year-old champ back
Good Magic, who was crowned champion 2-year-old of 2017 on the strength of his Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victory, is scheduled to get his 3-year-old campaign started on Saturday in the Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park. His recent workmate, the older Economic Model, validated his recent morning form by winning the Grade III Hal’s Hope at Gulfstream Park last weekend.
Other top 3-year-olds are expected to get serious in their preparations for the Triple Crown in the next two weeks, including the Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie and Solomini, who figure to show up in either the Feb. 10 San Felipe at Santa Anita or the Feb. 17 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park. Grade I winner Bolt D’Oro is pointing to the San Felipe Stakes as well, so it won’t be long before the top 3-year-olds start separating the Triple Crown contenders from the pretenders.
SA Pick Six hit
There was one winning Pick Six ticket on Sunday at Santa Anita, worth a total of $342,006, including the single ticket Pick Six Jackpot that started at $182K going into Sunday’s card. The winner was a serious player based on the size of his ticket – he spent $15,840 through his Twin Spires Advance Deposit Wagering account on the winning wager. With the new withholding laws enacted last September the winning player gets every penny and there will be no money held for taxes.
Play of the Week: Santa Anita, Thursday, Race 1 – Turing Machine (4). Three-year-old filly caught the eye, finishing well after a poor start in a dirt sprint Jan 28. She gets a confident boost in class and should offer good value on the tote stretching out on the turf.