Can anyone explain exactly what is the real story behind California’s so-called “horse shortage”? Reading Steve Andersen’s piece in the DRF this morning it struck me once again that all we ever hear out of that state in recent years is excuses why they can’t fill cards. For awhile it was some trainers hated synthetics, so an exodus occurred of dirt horses. With Santa Anita’s return to dirt, that shouldn’t be an issue any longer, right?
Now it’s the weather’s fault, with “near-constant rain in late December.” Excuse me, but what poppycock! Other tracks across the nation continue to race in less than ideal conditions; Penn National, for example, keeps right on racing through freezing temperatures and copious precipitation, as does Laurel, Beulah, and Charles Town (and even Aqueduct and Philly barring a blizzard). So, to claim that the weather is a factor as to why Santa Anita can’t fill cards is pretty lame.
Seriously, how is it possible that there is such a low inventory of racehorses there? We’re talking about one of the largest and most populated states in the union, with nearly a complete dominance of horse racing on the West Coast right now, barring Portland Meadows to the north, and Turf Paradise and Sunland further to the east. Three tracks in California are currently holding meets: Golden Gate, Los Alamitos and Santa Anita. In virtually the same amount of geographical territory—and with much worse weather—tracks at Aqueduct, Charles Town, Laurel, Philly (Parx) and Penn National are thriving or at least appear to be doing better than their Golden State cohorts.
As an example, take a look at the number of entries for a weekday Friday, January 14 (with number of races to be contested), minus the quarter horse races at Los Alamitos:
AQU: 73 (9)
CT: 95 (9)
GG: 49 (8)
LRL: 67 (9)
LA: 45 (5)
PEN: 90 (9)
SA: 57 (9)
For the central northeast, that’s 325 entrants for 36 races, or just over 9 entrants per race. In California, it’s 151 entrants in 22 races, or just fewer than 7 entrants per race. What makes it worse is when you consider that many top stables ship south for the winter, so the northeastern tracks have a tailor-made excuse why their cards can’t fill—but they don’t need it. Here’s how the Florida/Louisiana/Arkansas tracks look for the same day:
DD: 100 (10)
FG: 95 (10)
GP: 134 (10)
OP: 98 (9)
TAM: 97 (10)
That’s 524 entrants for 49 races, or nearly 11 entrants per race (10.69, to be exact). Wow!
Hollywood recently had the same problem as Santa Anita does now, so it’s really not about synthetic versus dirt surfaces, is it? So, what’s the real reason behind California’s inability to card larger fields? Is it purse money? Poor condition book writing? Lack of quality breeding programs? Inadequate development of horse racing partnerships, or ways of attracting owners? Sure, the state has pissed off bettors with its high takeout, but that doesn’t directly affect the number of horses racing in the state, does it?
I don’t know. I do know that I’m tired of excuses, though. However, I’m even more afraid that the truth is that California is undergoing what the rest of the country would be experiencing if slots weren’t propping up it up—a dying sport.