Tuesday, January 09, 2018

If At First You DO Succeed, Try, Try Again

Fortunately for The Stronach Group, they never seem to run out of carbon paper. Put another way, if you build it better, they will come.

Horsemen will come for sure, and horseplayers will follow, once they are assured they will be getting the best bang for their betting bucks: Big fields and big pools.

Like it or not, Gulfstream Park, based on a four-month long race meet, has become the envy of every major venue in America in search of an economically sustainable model.

Many may not agree but as of this minute, Gulfstream Park’s march toward continued financial security is inexorable and no other track with a sustained session even comes close. As of Saturday, January 6, its handle is ahead of last year’s record pace.

In all, $1.88 billion was bet through Gulfstream Park in 2017.

The term “Championship Meet” has rankled those who would look down their noses at a gateful of $7,500 claimers. But if that cheaper stock is running long on grass, bettors likely will invest more money on it than a six-horse listed stakes.

When reason prevails, there’s absolutely no motive for racetracks not to do both. It all depends on the attractiveness of adequate field size coupled with a popular betting menu.

So successful has this approach been that TSG dove head first into Maryland with the goal of reviving a moribund industry in a state that loves its Thoroughbred racing and the lifestyle racing incorporates.

The meetings conducted by the Maryland Jockey Club at Laurel attracted handle of over $627 million last year. This represents a year over year total-handle increase of 12 percent; an 8.5 percent gain within its own borders.

The last time annual handle exceeded $600 million in the Free State was 2008, a time when national handle started its soft decline, a trend that has flat-lined since. By TSG’s accounting, total handle on Maryland Jockey Club product is up $216 million the last three years.

These are remarkable dole-free numbers. Via an expanded in-state network with four satellite off-track facilities, new people have been introduced to an expanded, improved product. A fifth satellite facility is scheduled in the near future.

Even stodgy Old Hilltop is showing gains. Preakness and Black-Eyed Susan event days have set records in recent years, both in attendance and handle. Last year, 140,000 fans attended the Preakness betting $97 million, both records.

Racing’s heightened presence in Maryland has spurred interest in its Middle Jewel weekend, where a record 50,000 people wagered nearly $20 million last year on the Black-Eyed Susan program, a gain of six percent over 2016.

This past fall, the cherished Maryland Million Day event hosted 22,000 fans, showing modest gains in both attendance and handle when compared to 2016.

However, the TSG’s biggest challenge has only just begun, especially because the politics of Thoroughbred racing in California are so toxic, owing to the greedy nature of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the hapless California Horse Racing Board.

In no small way is it ironical that in the largest, bluest state of them all, the 1% membership profile of the TOC acts counter to red state political philosophy: The TOC under the stewardship of Mike Pegram believes in raising taxes on customers, not lowering it.

That is an issue for another day. What is not at issue are Santa Anita’s plans to conduct sustainable Thoroughbred racing going forward.

Like the corporate world in general, and Southern California racing in particular, there are but two options: Grow or Die.

Under the direction of Tim Ritvo, instrumental in building the successful Gulfstream model before taking it on the road to Laurel, TSG’s Chief Operating Officer now has his sights set directly on Santa Anita.

The well documented changes that Ritvo deems necessary for Santa Anita to survive in the future hinges on major expansion.

Since California has an entire country separating it from the larger horse population centers of the East and Midwest, it badly needs more horses. But horses need a place to live, and that means a greatly expanded barn area.

Ritvo wants to build a thousand new stalls at Santa Anita which already is in dire need of equine housing, effectively un-paving a parking lot and putting up an equine paradise.

Then, barrowing from the Palm Meadows model--the state of the art training center an hour’s drive from Gulfstream in Boynton Beach--he wants to create another 1,400 stalls on a tract of land it would acquire and develop in West Covina, 10 miles from Arcadia.

Taking a page from the Gulfstream playbook--a move recently adopted by the New York Racing Association at Aqueduct--he wants an expanded grass course to accommodate two turf courses, a la Belmont Park or Saratoga, for more grass racing.

This only can only happen by widening the Santa Anita main track from one mile to 1-1/8 miles. All expansion plans need the approval of the City of Arcadia, Los Angeles County and West Covina communities. A public meeting in West Covina is scheduled for a week from today.

If all goes according to plan, an outdoor mall bordering the paddock, such as the one in place in Hallandale Beach, could be the offing.

Frank Stronach’s vision, one that many believed impossible less than two decades ago, not only has come to fruition but is paying dividends. In two decades, Stronach has turned ridicule into an Award of Merit at the Eclipse gala on January 25.

Santa Anita clearly will be his group’s biggest challenge. The future of California racing depends on it. As a gambler, this is a favorite I won’t be trying to beat.

If At First You DON’T Succeed, Try, Try Again

Try as it might, it is clear that Gulfstream Park has proven incapable of supplying accurate turf times on a consistent basis, especially at the hybrid distance of 7-1/2 furlongs, according to a well-researched piece authored by TimeformUS figure maker, Craig Milkowski.

Issues at the heart of the concern are the placement and replacement of timing poles with respect to the use of temporary rails; the wide variance of run-up distances prior to the start and the accuracy of the distance itself since Gulfstream has recently employed the term “about” that could cover-up any potential inaccuracies.

We have requested an interview with Gulfstream upper management to discuss the process of collecting the turf times that are a matter of public record via the auspices of past performances data collection by Equibase, a Jockey Club subsidiary.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL January 9, 2018

Written by John Pricci

Comments (4)


Page 1 of 1 pages