Wednesday, May 29, 2013
California’s Dire Situation Needs Gov. Brown’s Intervention
LOS ANGELES, May 28, 2013—Last Thursday, California Horse Racing Board meeting at CAL EXPO in Sacramento exposed its chairman, David Israel as an expletive-ejecting enabler of wealthy Southern California racing interests.
And If there was any consideration of Golden Gate’s replacing Hollywood Park in a statewide circuit rotation, I missed it. What I didn’t miss, however, were several earfuls of foul language and browbeating.
Even though the buffoon-turned-bully’s term on the California Horse Racing Board is up in January, seven more months of ineffective regulation while the state’s horsemen try to recover from the loss of a major venue can’t be a good thing.
The net result of the meeting was that Santa Anita and Del Mar will get most of Hollywood’s dates, with the remainder to be pursued by Los Alamitos and possibly Fairplex. The contentious stabling location and funding issue was not resolved.
One individual stood out in these discussions: Alan Balch, the Executive Director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. It’s unfortunate that the clarity and dignity he contributed to the proceedings aren’t a regular component of these meetings.
Does it make any sense for Santa Anita to race in the heat and smog of June and July and without a turf course in optimal condition? Who will make certain horses and riders aren’t at greater risk competing in such a climate? Is night racing reasonable given rush-hour commuter traffic on all freeways surrounding it? Who will be available to play after-hours racing live or on-line on either coast?
Now that destiny has dispensed with the notion of a Triple Crown winner that many fantasize will reinvigorate racing, we are back to the status quo where enthusiastic national attention is limited to five days per year and local attention is lavished only on boutique meets. But can Del Mar expand its highly successful window and remain the attraction it is now?
Why would the Breeders’ Cup risk dealing with the vagaries of San Diego tides, untested surfaces and unproven security when Santa Anita offers certainty and capacity? This point is moot, of course, if the TOC sticks to its own-foot-shooting decision by refusing to authorize simulcast signals even if only juvenile races are subjected to the Lasix ban.
Parenthetically, the Breeders’ Cup could easily circumvent that challenge by splitting days among venues and running the Juvenile races (along with two others, e.g., the Marathon and Turf Sprint) elsewhere; perhaps in Florida.
The Blood Horse reported that two-day Cup handle and attendance were off from the previous three runnings, which begs the question of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. diluting its own product.
It is not unreasonable to dream that handle for the strongest possible single day card at Santa Anita could eclipse the two-day figures, allowing for a subsequent second day to re-introduce Hialeah’s beauty to a new television audience, is it? But, I digress.
Current events have made it fair to revisit recent history. The politically-connected Keith Brackpool and leaders of the Thoroughbred Owners of California engineered the takeout raising coup that was legislated in 2010 effective in 2011.
Those who rebelled against the table-tilting subsidy to the wealthiest horsemen at casual player expense learned that this was only one in a long line of leadership lapses, resulting in the loss of horses, horsemen, and participating bettors.
When I’m asked to state my occupation these days, it is all I can do to suppress the urge to say, “disgruntled horseplayer.” Consequently I’ve come to enjoy reading the commentary of fellow HRI blogger, Harry Hacek, who taunts us with tantalizing tidbits for thought as he targets those he deems responsible for California racing’s present morass.
I applaud Mr. Hacek’s efforts to rabble-rouse (myself included) in his Only Insurrection Can Save California Racing where he concludes, "If the past has taught us anything, the odds are against positive change. Revolution of the rank and file is in order. If not now, when?"
Resurrection through insurrection? Not in California. The opposition will never give in, even to save itself. When faced with the inevitable they will take their ball and go home. Racing in this state will continue to contract as long as powerful horsemen are able to self-medicate, self-regulate and, if Mr. Hacek comments regarding race conditions-writing are accurate, self-officiate.
Higher purses for smaller fields won by fewer owners and trainers while attracting fewer dollars cannot be self-sustaining. In that scenario, it’s hard to imagine weekday racing after the Santa Anita Derby. If summer dates at Santa Anita don’t materialize, Mr. Stronach might acquire those dates for Golden Gate rather than vacate them.
None of the above can change without pressure from the top, but it’s the pressure from the bottom that still will be necessary to ensure that changes imposed by the top are in the best interests of all parties.
Few would advocate the ham-fisted approach Governor Cuomo has used in New York but many would like to see Governor Brown become more involved, at least to the point of restructuring the CHRB into a body that truly protects the public interest. That would be a critical first step.