September 2, 2010,

Dear Diary,

I’d like to read about some positive racing stories out of California but they are just not forthcoming. In fact, most of the news has been unwelcome.

Among the more embarrassing items, but welcome news, is the fact upcoming Zenyatta Stakes is back to being the Lady’s Secret in honor of that great mare.

This is brought about by the fact that Zenyatta will be using this race as a bridge to the Breeders’ Cup and a horse winning an eponymous race would send a bad message, such as the result being a foregone conclusion.

Non racing fans just wouldn’t get it. And some racing fans, too.

The Lady’s Secret had always been a valuable Grade 1 prize on the Oak Tree meet schedule which, of course, will be run this year at Hollywood Park while a dirt track is installed at Santa Anita.

We like the idea that Santa Anita won’t rush the project, or possibly put its premier winter meet in jeopardy, taking the time to do the job right. Their will be tremendous pressure that the surface plays safely.

While many SoCal racing fans had hoped for and now have been awaiting this return to American dirt racing, no one, including simulcast players, want to see a return to the concrete highway of the past.

In our view, a surface something akin to the old dirt track at Hollywood Park would be welcome.

But the composition of the new dirt track is way above my pay grade and doubtless there will be much scrutiny placed on the project, especially since it will fall under the purview of Frank Stronach.

Most horsemen and a majority of horseplayers have embraced the change. California racing needs something to go right these days.

Conducting the Oak Tree meet at Hollywood Park seems like a natural fit in that racing would return to the greater Los Angeles area.

But with Hollywood’s future being uncertain at best, it presented a problem for Oak Tree that wouldn’t go away. Only the poor economy has prevented the implosion of Hollywood Park.

On Wednesday, the LA Times reported that the Oak Tree Racing Association will use Del Mar as its permanent home, possibly as soon as 2011.

Is that supposed to be the good news? Isn’t the Del Mar Polytrack continuing to have its problems vis a vis safety concerns with the uneven surface?

Clearly, Del Mar would welcome the additional receipts that the Oak Tree meeting would bring. But wouldn’t extended racing take something away from the aura Del Mar’s and its special appeal?

And what about the strain on an already taxed horse population, in terms of the number of horses needed to put on a high quality show and sufficient stabling facilities for said horses? At this point, Oak Tree has chosen the hard place over the rock.

The other issue is what effect this move will have on the quality of racing. Thus far, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert’s threats of stabling somewhere other than Del Mar have been, on balance, just that.

But now with the Oak Tree meet added to the Del Mar equation, Baffert, and other like-minded California horsemen, might consider leaving California for a significant part of the racing year, it not all of it.

With VLTs scheduled to come on line in New York by 2011, California’s loss could become New York’s gain.

The worst news, of course, is that the California legislature has approved a bill that would raise the takeout on exotic bets on California races to fund an increase in overnight purses.

The legislation will be forwarded to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who is expected to sign the bill because he thinks that would help the horse racing industry.

Of course, Schwarzenegger and the horsemen who support the increase are only hastening the demise of California’s horse industry.

The rake on two-horse exotics will increase 2 percent to a lofty 22.68 hold and three-horse exotics would rise 3 percent to 23.68, lower than New York’s but still too high. To their credit, the straight pool takeout rate remains at 15.43 percent, again lower that New York’s.

But why stop at these proposed increases? Why not raise the take on the superfecta by 4 percent and the Super High Five by 5 percent?
The only glimmer of good news is that the legislation would permit the launch of exchange betting in 2012.

It was hoped, however, that the launch would be concurrent with the increase but the California Horse Racing Board “needed time” to write rules and regulations with industry participants.

Such as existing Advance Deposit Wagering companies? Get the money now; deal with a thorny issue that would provide for real growth at a later date.

And get this: The California legislature also approved a bill that would repeal legalization of betting exchanges in 2016 unless further legislation was passed allowing it to continue.

Consider: Something that’s legal now can be made illegal if new legislation is not passed allowing it to continue to be legal.

In the world of politics, perhaps California and New York are not that different after all?