Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Take a Plane, Take a Car, Down to Old Del Mar

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 19, 2011--Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien's racetrack opens today and the good news might be that Southern California tracks and horsemen may be starting to get the message that cost matters.

We love the idea of a place where The Turf Meets The Price Point offering two new wagers that feature reduced takeout in the hopes that good betting will attract people to good racing.

One of the new bets is the Del Mar Pick Five with a 14 percent takeout fashioned after the one offered at Hollywood Park that proved so popular with SoCal horseplayers, the circuit that made the Pick Six famous.

The bet will be called the 50-Cent Players Pick 5 and offered under the same parameters used by Hollywood.

The wise move was offering it on the first five races of the day so that the sequence could begin around feature-race time at East Coast tracks (read Saratoga here) and end just before dinner time, except on Friday when Del Mar’s first post is 4 p.m.

Speaking of Saratoga, it might pay for the old Spa to promote the fact this bet is available. Tracks don’t make as much as they do from live racing, of course, but it could boost Del Mar simulcast handle significantly, not only on the Pick Five but all races in the sequence.

The 50-Cent Pick Five with reduced takeout has been extremely successful wherever it’s been offered, from the A level tracks to its B and C level brethren.

Players Pick Five requires bettors to select all five winners in the sequence with all monies in the pool going to the Pick Five winners. Unlike Hollywood, however, there is no pool splitting or consolations: If no one picks five, the money is carried over to the following day.

The other wager is low priced, too, but the format is something that hasn’t really been embraced in this country: the head-to-head proposition wager, though the track says it has polling data to the contrary.

We’re thinking soccer on four legs--even if the FIFA women’s finals proved great theater.

The head-to-head wager will be conducted on the feature race each Saturday, the horses chosen by the Del Mar racing office. The prop bet matchup will be publicized in advance, the payoff determined by the parimutuel odds.

Del Mar also plans to seed the Pick Six pool each Sunday with $50,000, in effect providing a carryover with no takeout on the seeded amount. Seed money will not be planted if a regular carryover is in effect.

In a press release, Del Mar President and CEO Joe Harper noted that the new lower takeout wagers were instituted with the approval of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, significant in that it was this group supported a takeout increase that resulted in a horseplayer boycott of Santa Anita this past winter.

Hopefully, this was instituted by the newly installed TOC President, Lou Raffetto, who pushed for and instituted lower takeout rates when he was President of the Maryland Jockey Club.

In order to improve its product on the racing side, Del Mar is offering a $1,000 and a 20 percent boost to overnight purses for horses who made their most recent start outside California and have not raced there in the last six months.

The seaside track needed to do something dramatic to insure that scheduling the first five-day race week in Southern California since the fall of 2010 has a chance to work. There will be days featuring 10, nine, eight and seven-race programs.

Cash incentives have helped to attract new shooters from Canada, Texas, Iowa and the state of Washington. The four-day race week had become the norm recently, the horse shortage having a particularly harmful effect on the SoCal horse industry.

The hope is Del Mar won’t have to go to a four-day schedule for the 37-day meet that begins Wednesday afternoon with its traditional opening day fixture, the Oceanside Stakes, which last year helped attract a record opening day crowd of over 45,000.

The Grade 1 stakes schedule includes the Pacific Classic; the Eddie Read (turf) and Clement L. Hirsch (female turf); the Bing Crosby and Pat O‘Brien (sprints); Del Mar Oaks (3-year-old turf fillies) and the two big juvenile races, the Debutante and Futurity for fillies and colts, respectively.

Mr. Commons, trained by John Shirreffs, will be the heavy Oceanside favorite. When last seen he finished eighth in the Preakness, following a show finish in the Santa Anita Derby. In his only turf start, he broke his maiden sprinting by an impressive five lengths.

Written by John Pricci

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