LOS ANGELES, January 15, 2018--The last major racetrack executive with the authority and desire to reduce takeout -- and actually succeeded -- was New York Racing Association board chairman, Barry Schwartz, in 2001.

The Stronach Group Chief Operating Officer, Tim Ritvo, appeared to have the same objective for Santa Anita, until he found his path blocked by an obstacle known as the Thoroughbred Owners of California with its Interstate Horseracing Act-enabled veto power.

Former NYRA and Hong Kong Jockey Club executive, Bill Nader, recently proposed lowering takeout by all major tracks, but collectively and cooperatively rather than independently:

"... There has been a steady shift from single-race to multi-race (horizontal) bet types such as Pick 3, 4, and 5, where the takeout is applied only one time and the payment to the industry (purses and tracks) is minimized as the wagering dollars can be tied up over multiple races.

“... Takeout reduction should be in the single-race (vertical) bet types, ... allow[ing] the betting dollar to turn over with greater frequency ... The key is … bringing greater liquidity and churn to the single-race pools through … lower takeout as it relates to field size.

“Win, place, show, and exacta wagering has to become more attractive. The major tracks can come together and agree, for example, that on field sizes of six or less, takeout on these bet types is 14%. Fields of seven and eight, takeout is 15%. Fields of nine or higher, takeout is 17%. ...

“The burden of taking this leap of faith … should not rest on one track. It needs to be a shared vision."


Ritvo may not share Nader’s view, considering that much of Gulfstream’s success is driven by its 20-cent-minimum Rainbow Pick 6, which also fuels additional wagers within the sequence of races.

But even if Ritvo shared Nader’s vision, the TOC presents a huge impediment that other horsemen’s groups in do not. The TOC apparently doesn’t believe in Ritvo’s concerns for Santa Anita’s continued survival as a racetrack after Frank Stronach leaves the scene.

But change is Ritvo’s mission. Prevented from altering the wagering landscape in California, he’s now targeting the physical landscape. With little hope of increasing handle across existing race dates given the current equine population—Santa Anita’s 2018 handle is currently outpacing last year’s.

Ritvo’s approach involves expanding the main oval to accommodate a second turf course and building more barns to house additional horses. TSG is striving to attract horses from out of state and breed within it.

After reading the Ritvo interview, it was an amusing aside to immediately encounter John Cherwa’s argument that preserving the Pegasus concept was more achievable at Santa Anita:
"… the reason Gulfstream is a bad place for the race is the short run to the first turn...

“… But, hey, let’s move it to a track where every horse gets a fair chance, regardless of post position. Let’s move it to a track that can hold more than a handful of rich guys and give the race to the people."


I don’t understand why Cherwa thinks Pegasus at Santa Anita wouldn’t still be a gathering of "one-percenters" and their wannabees? Who else is filling racetrack seats on big-event days? They certainly aren’t being filled on days without stakes, and who besides rebated whales and robotic wagerers are generating significant handle off-track on weekdays?

And that begs another question: Why are tracks, ADWs, and horsemen still unwilling to allow rebates on the remaining 10-20% of handle that isn’t getting them now?" Why wouldn’t doing so grow handle from "the people" as well?

I’m not a big fan of Santa Anita’s all-too-frequent signature 6.5-furlong turf sprints that utilize the same outside, left-turn, downhill start as the 10-furlong turf routes. The sprints generally favor horses with outside posts.

At the same time, I am a proponent of not fixing what isn’t broken. In my opinion, any failure to preserve the beauty and traditions of this iconic venue is nothing short of sacrilegious.

The only current distance on Santa Anita’s main track where the starting gate is positioned too close to the first turn is the mile. But 1-1/16 miles, 1-1/8 miles and 1-1/4 mile races are all post-position neutral. Having witnessed the negative impact of a similar expansion at Hollywood Park, I shudder at the prospect of a nine-furlong main oval in Arcadia.

Pegasus is both a physical and spiritual manifestation of Stronach’s "vision" for Gulfstream Park. It has proven undeniably successful. While on-track slots help pay the freight, the racing side attracts unprecedented off-track handle volume on large fields that don’t require huge purses, high-wager minimums or a large live audience.

Ironically, it’s the absence of the slots funding option in the Golden State that has likely saved Santa Anita from already becoming the West Coast version of Gulfstream Park. That, and the culture of California owners that is characterized by an aversion--if not an allergy--to competitive racing.

The imposing Pegasus statue should remind the TOC of the ferocity with which TSG went after Calder in pursuit of coveted racing dates. And they should not forget the brilliant legal and financial maneuvering that landed the current TSG holdings in private hands following their acquisition via corporate resources.

I’ll be surprised if TSG puts money into their proposed expansion prior to establishing a new relationship with local horsemen. Once they do, financial success may still be achievable without compromising the aesthetics.

Then maybe Ritvo can get around to giving Nader’s reduced-takeout proposal the consideration it deserves.