LOS ANGELES, November 6, 2012--Hurricane Sandy was the real thing, a force of nature that can't be denied or avoided, especially by sun-seeking Breeders’ Cup officials. Santa Anita wasn’t ravaged, Arcadia businesses flourished, Frank Stronach's racing fortunes were salvaged.

And local horseplayers are still outraged by the takeout increase on exotic wagers imposed on them in 2010 by the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).

Indeed, 2012 handle at Santa Anita of $144,272,332 was not only lower than 2011 and 2010 handle at Churchill Downs of $161,512,867 and $173,857,697, respectively, but also lower than 2009 and 2008 handle at “synthetic” Santa Anita, which totaled $153,271,176 and $155,740,328, respectively.

But even dyed-in-the-wool boycotters like me can’t deny the decrease was due to the damper that Sandy put on travel, Internet access and disposable income, not to mention the disposition of the residents of those two horseplayer havens, the normally unflappable types in New York and New Jersey.

According to Daily Racing Form, however, "…other factors seemed to be at play, including a large drop in field sizes for the five races restricted to 2-year-olds. In addition, betting on the Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races started off strongly – stronger, in fact, than betting last year – but by the time the day’s last race, the Classic, had rolled around for its first prime-time appearance, wagering on the races had fallen off precipitously compared to last year’s final slate of races."

I suspect perhaps another female could have influenced the proceedings by her absence -- the former Godiva On Dude, Chantal Sutherland—blamed by baffled Bob for his charge’s Pacific Classic placing behind the premier Polytrack performer, Dullahan.

The Classic mount on Game On Dude went to Baffert’s ballyhooed #1, Rafael Bejarano, remembered for another disappointment at the distance; Rail Trip in the infamous Hollywood Gold Crawl. The resultant Eastern exile of that synthetic specialist was a blow to California racing, a blemish on its owner’s otherwise superlative image.

Whether it was the best that replaced the beauty, or the beast itself, the ride was ugly. The job of Baffert’s go-to jockey seems about as secure as Santa Anita’s present CEO. (See David Flores, Victor Espinoza or Martin Garcia).

It’s been a tough year for the nationally-ranked trainer and TOC board member, who survived a heart attack in Dubai just in time only to finish second in all the agonizing legs of the Triple Crown.

Still, the money rolls in because he is also among other California leading horsemen who are the overwhelming beneficiaries of the takeout increase, which is designated for purses only. Interestingly, those crafty ADW folks also managed to get a share--but not the tracks.

Voters were ready to anoint the Dude Horse of the Year had he won but his loss seems to have slid support over to the Mile winner, Wise Dan, in my opinion a horse that ducked the Classic field.

Despite the favorite’s fizzle in the finale, and the failure of a few of the front-runners to fuel the early pace, Fort Larned still fired off a 117 Beyer – fastest of the fifteen Cup races.

Though Dullahan had run a competitive 10 furlongs on dirt in the Derby, and won with a 118 Beyer for the distance at Del Mar, he opted for the Turf. Also absent was the 2011 Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who nearly upset Wise Dan on Saturday and had conquered the Classic runner-up, Mucho Macho Man, on multiple occasions.

In case no one gave it a second thought, Rail Trip eventually returned to trainer Ron Ellis and jockey Jose Valdivia this year. I finally had ended my boycott of California tracks to bet him at Del Mar in the San Diego Handicap. I also enjoyed betting him in the Dirt Mile where he finished second again in another crawl.

(Fortunately, my predilection for boxing and wheeling exactas continues to bear fruit).

I warmed up for Saturday’s program by girl-cotting Filly Friday, now formerly filly Friday, and have for several seasons. As a survivor of the Northridge Earthquake of the early '90s that flattened some apartment buildings and made others uninhabitable-- while barely felt just 40 minutes away in Arcadia.

Instead, I found myself contemplating human hurricanes, such as Reuben Carter and Andrew Cuomo, known for their knock outs of old-school prize-fighters and old-boy board directors, respectively.

And, too, there was the Lasix issue to ponder. Four fewer freshmen competed on Saturday, down from 13 in 2011. Even with a two million-dollar purse and an Eclipse championship on the line, a juvenile event without performance enhancers or an automatic Kentucky Derby berth found owners and trainers of talented two-year-olds turning away from the Breeders’ Cup and tilting toward Louisville.

Time will tell whether Churchill Downs CDI will succeed in taking back the top day in Thoroughbred racing from Breeders’ Cup Saturday.
So, what are the most likely paths to the Derby now?

The first and second-place finishers in the seven primary preps earning 100 and 50 points, respectively, could fill up 12 to 14 stalls. Those and the eight secondary prep winners earning 50 points could account for all 20 starters.

However, it seems more likely that some horses will also qualify with combinations of primary thirds and secondary seconds and less likely that a horse will qualify without an in-the-money finish in one of the "sweet fifteen.”

By isolating, promoting, and televising those events - and focusing on their contestants - the Derby with its undercard will regain and secure the highest-handle, best-attended, most-watched status.

But all this is much easier than pondering what a 2013 Breeders’ Cup completely off Lasix would look like.