Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Pre-Boycott Boycott at Santa Anita?
LOS ANGELES, December 28, 2010--Trust me, all writers steal. The guy who says he said it first is a fraud. "Make sure you use more than one source," a mentor once told me. "That makes it research. Use only one source and it's plagiarism."
For the opening of Santa Anita, I'm going to ape the late Jack Rice, one of my early idols. Rice wrote out of St. Louis for about 30 years, and was a wordsmith of the first order, but few knew of him nationally then and fewer even remember him now. He followed the St. Louis Cardinals' baseball team for a time, and was once with them on an East Coast swing when they were rained out four straight days. This is how Rice would have described the Santa Anita opener: "The sun shone, birds sang and mildew departed from Santa Anita yesterday. . . "
In the days leading up to opening day, Santa Anita was hit by 14 inches of rain, part of one of the wettest Decembers ever for the City of Angels. It's supposed to rain after Christmas, not before. Frank Stronach, hanging on his to ownership rights via some corporate pas de deux, was either lucky or prescient, spending $3 million that he doesn't have to rip out a synthetic abortion that wouldn't drain and installing 50,000 tons of dirt and clay. For a day, marked by all nine races on the main track because the turf course was an unplayable lie, Santa Anita got along swimmingly, if you'll pardon the expression. No horses broke down, or drowned, and 34,000 turned out, the men among them blessing their wives as they went across the way, to the shopping center, for their Christmas exchanges.
These record times were registered in the face of a comment by Ted Malloy, a Stronach consultant who is at the helm of the crafting of the new track. "I've always believed that slow is better, as long as it's consistent," Malloy told the Thoroughbred Times before the meet opened. The horses will have their chance to meet Malloy half-way during the final 75 days of the meet.
Twirling Candy, flirting with sacrilege, broke Spectacular Bid's 1:20 record with a time of 1:19.70. Twirling Candy might still be undefeated if he hadn't been stretched out to nine furlongs in his previous start. He is trained by John Sadler and was ridden by Joel Rosario, as were the other two graded stakes winners on the card. There are 43 more graded stakes to be run by the time the meet ends on April 17, and you can take it to the bank that Sadler and Rosario will not win them all. But on the day after Christmas, with visions of sugarplums still dancing in my head, it was nice to conjure up that they were the only horsemen with a chance to.
Sadler phoned in his three wins. He was hors de combat, with a knee injury, and his assistant, Larry Benavidez, took over. After Twirling Candy won the Grade I Malibu, somebody from HRTV asked if he had a message for his boss. "Can I get the week off?" the grinning Benavidez said.
The crowd might have been higher than the last time Santa Anita opened on a Sunday, but the on-track handle was off by 15% from last year (when they ran one more race), and overall betting dropped 23%. There were snowstorms in the East, even blizzard conditions some places, which no doubt kept many horseplayers hard by their hearths, but this is the meet when takeout is taking a quantum leap, starting January 1. Purses are supposed to rise, but if handle is eviscerated, the whole exercise could be counter-productive.
A bettors' boycott, tenatively scheduled for mid-January, is likely, according to members of the Horseplayers Association of America. Andy Asaro, one of the concerned bettors, looked at the opening-day figures and said: "These numbers are stunning. I guess the unofficial boycott has started for most of us. There is no way to spin this. We need new leadership in California racing." Presumably he was talking about the California Horse Racing Board, which approved the boost in takeout. Members of the board have tried to defend the hike. But if it keeps raining this winter in Southern California, and if a substantial segment of the serious bettors stays away, one of the game's grand old tracks, and California's last hope for survival, will be up to its eyeballs in something that doesn't even rhyme with mildew.