The winter meets of Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park will be conducted under the guiding hand of a new CEO for The Stronach Group, Craig Fravel. So, what will be his approach to maintaining Gulfstream’s success while righting the ship at Santa Anita?
LOS ANGELES– I had to chuckle about two online comments regarding the announcing of Gulfstream Park’s 2019-20 stakes schedule:
Poster 1: “You know I like Gulfstream but I wish they would come up for air”
Poster 2: “How can they call it a “meet” when they never leave?”
Frank Stronach’s vision that less live attendance is better racing business seems to be the right one for the 2020s. Indeed, players haven’t stopped betting Gulfstream Park West [formerly Calder] since its grandstand was razed.
Despite relatively low purses for all but four of 98 stakes (which are only won by major stables), huge handle is being fueled daily at GP by large fields; filled by a horse population seeming immune to successively decreasing national foal crops.
While West Coast tracks struggled to fill short-week cards of as few as seven races with superfecta-enabling six-horse fields, GP continues to mine off-track gold through a mother lode of bulging exotic wager pools.
If there are animal rights activists storming the “Gates of Hallandale,” media coverage of it is minimal. Indeed, anyone analyzing breakdowns that occur in the shadow of Pegasus and comparing the results with those of other venues is apparently doing so without fanfare.
Unlike their California counterparts, Floridians appear less focused on equine fatalities, high-risk trainers, cheating stables, steward decisions, late odds changes, takeout/rebates, etc.
Assuming management can keep manufacturing the good fortune that keeps it out of the path of hurricanes, the only impediment to continued racetrack success in the Sunshine State is, who knows?
In Northern California, Golden State wildfires have blackened green space and wild accusations have soiled the reputation of a Hall of Fame trainer.
The ban from all TSG tracks led by beleaguered Belinda Stronach of justice-seeking Jerry Hollendorfer keeps the racing media busy with further evidence against the master of coincidence, Bob Baffert.
Indeed, the gifted and be-gifted conditioner shall not be held accountable in California despite his magnetism for suspicion and collecting a barnful of fast horses.
On the heels of a major track meet without racing fatalities at Del Mar, Santa Anita (SA) re-opens hoping to be known as the “safe race place.” Unfortunately, questions again will be raised as a result of training mishap resulting in euthanasia early in the week.
In what few consider a coincidence, it was announced that Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel will be leaving that post following this year’s event to take a new role as CEO of The Stronach Group tracks.
I don’t know how many individuals have overseen the operation of multiple major tracks in multiple states, but it seems like Fravel is building the kind of resume that could produce a National Racing Commissioner should that day ever come. First things first.
Whereas a still-bristling Belinda should not walk back the ban, Fravel can suggest doing so without a loss of face. He will report to Belinda hopefully without being likened to the fate of other famed security advisors.
I expect that Hollendorfer will be able to participate in the Breeders’ Cup but the subsequent SA winter meet is still a question at this posting. As of now, there will be no BC preps over the track for Hollendorfer’s horses.
And I do hope that successful new safety protocols will remain in place.
If there is a potentially heroic presence here it is California Governor Gavin Newsom, who is at once getting the credit and the blame for the new protocols, the ones that worked so well at Del Mar this summer.
If indeed he wishes to create a wholesome racing environment in California, he must eschew the prevailing lack of ethics, integrity, transparency and fairness. To accomplish that he must overhaul the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) with its deserved reputation for mishandling sensitive issues.
Will Fravel, who very much wanted to return to his native state with his family, advise Newsom on the best means of putting Sport back into California racing? Can level playing fields be established and an end put to institutionalized edge-taking?
But that can’t happen until racing is willing to do what is necessary to verify that all horses are the focus of continued diligence and the majority of horsemen are no longer willing to protect the minority malefactors.
While it might have been ham-fisted, Santa Anita was the first track to actually enact the beginnings of reform. To continue making strides, the first order of racing business could be the availability of whistleblower complaint forms.
As to the betting side, computer-assisted, last-minute and privileged access to wagering pools must be suspended along with rebates in order to reward all pari-mutuel participants in any pool at the same rate.
Current professional players will adjust, inactive professional and recreational players will return, and new players might even join the fray.
The events of 2019 have placed reform at the forefront of racing media commentary but not unlike this one from an outsider. Even the contributions from insiders contain mostly platitudes rather than a plan for negotiation and restructuring.
I place articles recently penned by ex-NYRA CEO Charles Hayward firmly the above category. Who has seen more of what can and does go wrong than he has? Yet rather than expose the disease for which he seeks a cure, cheerleader Charley effectively remains safely on the sidelines.
Finally, it was only a matter of time before PETA received a taste of its own medicine. Case in point is the Joe Drape article based on a “CHRB leak,” which some think was intended to discredit media supporters of animal rights groups.
Unfortunately, people will forget the misguided portions of PETA’s message while the reality of breakdowns remains. The trend line for breakdowns is finally going in the right direction, but without reliable, transparent data available to the public, how exactly does racing prove to its critics that it is beginning to win that battle?