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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What Needs to be Done for California Racing

With the Cal Expo board looking to get out of operating harness racing meets and return to being a landlord, there will no doubt be anger with them for being willing to pull the plug on harness racing if no meet operator is found by this coming summer (rumor has it there is someone ready to step in).  The problem is not with the Cal Expo board; as the way things stand now, there is little chance any operator can run a meet better.  The cards are stacked in California against harness racing and the problem lies with the legislature and the CHRB.

Forget about not being able to get gaming at racetracks, it is a lot worse than that.  The state has put shackles on the standardbred industry.  For example:
  1. Standardbred racing may race only at night; eliminating the possibility of an occasional holiday matinee.
  2. Not allowed to bring in any simulcasting but harness racing
  3. Simulcasting can not start until 6pm PST meaning it can not bring a race in prior to 9pm EST.
  4. Limited to import eight races a night.
Not being allowed to bring in profitable thoroughbred racing is a disadvantage (even though Los Alamitos which races primarily quarter horse racing is allowed to bring in some daytime thoroughbred races), but when you are limited to only eight harness races a night to bring in and not before 6pm, it handcuffs Cal Expo, especially when a customer can sit home and bet on unlimited races via their ADW.  But by not even being allowed to import harness races prior to 6pm, you can't even bring in the Daily Double from an East Coast track.  You can't bring in Tioga on Sunday afternoon, Plainridge Racecourse, or Freehold Raceway which race during the day even if you wanted to and when you limited to eight imported races, there is little opportunity to increase wagering.

Let's face it with the majority of racing at Cal Expo being different flavors of $2,500 claimers, the product is not exactly exciting for the local gambler.  When you are allowed only to bring eight races in from other tracks, why make a trip to Cal Expo when you can stay home and bet the Meadowlands, Yonkers, Balmoral Park as well as Cal Expo?  There is little incentive to go out to the track even if you are a standardbred fan.  What Cal Expo does have going for it is it's late start relative to the East Coast.  Handling $680,000 a night from all sources is not bad but when you are only getting 1 1/2 pct from most of that money for purses, you are not racing for a lot of money nor are you leaving a lot of money for the track operator to pay those expenses.

What standardbred horsemen need is a strong operator and horsemen group that can lobby the CHRB and the legislature at the minimum to allow full card simulcasting of harness racing, regardless of time, and allow it the right for holiday matinees.  Anything to get the purses and quality of racing up.  It doesn't seem there is a strong operator in the waiting to take this on.

Lastly, an average attendance of 150 people a night tells you one thing; you are racing to long at Cal Expo.  The meet needs to be reduced so the product remains fresh.  This is not to say harness racing in California should be a three month meet, but it must get into other parts of the state so the product stays fresh and becomes an attraction.  The days of getting into a thoroughbred track are probably gone, at least for the foreseeable future so you need to find other fairs willing to host harness racing at different times of the year.  Get into Northern California, Central California, and Southern California at different fairs (lights may need to be installed); ideally where thoroughbred racing is not held.  This way you get attendance from people coming to see something special and you have simulcasting the rest of the year to build up purses.

Unless changes are made in the way standardbred racing is treated in California, the industry will remain in the same morass.

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