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Monday, February 6, 2012

The Battle for the Third Night

For those of you perceptive enough and following racing at Cal Expo, you must be wondering what has been going on in Sacramento, home of Cal Expo racing.  Wasn’t it announced that there would be racing three nights a week (Thursday-Saturday)?  Well what happened to the Thursday nights?  The last (and only) Thursday night of racing was January 12.  Since then Cal Expo has been requesting on a weekly basis to cancel Thursday night racing; this despite a contract with the horsemen which indicates three days of racing each week.  What gives?

Poor handle would be the primary reason.  On that January 12 card, which comprised only of eight races, the total handle was $362,955; apparently not enough to cover the operating expenses for the night.  Now granted, eight races anywhere is not going to cut it, but the few races probably had more to do with the start of the new meet than anything else.  But my guess is they took a real beating on that Thursday night that Cal Expo was not ready to try that one again.

Now in fairness, the Cal Expo race meet is being operated by the fairgrounds themselves, who traditionally has rented out the racetrack to a different operator and they found themselves being an operator by default when Sacramento Harness went bankrupt.  However, if you are a state agency, your goal is not to lose money; especially in a state like California where money no longer grows on trees and they have severe financial problems.  However, there is a contract which realistically if can’t be honored should be renegotiated.

But you have to wonder if there is a problem with their scheduling.  Everyone appears to be getting raced but you have to wonder if fifteen race cards on the weekends work.  Let’s face it, how many races can you wager on from one track?  By the end of Hambletonian Day, the Meadowlands longest day, you are wiped out from all the action and they are mostly stakes races.  How do people handle a fifteen race card of primarily $2,500 claimers?  I suspect they don’t; not well anyway.  It has to be tough on horsemen as well as customers.

My question is are they starting too early?  Last Friday, the first race went off around 6:30 and on Saturday, around 6:00pm.  My guess is they are starting soon after the completion of the thoroughbreds in the afternoon while people are still in the satellite wagering facilities which take wagers on California races so not to lose them from wagering on their races.  In addition, while Cal Expo is allowed only to simulcast eight harness races a day, Los Alamitos is allowed to simulcast harness racing, including Cal Expo (no one said this was fair), so I imagine they are trying to get those gamblers  as well.   However, the problem may be by starting at 9:30 and 9:00pm on the East Coast, they are missing the East Coast gamblers who are still wagering on their own tracks.

Looking at February 4’s card, the first six races have small pools, but starting from race seven the pools are much better, until the last few races.  Now, on this particular day, race seven started at 8:28pm (which is 11:28 on the East Coast and 10:28 in Illinois) which is when the signals from the East coast and Mid-west start dropping off.  Now, what if Cal Expo started racing at 8:00pm instead and cut the end races off and moved them to Thursdays, also with an 8:00pm post time?  You will still have a couple of small pool races, but if you cut the twenty-four minutes between races to fifteen minutes between races on an average, you could still be done in about three hours, and get more business from the East Coast and Midwest; perhaps making more money each night as Cal Expo would hopefully maximize the benefits of their signal.

Ten races a day makes sense.  If you try to race more than thirty races a week, you will end up with roughly six horses per race which is a recipe for disaster.  If they can keep their fields to at least eight horses per race, then exotic wagering makes sense.

Isn’t it worth trying one week to see if it works?  If that doesn’t work, maybe Cal Expo needs to consider moving their Thursday evening cards back to Sunday nights when Los Alamitos is racing.  With fewer East coast and Midwest tracks racing on Sundays, you could start the racing program earlier as there is less competition.

Something has to give.  The discord between Cal Expo and the horsemen can’t help in finding a new operator, but to just toss the third day of racing, which is specified in the contract, without trying something, is plain wrong. 

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