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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Time of the Season

- The days are getting shorter and it won’t be long until the first snow falls on the city. The malls are packed (especially the ones with discount stores), and the colored lights are starting to appear. This can all mean just one thing.

It’s almost time for the winter racing season! Yes, the horses are already starting to descend upon Gulfstream and Oaklawn, and the Fair Grounds meeting is already under way, albeit at Louisiana Downs. There’s always something on the horizon in the racing game. No doubt we’re in a bit of lull from now until Xmas, but Santa Anita swings right into action on the 26th, Gulfstream on Jan 4, and Oaklawn starts a Friday – Sunday schedule on Jan 20. The winter season melts seamlessly into the Triple Crown. After the Belmont, we look to the August meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar, then to the Breeders’ Cup, and we’ll be right back here this time next year.

Afleet Alex is amongst the 100 or so horses that have arrived at Gulfstream. This will be the first year at the Hallandale, Florida, track for trainer Tim Ritchey, who indicated Afleet Alex could run in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita Park on January 28. [Brisnet]

With the Fair Grounds meet running only until Jan 22, Oaklawn has experienced a flood of requests for stall space. Oaklawn has received requests to accommodate a record 3,000 horses, said [Terry] Wallace. The stable area has 1,500 stalls. [Daily Racing Form] John Servis is back after having experienced the worst luck there last year, at least with Rockport Harbor.

Rockport Harbor on Saturday breezed three furlongs in 36 seconds, said Servis. (Published works at the track are not yet available, with the meet not set to start until Jan. 20.)

"That was his first work back," said Servis. "I'm tickled to death." [DRF]
[Isn’t it surprising that trainers would have such a long period of time during which they can work their horses without the times being recorded?] Besides more horses, they’ll be more Instant Racing machines (with other yet-to-be-designated “electronic games of skill” on the way) and the track needs to make some room for them.
The addition, which will further encroach the lower paddock area, has already been roped off with signs saying, “Please pardon our construction, we’re building bigger purses !” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
- Steve Crist wrote a couple of weeks ago of the way large fields make handle explode, citing the recent Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill. The handle over the comparable day from 2004 was up an astounding 36%.
The 2005 card attracted 126 starters, 29 more than the 97 that ran a year earlier. This works out to an average gain of 2.6 horses per race. The differences were spectacular when the difference in field size was well above or below that average.

Four of the 11 races, including both stakes, drew either five or six more starters than their 2004 counterparts. The respective handle increases on these races (the 2nd, 8th, 9th and 10th) were 148 percent, 56 percent, 99 percent, and 63 percent, compared to the total increase of 36 percent for the day.
Bigger fields don't just create more permutations. They inflate the odds on contenders, create overlays on possible upsetters who get lost in the shuffle, and make customers feel like they are getting a lot more bang for their bucks. [Daily Racing Form]
Handle figures at Hoosier Park and Hollywood Park seem to bear that, and the converse, out. Bucking the general trend, the handle at the recently concluded meet at Hoosier was up 30%! Hoosier General Manager Rick Moore said the increase in average field size to 9.3 horses, which was up from 8.7 horses in 2004, helped bolster handle figures. [Thoroughbred Times] The average purses were up over 12%, pretty outstanding in a non-slots state.

On the other hand, Hollywood Park has shown dismal attendance and handle figures through the first month of their meet. The average ontrack attendance was 5,509, a drop of 15.5 percent. The average ontrack handle was $1,282,295, a drop of 9.4 percent, and the average all-sources handle was $7,972,033, a drop of 11.1 percent. [Daily Racing Form] No doubt that the lack of the turf racing that always attracts full and competitive fields is a big factor in the declines. With bettors able to peruse the country for the races that best challenge their intellect and knowledge, and reward them sufficiently for using them keenly, the home tracks can no longer take their own fans for granted. At the same time, a track like Hoosier, presenting large and competitive fields on Sunday and Monday nights with little else to choose from on TVG and in simulcast sites around the country, has the opportunity to flourish, even without slot machines.