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Songbird wins big and Santa Anita loses a little

Songbird and Mike Smith win the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

Songbird and Mike Smith win the $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita Park.

(Benoit Photo)

The Santa Anita crowd was fixated on the magnificent 3-year-old brown filly Songbird as she breezed around the track to win the Santa Ysabel Stakes by 3 3/4 lengths.

You would think that a big-name horse, an excited crowd and a post-race buzz would be nothing but a financial winner for Santa Anita. But, actually the track lost money on two of its betting pools in Saturday’s feature race.

Joe Morris is the man who cost the track and other wagering places about $163,000 with his decision not to eliminate place and show betting in a race with a can’t-miss horse such as Songbird.

After the race, Morris, senior vice president for West Coast operations for the Stronach Group, stood by himself at the back of the winner’s circle, clipboard in hand, with a broad smile.

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“I enjoyed the horse,” he said.

So did everyone else.

Jockey Mike Smith broke the filly alertly and she was never threatened as she navigated the 1 1/16-mile race. Smith never got close to using up the horse as she essentially galloped to the finish line for her sixth win in six tries.

“I was just in awe of how easily she was doing things,” Smith said of the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained horse.

The betting numbers told another story of the horse’s dominance. She paid $2.10 to win, place and show. The reason for $2.10 is because the track is mandated to pay out 10 cents on every two dollars bet, even if there isn’t enough money bet to cover a deficit.

An unbelievable $886,151 was in the show pool, with $823,407 of that bet on Songbird. It led to a loss of $158,462.

In the place pool, $75,897 of the $110,350 was bet was on the winner. That came to a deficit of $4,900.

“It’s a marketing cost, that’s the way we look at it,” Morris said. “A minus pool is a cost of doing business. The value we get from a horse like that far outweighs the minus pool cost.”

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Morris pointed out that the publicity surrounding a horse such as Songbird might bring out first-timers just to watch her. The kind of bet novices make: show.

“We are, after all, in the gambling business,” Morris said. “We set a program and a betting menu and we think it’s important to stick to that.”

It was the third minus pool of the meeting and the second for Songbird. Nyquist created one in his win in the San Vicente.

Santa Anita does not bear the full brunt of the cost. It is responsible for all the shortages on track and a percentage of the shortages in the Southern California off-track market. But, once you get out of state, the onus is on where the bet was placed.

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People wagering in Kentucky, no doubt, will be eager to see her run on the first Friday in May in the Kentucky Oaks. The question of whether the horse will run against the boys on the first Saturday was long ago answered. And that is no.

Both Hollendorfer and owner Rick Porter did not want to put a filly through the rigors of the male preps and then the 20-horse Kentucky Derby field. Adding to the reasoning is her late birth date of April 30, meaning she will be less mature than many of the other horses she would be racing against.

Instead she’s pointed next to the Santa Anita Oaks on April 9 and, if all goes well, to the Kentucky Oaks on May 6.

“I don’t like to think too far ahead,” Hollendorfer said. “But that’s our long-term goal.”

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No wagering allowed, but it’s a goal you can bet on.


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