Newsletter: Racing! More on the purse increases at Santa Anita

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as racing goes dark until Friday. Better get used to it.

Let’s start today’s newsletter with a better explanation of the purse increases at Santa Anita than yesterday’s. I just got some of it wrong and deserve a “who goofed, I’ve got to know?” The lesson here is don’t try and explain a complex topic in simple terms.

I may have been too generous of my praise of Santa Anita and too stingy of praise for the Thoroughbred Owners of California. It seems that this really was a cooperative effort and that each party is putting up $5,000 a race, equaling purse increases of $10,000 for all non-stakes races.

All of which is not to diminish how helpful this move could be.


Greg Avioli, president and chief executive of the TOC, whom I chided about never calling me back, did interrupt his Easter morning to get in touch and explain the purse structure. (We determined it was a technical glitch that was keeping him from receiving my messages.)

Avioli explained that it’s not as if each group had to break into their giant piggy banks to fund the purse increases. Even as Santa Anita wasn’t racing, or had cut back dates, the track and TOC were still making money from wagering in Southern and Northern California. That money is earmarked for purses, but the question is when it should be distributed.

“You could have waited until later this year [to distribute],” Avioli said. “One alternative would have been to sit tight. But collectively, we felt it was important to finish [this meeting] strong. And we’re hoping bring some back to run or persuade those who might be thinking of leaving of staying.”

Avioli came up with a couple of phrases that captures the spirit of the “Ship and win” program that currently exists and compares it to this latest initiative.


“Stay and win, return and win,” Avioli said.

Another complicated topic

Before we sign off for this racing week, I had some leftover thoughts about Thursday’s big day of announcements.

I’m having trouble wrapping my arms around the logic of the coalition’s new Lasix rules. To review, starting next year, 2-year-olds can’t have race-day Lasix in any race. But when they turn 3, they can have it if they aren’t running a stakes race. But, if in a stakes race, it’s no mas to race-day Lasix.

Now, I don’t believe I’m qualified to give an opinion on race-day Lasix, so view this as an exercise in logic and curiosity, not trying to prove or disprove a point.

-- If race-day Lasix is bad for horses, why are they only protecting the superior stakes horses?

-- If Lasix is just a symbol of eliminating race-day medication, again, why is it only being applied to the better horses?

-- If race-day Lasix is good for horses, which is the current way races are run, why do anything? (We know the answer to that … perception is sometimes better than reality.)


-- And finally, if Lasix is bad for 2-year-olds, wouldn’t it also be bad for still developing 3-year-olds?

Might be good answers to all those questions, but, from a logic standpoint, it’s a challenge.

As long as we’re on the topic, I got this note from nationally known racing writer Robert Kieckhefer, which we can file under other things we didn’t think about:

“Interesting meeting of the Illinois Racing Board a few days ago. Board members, including one who used to be IRB general counsel, said Illinois tracks do not have the authority to impose restrictions on use of Lasix unilaterally, that the board would have to make such a rule on a statewide basis.

“Arlington opined it does have the authority to do so using ‘house rules,’ which would set up yet another confrontation with horsemen. The Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Assn. predicted ‘unanimous’ opposition to any such effort. Neither Hawthorne nor Fairmount was solicited or consulted by the coalition. This was all informal conversation. Unless Churchill Downs Inc. (owner of Arlington) insists that Arlington advance the issue, it’s going nowhere in Illinois. It’s tough to see horsemen who have feasted on purses at CD and OP being eager to come to Chicago if they have this additional issue confronting them.”

Thanks, Robert.

Congrats to Michael Wrona

Michael Wrona, who was the race caller at Santa Anita for the previous couple years, is taking his talents to Arizona Downs in Prescott Valley. Wrona had been doing some world traveling after his contract was not renewed at Santa Anita in the offseason, so we’re sure that he’s glad to be back in the booth.


With all due respect to Arizona Downs, the track has out-punted its coverage in getting a race caller the caliber of Wrona. The track, which used to be known as Yavapai Downs, closed in 2010 and is reopening under the new name.

“In this year of exploring fresh opportunities, it seems fitting to be associated with a brand-new project,” Wrona was quoted as saying in a news release. “The racing industry is contracting in so many ways, so everybody should be supportive of a new track.

“There’s an air of anticipation and excitement surrounding Arizona Downs, and I’m looking forward to helping launch this new venture.”

Santa Anita review

Again, no real feature on an uninspiring Sunday card. There were two $55,000 races, one a maiden special for Cal-breds going 6½ furlongs, which was won by Runnin’withdadevil ($5.40 to win). The other was another maiden special for 3-year-old fillies going five furlongs on the turf. It was won by Holly Hundy ($4.80).

Racing returns to Santa Anita on Friday.

Big races review

A look at graded stakes or races worth $100,000 or more on Sunday.

Woodbine (6): $100,000 Star Shoot Stakes, fillies 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Winner: Sister Peacock ($5.70)

Final thought

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Any thoughts, you can reach me at You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.

Now, here’s the star of the show, Sunday’s results. See you on Friday.