Santa Anita, for the second time this season, has canceled a day of racing because of a shortage of entries. Thursday’s card was taken off the books with some of those races sprinkled over the weekend, featuring the Belmont Stakes in New York on Saturday.
“After looking at entries for Thursday, we decided it was in the best interest of our customers to put on three solid race cards, Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” said Joe Morris, senior vice president of West Coast operations for the Stronach Group.
“The races from Thursday that attracted enough entries will be added over those three days to give horsemen some additional racing opportunities.”
Santa Anita also canceled the April 27 card for the same reason.
Despite the best spin Morris tried to put on it, there is little doubt that Santa Anita is in a crisis situation.
The once vibrant Southern California racing scene, which ran five days a week at Santa Anita and six at Del Mar, has contracted to four at Santa Anita and five at Del Mar.
It begs the question, will Santa Anita contract once again to three days?
The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita, Golden Gate, Gulfstream, Maryland racing and Portland Meadows, sent its fix-it guy, Tim Ritvo, to Arcadia to revitalize the underachieving track.
He’s only been on the grounds for less than two weeks but you can expect to see changes soon.
As far as who is to blame about the short to nonexistent fields, you can point fingers in many directions.
You can look to the owners. To them, patience is a virtue, but it is detrimental to the sport. On the West Coast, owners and trainers seem obsessed looking for the perfect spot to run their horse, passing up opportunities to race.
A good example was the loaded $400,000 Beholder Mile on Saturday, where only three horses entered. Purses go five deep.
Morris joked to the Times on Saturday that he thought about bringing in one of his old broodmares to run in the race just to collect an easy check.
So again, horses sit.
And then there is the track. Is it writing the right races?
Once the Kentucky Derby is over there is virtually no chance you will see any of those horses in Southern California in the summer and fall.
Neither Santa Anita nor Del Mar writes the kind of races that would attract Derby or Preakness horses after the Santa Anita Derby. Three-year-olds have to go back to Monmouth or Saratoga to run.
The best horse in the world, Arrogate, is stabled at Santa Anita but he likely will not run there. And why should he? There is no race big enough to grab the owner’s attention. He is a likely starter in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Songbird, arguably the best female horse running, is stabled at Santa Anita but was sent to New York instead of making the Beholder Mile one of the best distaff races in recent memory. Blame the owner on that one.
Ritvo has changed and improved the product and experience at Gulfstream and the Maryland circuit of Laurel Park and Pimlico. But fixing Santa Anita might be his biggest project.
Some good news
Despite a sluggish start because of the weather, there are some metrics that are improving at Santa Anita.
The recent three-day Memorial Day weekend was up 10,000 folks over last year to around 48,100. Attendance is up about 5% and it’s likely the track will show an increase in people on the property for the fourth consecutive year.
The track is also showing improvement on its big days. Opening day drew 46,514, the biggest crowd in 22 years. Santa Anita Handicap day had 29,412, up 8%. The Santa Anita Derby drew 36,155, an increase of 30%, understandable because of the bad weather on race day a year ago.
The only West Coast possibility in Saturday’s Belmont Stakes is Gormley, for trainer John Shirreffs and owners Jerry and Ann Moss. And we still don’t know if the horse is going.
Shirreffs has booked a spot on a plane to ship midweek but he and the owners haven’t made a decision to run.
Neither Kentucky Derby winner, Always Dreaming, nor Preakness victor, Cloud Computing, will be running in the 1 1/2-mile race.