Great Race Place feeling the pinch . . .
Racing's biggest problem - short fields at too many tracks around the country - reached new heights this week with the announcement that Santa Anita has canceled Thursday's program due to insufficient entries. Not Ruidoso Downs, or Prairie Meadows, or Sunland Park, but Santa Anita, which TVG's analysts remind us every five minutes or so is "The Great Race Place."
And it's not an aberration due to a mid-week program, based on these numbers: On Saturday, Santa Anita's 10-race card had 83 entries, for an acceptable average of 8.3 horses. However, included in the mix were two five-horse races, one of six and one of seven. The average was saved by the 10th race, which had 14 runners.
The situation took a turn for the worst on Sunday, when the nine-race program numbered just 58 runners, an average of 6.4. Included this day were two races with four runners each and one with five.
It wasn't any better at Aqueduct on Saturday, where the card featured 66 entrants in nine races, an average of 7.3, including one five-horse affair and two of six.
Gulfstream Park, with its Championship meeting ended, still had 95 runners in 11 races on Saturday, an average of 8.6, despite one race with a field of five. The handle at all three tracks, naturally, feels the effects of the short fields. For instance, someone wheeling a horse in a $5 exacta in a 7-horse race expends $30, while the same bet in a 10-horse race costs $45. Multiply that by the handle lost in all the various exotics when there are short fields and it results in a serious hit on the day's bottom line.
There seems to be a consensus of horsemen I have talked to that the increased costs of training, feed, veterinarians, vanning, farriers, etc. have knocked out much of the middle class, just like in so many other aspects in the country. At the sales, the high-end prospects are still selling en masse, but the middle-of-the-roaders are just not making it. Just check the RNAs at any of the 2-year-old sales.
QUITE A DAY - The claiming ranks reached a new level at Tampa Bay Downs over the weekend when the 6-year-old mare Laur Net was taken for $62,500, highest claim ever at the Oldsmar track. The new owner is Ron Paolucci's Looch Racing Stables, which more than made up for the price a few hours later with a major score in the Gr. II Charles Town Classic with its purse of $1,250,000. Paolucci's Imperative won the race by a neck and collected $732,000, while another Looch runner, War Story, finished third and took home $122,000. A third runner from the stable, Cautious Grant, wound up eighth and last and still earned $20,000, a total of $874,000 for the trio. Cautious Grant more than accomplished his purpose, though, as the 84-1 shot ran 6/5 favorite Stanford into defeat on the front end, making way for the come-from-behind 1-3 finish of his two stablemates.
Laur Net is an Illinois-bred with a major Florida influence, by Strong Hope (formerly at Winding Oaks Farm) out of the Lucky Lionel (formerly at Franks Farms) mare Lady Lionel, and she's won 7 of 27 races. She scored by 2 1/4 lengths under Ronnie Allen Jr. with a mile on the grass in 1:36.52 and will compete next at Delaware Park.