Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Hollywood Beckons

Santa Anita meet’s closed on Sunday and its numbers don’t tell a happy story*. David Milch’s racetrack drama probably won’t either, but the “Luck” preview released by HBO on Monday generates a good kind of excitement:

As a setting for storytelling, you couldn’t ask for anything more,” said Milch.

The horses used in filming “Luck” were some of the first to test the restored dirt track at Santa Anita last December, the same surface on which 19 horses were fatally injured during the meet. With an additional fatality on the training track and six on the turf course, the total number of fatalities came to 26 (as estimated here). Santa Anita is funding a safety study: “We hope that data will be important to us and something that we can apply.” That is to be hoped! It was a real pleasure to watch Santa Anita for three years and rarely worry about seeing a horse go down. After this meet, I can’t say that — and I’m not alone.

How’s this for ugly? Fatality numbers were almost all that was up at Santa Anita. While attendance held steady, handle declined. The track announced a 9% decrease in average daily handle, but the raw CHRIMS data, available through CalRacing, showed a 20.7% decline in gross handle over the previous year, from $589 million (PDF) to $467 million (PDF). Adjusting for eight fewer days, and a decline of 9.7% in the number of races carded, the Blood-Horse found average daily handle was down 11.6%. Pull the Pocket has an interesting theory on why Blood-Horse, which originally reported the 9% decline straight, revisited the handle numbers so thoroughly and quickly.

As long as I’m linking bad news, here’s more: The national HBPA officially opposes the proposed RCI ban on raceday medications. Apparently, a five-year phase-out isn’t long enough. “Blah. Blah. Blah,” says Ray Paulick. Exactly.

*Not a happy story, unless you’re a horseman or owner, in which case, hooray! Total purses were up 5.1% for the Santa Anita meet.


6 Comments

The numbers tell a happy story for horsemen; purses were up at the meeting.

Posted by EJXD2 on April 19, 2011 @ 6:38 pm

You didn’t leave a link to Frank’s piece.

I don’t usually consider pyrrhic victories happy stories.

Maybe California can raise takeout again to bump purses? It’s working so well this year. Handle down double digits, field sizes down at Santa Anita …

Posted by Jessica on April 20, 2011 @ 4:53 am

Handle, purses, and auction receipts are how success is measured in this game. Purses were up, so the horsemen are happy. The TOC represents horsemen and fought for the takeout increase. How could anyone argue that its plan was unsuccessful short term?

I didn’t bet a red cent on Santa Anita this year. The takeout increase was shameful and unwarranted, but to say the numbers didn’t tell a happy story when they clearly did for at least one segment of the industry is a disservice to your readers.

I agree that it’s time to see some field size increases now.

Posted by EJXD2 on April 20, 2011 @ 8:00 am

Noted, and clarification added above.

I won’t argue against the short-term success of the takeout-fed purse increase, but being happy about upped purses under the circumstances strikes me as being happy that while your house is burning down, you’ve made it into a room the flames haven’t reached yet.

Posted by Jessica on April 20, 2011 @ 9:17 am

Fair analogy, Jessica (to me, who abhorred the takeout increase), but par for the course in this game where far too many fiefdoms have protected their piece of a shrinking pie. I really think something will give soon, though, once the current low foal crops become horses of racing age.

Posted by EJXD2 on April 20, 2011 @ 9:19 am

I enjoyed this comment thread.

Posted by dana on April 20, 2011 @ 11:28 am