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HRN Original Blog:
55,000 Furlongs to the Finish

4 Horse Fields: Thanks, CHRB

Awesome Baby wins 2014 Santa Ynez.
Photo: Benoit Photo

Prior to 2014, at the conclusion of the winter meet, Hollywood Park had remained open as a training facility and as overflow stall space for the nearly 2500 active racing thoroughbreds operating in Southern California. Santa Anita only has 1850 stalls available for all horses. When you count all of the stable ponies housed for trainers and by the track, and some 25 open stalls for horses travelling into Arcadia for races, this leaves even less stall space for race-ready horses.

 

The closure of Hollywood Park did not come as a surprise to anyone, so one would assume that the California Horse Racing Board would have had ample time to plan and communicate the overflow strategy to trainers, owners, and track organizers. Yet this apparently didn’t happen. And the result is disorganization in the Golden State. Stakes races are drawing field sizes that can be counted on a single hand. We are less than two weeks into 2014 and we have had two Kentucky Derby and Oaks point races that have gone to post with four horses. Four!

 

California has traditionally been a springboard for many Kentucky Derby and Oaks participants and winners. For doing so, the west coast prep races have been awarded as qualifying races for the new respective Derby and Oaks points’ systems. However, four horse fields, for the prestigious prep races, is a far cry from a success.

 

Politics are tough. They are not for everyone. I am sure there is quite a bit of political maneuvering that takes place on the CHRB to keep all parties satisfied with the decisions that are made. They have the California government, the trainers, the horse owners, the track organizers, and many others to keep happy. Its not an easy job, but I feel they are overlooking a huge entity that makes up the majority of the racing industry. That is me, you, and every other patron that places a wager on the races that are being run.

 

The CHRB posts transcripts from each of their monthly meetings on the official CHRB website. If you are in need a good read, and want an even better laugh, check them out. When I first read them, I expected a professional discussion that included known facts, statistics, business prospectus, business forecasts, financial analysis, etc. Instead I read what can only be described as a typical break room “water cooler chat.” Decisions were being made based on assumptions. More effort was put on being polite than trying to drive conclusions.

 

As you continue to read through the minutes, you may reach a similar conclusion that I did. The CHRB would not be able to project manage themselves out of a cardboard box. There is no organization amongst the topics, any kind of documented procedure for making decisions, and an overall lack of proper decorum. If this is how a company was run in the business world, I have a feeling that it would not last very long before filing for bankruptcy.

 

This is even more evident by the $2 million deficit in the Stabling and Vanning Committee that is responsible for moving the horses around amongst the various satellite facilities and racing venues. On top of the deficit, there is nearly a 6 month delay to get the facilities their payments for operating costs. Going back to the disorganization of the closure of Hollywood Park, one option for overflow horses was Fairplex. Officials from Fairplex offered 500 stalls for thoroughbreds, but at a very high premium due to the short notice to find labor and winterize the track surface. However, Fairplex was not absolutely required from a stall number perspective. There is a surplus of empty stalls without Fairplex, but there is risk of running short when new 2 year olds start arriving to trainer’s barns in February. The CHRB is willing to increase the deficit for a risk that is not even properly calculated with data to support the decision. No one knows the exact number of 2 year olds that will arrive in February, but I don’t think this is the first time California has had a new crop of horses arrive for training. Not once was previous crop size and number of new horses mentioned when making a mutli-million dollar decision.

 

So how does all of this effect field size of Derby and Oaks prep races? Trainers could have missed deadlines. Interruptions in training from playing musical horse stalls could have had trainers not want to risk the horse’s fitness or condition. Perhaps there is no correlation at all.

 

I have found myself asking how I would fix this. I represent the customer base. The CHRB is delivering a product. And right now, 4 horse fields in stakes races is not very high quality. I am disgruntled. What are you going to do to fix it, CHRB? So, if anyone from the CHRB is reading this, here’s my solution.

 

Step 1: Do what you can to establish and maintain a quality product. If this means mudding the waters of trainer / CHRB relationships or even personal relationships within the board, then you do it. You’re not here to make friends and make every single person in the industry happy. You’re here to ensure the best racing you can for your customer base. Add purse bonuses for races that fill beyond a certain number of entries. Hire people to help manage the stall situation so trainers can focus on having horses prepared to race. Work with racing commissions outside of California to fill races if it cannot be done locally.

 

Step 2: Get a good project manager. Find someone who can drive a schedule and prioritize the necessary decisions to ensure that schedule does not slip. Decisions about stall space should not be finalized a few weeks before the closure of Hollywood Park. This should be done months ahead of time to budget and allow the facilities to prepare.

 

Step 3: Balance the budget. Don’t take on unnecessary costs to cover up the mistakes that have been previously made. When evaluating where money should go, remember Step 1. A quality product is more important than staying on someone’s holiday card list. Never cut costs on anything that will directly effect the product quality. It is better to have fewer races that are of very high quality, as opposed to a large number of races that are of low quality. Hopefully the recent board approval of Madeline Auerbach will help with this.

 

Step 4: Solve the problems that exist today and not the ones that may exist in the future. It is good to have foresight to the future, but solving the problems that exist today will make the problems that exist tomorrow more manageable.

 

Step 5: Take responsibility. Mistakes will be made. Whether it’s the concession stand attendant at Santa Anita or the accountant of the entire industry, there will always be mistakes. However, when mistakes are made, own up to them and ensure a corrective action. The first step to solving a problem is admitting there is one.

 

The trust of your customer base is the most important thing you can work for. If you put that first, then there is no way you can fail.

 

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Older Comments about 4 Horse Fields: Thanks, CHRB...

watching santa anita regularly, i just thought it was a rule that they cant run more than 5 horses in a race!but seroiusly, Noble Moon was a standout in the Jerome and everybody still showed up to face him. It seems that Cali always has a problem drawing full fields.
You are stating the obvious from the perspective of the horseplayer but the CHRB is no different than any other state horse racing board. They serve the interests of the owners first and once in a great while the horseplayers second. From an owners perspective a 4 horse race for $200K is a dream. They do not care if you are I bet a dime on that race so long as they collect a check for just showing up. Also 4 horse fields in stakes aren't anything new. Look back over the decades and you will find countless examples.
In 2012 the Frizette and Demoiselle both only ran 4 fillies. And the other NYRA Oaks prep races had only 5 or 6 fillies. I don't think you can accuse NYRA of running out of stalls. Sometimes the competition just isn't there because one horse is that much better than the rest. Having said that, perhaps the CHRB had better scale back on pampering the BC crowd and spend more money pampering the visiting horses. If the horses don't come, neither will the spectators.
Los Alamitos has stalls, I thought they we're using those.
Currently, Los Alamitos, San Luis Rey Downs, and Santa Anita are all being used. The better question will be what happens between Del Mar's summer and fall meets. Currently they do not plan to be open for the months of Sept and Oct which means all horses will have to van north, and then return 2 months later if they want to race again.
Correction: Six of the past eight BC's.
It seems that the possible problems could be on many fronts. In the not too distant past, it seems that there were issues with the jockey guild. At issue was some kind of conflict between the head of the jockey guild(I believe it was Chris McCarron at that time) and the members. Also, when recognizing the problem, the solution evidently isn't the Breeders Cup, for their bandaid was to have Santa Anita host six of the past BC's. Evidently, that isn't a "cure".
This says it all: "The closure of Hollywood Park did not come as a surprise to anyone, so one would assume that the California Horse Racing Board would have had ample time to plan and communicate the overflow strategy to trainers, owners, and track organizers. Yet this apparently didn’t happen." great article!
Supposedly when Del Mar completes certain renovations to their turf course among other things, they were going to be used as a training facility as well in the latter part of 2014.
racing board does not scratch horses
Why didn't the CHRB make more of an effort to save Hollywood Park - then there would be such a mess.
This has gotten out of hand! The CHRB would do well to read this.
good article, it's a shame that the fan base of horse racing has been at the mercy of corrupt, and incompetent fools for so long. Now that the sport is dwindling it becomes even more difficult to reverse these trends. I'm over on the East Coast and since the advent of slot machines these 'racinos' see little incentive to maintain a healthy racing product. I love handicapping horse races, it's an exciting sport, its too bad that the majority have not been exposed to it and don't understand the challenge of playing that game. All they want to do is pull a lever on a slot machine like lab rats, it's pathetic.

Meet Matt Scott 

My horseracing journey began when I was 16 years old and my mom took me to Hollywood Park. Although I did not fully appreciate it at the time, the experience stuck with me forever. 10 years later, during one of my many international business trips to Hong Kong, I visited Sha Tin racetrack to watch the races. This is where my true passion began. 

 

Holding a masters degree in mechanical engineering, the puzzle of handicapping intrigued me. I have made a career of making decisions based on trends, patterns, and formulas, which is why I think I was initially drawn to the sport. However, I have truly learned to appreciate the horses and how magnificent they are as athletes. 

 

I currently live in San Jose, CA, and when not following racing, I like to spend time with my wife, mountain bike, and design high-speed bicycles that I build and race For reference, 55,000 furlongs is the distance from Hong Kong to my home in San Jose. Also, I have 1-year-old dachshund (aka wiener dog) that I am training to race in the annual Wiener Nationals held at Golden Gate Fields.   

 

The purpose of this blog is to help give people the viewpoint of a fan that is newer to the sport and eager to learn. I like to respectfully speak my mind, and often the ideas come out of left field, which could give a fresh perspective on a sport rich with tradition and history. hope to represent the many future fans that I wish to follow my footsteps into the Sport of Kings.