Mid-Atlantic-based owner Mike Gill, who is a virtual lock to be the nation's leading owner this year, plans to attack Southern California racing this winter with a string of 75 horses.
Gill's plans are for the complete string, which will be made up mostly of horses currently residing in Florida, to be in place in Southern California by sometime in January. Nick Canani will train.
"I'm smart enough to know that with the five and six horse fields out there, even with the workers' comp situation, there is an opportunity to make money," said Gill, a resident of New Hampshire who previously showed little interest in the Golden State.
Gill served notice of his interest in Southern California racing by claiming 23 horses at the recently concluded Oak Tree meet. There was private concern among horsemen and racing officials the horses would be shipped out of state, but Gill indicated he has no interest in fleecing the California horse population. Rather, its a simple case of diversification.
"I have close to 400 horses now, including about 90 2-year-olds, so I have to diversify," Gill said. "I can't have them all within a 100-mile radius of each other, that just wouldn't make sense. My idea is to develop a string out there, which will be a mixture of some nicer horses and claiming-type horses."
Gill said he was slightly surprised to receive a handful of stalls for the current Hollywood Park meet, but racing secretary Martin Panza indicated Gill would be welcomed with open arms.
"He's told us he's going to bring in horses from out of state, and obviously California can use horses coming in from out of state," Panza said. "He's being given an opportunity and hopefully he will take advantage of it."
While Gill's claiming tactics have drawn criticism in other jurisdictions, Panza said he does not foresee a problem with Gill's usual tactic of dropping a horse in class off a claim.
"It seems to me the man just wants to run horses and sometimes drops are the best way," Panza said. "If he wants to drop horses from $32,000 to $16,000 then so be it. But I don't think that will happen too much here because there are too many people out here to keep him honest."
Officially, there is a 50-stall limit at Hollywood Park for a single stable, but Gill could be granted more as needed if there are empty stalls available, Panza said. Panza added any action taken against Gill by some tracks in the east are of no concern to Hollywood Park at this point.
"To be honest I don't know a whole lot about him, but I don't have any reason to believe he doesn't play by the rules or there should be any concern," Panza said. "As far as I know he has had no positive tests, and his trainer will be Nick Canani, who has a great reputation here that I'm sure he doesn't want changed. So we really think it's a great thing for them to be bringing horses to California."
Gill's stable has won 384 races this year as of Nov. 10, which was 272 more than his closes competitor, Stronach Stable.