By Kenneth E. Kirchner
-- Magna Entertainment Corp.'s plan for an East Coast/ West Coast team series is a fascinating idea that deserves the consideration and support of the entire racing industry.
The Magna Series brings forth many intriguing "match-ups" among horses, trainers, jockeys, and bettors. The two-day series will establish a dozen races to be run under allowance or starter handicap conditions, with six Gulfstream Park-based horses squaring off against six Santa Anita-based horses in each race. Magna will generously underwrite over $2 million in total expenses, with purses of $100,000 per race, shipping expenses, and a $4,000 appearance fee for each of the 72 horses to be shipped.
The 12 series races complement Santa Anita's March 3 and Gulfstream Park's March 10 racing program by making a big day bigger. The feature race each day, the $1-million Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) and the $1-million Florida Derby (gr. I), will now be surrounded by races worth an additional $2.3 million in purses. This provides substantial incentive for horsemen and jockeys to enthusiastically participate in the Magna Series.
There also are a multitude of reasons for racing fans to support the Magna Series. The dozen races with 12-horse fields of evenly matched horses to be ridden by the nation's best jockeys will offer great wagering value. Players have been closely following the Santa Anita and Gulfstream meets all winter. Merged together on a single racetrack, a handicapping puzzle and wagering opportunity worthy of national attention are created.
These race days could be featured as a "Bettor's Extravaganza," with multiple wagering options. The starting point could be a $1-million guaranteed Pick 6 on a mix of series and stakes races, anchored by the Big 'Cap and the Florida Derby, respectively. This offering alone raises the awareness level for horseplayers from coast to coast. Expanding the betting to include superfectas on each of the series races further enhances the national appeal.
While most race days cannot support such an aggressive betting menu, I believe fans would respond positively to these high-reward wagering opportunities. Fans can confidently take a stand on top trainers and jockeys. Go ahead and bet a $10 Pick 3 of Mott/Bailey, Walden/Day, and Drysdale/Stevens and, if right, be highly rewarded. These two days will be a striking departure from the grind-it-out fare most players face on a daily basis with short fields and small pools.
The Magna Series also is a perfect example of the need for a national marketing program. A creative idea has been launched and financially underwritten at the racetrack level but needs national support to capture the attention of race fans and the general public. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association should immediately offer its assistance to Magna in the promotion of the series.
As the March 3 and 10 dates occur during the pre-Derby period of heightened national interest in horse racing, the Magna Series is a unique marketing opportunity. The NTRA, Daily Racing Form, and wagering outlets across the country should devote advertising resources to the events. Play-up the rivalries between the horses, jockeys, trainers and, even, the bettors. Market the wagering and betting--big fields, bigger purses, and biggest payoffs.
Racing needs to create more special events geared toward our regular players and lapsed fans. An event such as the Claiming Crown offers nice purses for trainers and owners to shoot for but provides few incentives for the player to become involved. The All-Star Jockey Championship is a great on-track event but has yet to capture a national audience. America's Day at the Races is a solid concept but are we taking full advantage of this effort?
All of these initiatives are good for racing. We can and should do more as an industry to jointly support and improve these ongoing efforts. The Magna Series represents a real opportunity for racing to move forward with a new idea, one that offers benefits to all racing participants--owners, trainers, handicappers, and racetracks. Let's make this series a success, an event that all of racing looks forward to and participates in together.