Several Factors Cited for Oak Tree Purse Reduction

Santa Anita Park's Oak Tree meet, which began with high expectations as the host site for the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, will end with a 10% reduction in purses for the remainder of the season.

Sherwood Chillingworth, executive vice president of the Oak Tree Racing Association, said the action was necessary to offset overpayments based on handle projections that proved too ambitious. The cuts went into effect Oct. 30 and continue through the end of the meet Nov. 9. The Nov. 8 California Cup program isn't affected because those purses were guaranteed via an earlier agreement.

"Del Mar had a sensational meet and Pomona was up 10%, and we thought we would be on the same trajectory," Chillingworth said. "But it didn't materialize as we thought it would. A number of factors conspired to hurt our handle. First, it was 95 degrees here every day. The Indian summer weather has been terrible the entire meeting.

"Then, we had the bus strike, so people couldn't get here. We've had short fields and I'm not sure why that is, but that keeps people from betting. And then the fires started and three simulcast locations had to shut down. I think there are things happening now that are more important to people than horse racing."

In addition, the closing-day feature--the $200,000 Las Palmas Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares--has been replaced by an overnight handicap. Chillingworth said there were only two nominations to the race when it was canceled Oct. 29.

Chillingworth said the meet was headed for trouble from the beginning. Oak Tree successfully lobbied the California Horse Racing Board and the state legislature for an extra day to stage a series of four Breeders' Cup preview races--all graded stakes--on Sept. 28.

"We did that thinking that people back East would want to come out and prep their horses over the track in advance of the Breeders' Cup," he said. "We gave the party. They didn't come."

Though Breeders' Cup day was solid, with on-track attendance of 51,648 and overall handle of nearly $121 million, there is no direct benefit to Oak Tree purses from that, Chillingworth said. Since very few of the Cup competitors from outside of Southern California competed in any prep races at Santa Anita, there wasn't much residual benefit, either.

The mass transit strike began Oct. 14. The massive wildfires, which consumed more than 600,000 acres, started a week later. Falling ash combined with heat made it uncomfortable at the track, located less than 20 miles from the fire zone. In addition, three San Diego County off-track betting facilities were forced to close.