Count Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas among those who are finding California an increasingly difficult place to be successful.
For the first time since 1978, the long shadow of one of racing's all-time greats won't hover over the Southern California racing scene this summer. Lukas plans to vacate Barn 66 at Santa Anita Park temporarily as of May 2 and transfer the small string of 14 he still has there to Arlington Park while the Southern California circuit follows its course to Hollywood Park and Del Mar.
"There's no real issue except that many of our clients are asking that we start their horses at Arlington and in New York," Lukas said from his barn at Churchill Downs April 18.
By moving his entire Southern California division, Lukas said he doesn't have to move as many horses from his other stables. There are business considerations as well, he said.
"Selfishly on my part, it's getting more and more difficult to operate profitably in California," Lukas said. "The workers' compensation insurance rates just keep going up and up, and they are supposed to be going up some more (this summer)."
Lukas said he pays roughly 11% to 15% of his payroll for workers' comp elsewhere, but 30% to 40% percent in California. Even with a smaller stable, a solid client base, and a staff of just 15, he said it is a heavy burden.
"I'm not even one of the hardest hit," Lukas said. "The younger guys just getting started, I can't see how they do it. It isn't just horseracing. The entire state is being hurt."
Lukas plans to have 25 to 30 horses stabled at Arlington, which opens May 9. He said his Southern California staff would relocate to Illinois to oversee that operation. He'll also continue to direct divisions at Belmont Park and Saratoga in New York, and at Churchill, where he shipped 20 horses from his California string earlier in the spring.
Lukas said he would return to Southern California for the Oak Tree Racing Association meet at Santa Anita Park in late September.
In recent years, Lukas has kept most of his top horses in New York and Kentucky during the summer. Most of his starters in Southern California have been 2-year-olds.
"We haven't been that focused there in a while," he said.
Winner of Santa Anita training titles in 1980, 1987, and 1990, and usually among the top conditioners in the 3-year-old divisions, Lukas hasn't enjoyed much success at the current winter meet. He had four winners (one stakes victory), three seconds, and eight thirds from 65 starters through April 17.
Lukas didn't have a starter in this year's Santa Anita Derby, the first time since 1978, the year he switched to full-time Thoroughbred training from Quarter Horses.