If California Gov. Gray Davis would like to see what he's done for racing in the Golden State, he should take a trip to the racetrack--perhaps one in West Virginia or Delaware. That's where a number of horses from California are racing these days.
Purses in those two states are enriched by revenues from slot machines, and Thoroughbred owners and trainers, including several from California, are looking to race at tracks like Mountaineer Park and Charles Town in West Virginia and Delaware Park in Delaware like never before. Some owners are claiming horses out of races in California and shipping them east, where they have been very competitive for higher purses. Others are combing the backstretches and making private purchases. That is something a racing state afflicted with a horse shortage cannot afford.
Wisely, the California Horse Racing Board is looking at the problem, but there is no quick solution--unless someone can explain to Gov. Davis that a huge agribusiness is in serious trouble, prompting him to reverse his position on the pro-racing legislation he vetoed last year.
Purses are the economic engine that drives the Thoroughbred industry, and horses and horsemen will gravitate to tracks paying out the most money. California racing's economic engine is stagnant; purses there are not benefiting from account wagering, and there are only a handful of off-track wagering sites scattered throughout the state. In addition, Native American tribes have been given the go-ahead by Davis to put slot machines into their casinos, a move that will further weaken California racing.
Claiming horses--the ones that make up the bread-and-butter of the industry, especially in Northern California--are running for purses lower than those offered in other states, notably West Virginia and Delaware. For example, horses carrying a $4,000 claiming tag at Golden Gate Fields compete for a $7,000 purse. The same claiming-level horse at Mountaineer Park races for $9,900, and at Charles Town, $5,000 claimers recently competed for a purse of $12,000. At Golden Gate, $8,000 maiden claimers race for $7,000 in purses. At Mountaineer, $4,000 maiden claimers run for a $9,300 pot.
The rapid expansion of casino wagering throughout the nation has put Thoroughbred racing on a playing field that is far from level. Some states, including West Virginia, Delaware, Iowa, and New Mexico, have passed laws allowing slot machines at racetracks, thereby benefiting those localities. Politicians in too many states, among them California and Kentucky, have not dealt with the issue. Sooner or later, they'll have to. For California's sake, let's hope they do before all the horses have left the corral. DEAL OF THE CENTURY
Richard Griffiths, writing in England's Racing Post, reports that Sheikh Mohammed has gotten very serious about his stallion operation at Darley Stud.
According to the report, commercial breeders who send mares to Darley stallions will not have to pay the stud fee until the resulting foal is sold at Tattersalls' December sales in Newmarket. If the hammer price of the foal is less than the stud fee, Darley will waive the difference. A breeder would not have to pay any fee if a mare slips or a foal dies.
While the arrangement is designed to jump-start a portion of Sheikh Mohammed's Thoroughbred operation whose results have lagged far behind its racing successes, one immediate result will be economic difficulties for breeders standing a small number of stallions. As a member of the ruling family of oil-rich Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed can run his business on low or deferred cash flow. More modest breeders will find it hard to match the deals Darley is offering.