Santa Anita Park cancelled its second Thursday card of the season because of a lack of entries for the June 8 slate, and track executives put most of the onus on the local horsemen June 4 to run more horses and fill cards.
"You have to be concerned if you have a good horse population and you're not getting participation in the (entry) box," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns and operates Santa Anita. "We want to look at every aspect of it, even ourselves. Are we doing the right thing? Are we laying out the card properly? We'll look at that first, and obviously investigate what the horsemen are doing with their horses and why they're not participating."
Both Ritvo and Joe Morris—The Stronach Group's senior vice president of West Coast operations—emphasized the importance of getting horses on the track's grounds to run more often.
"The game evolves and changes, and we can't keep doing the same things we were doing," Ritvo said. "We need to find ways to say, 'OK, he's participating and brings some value, and he's not participating and maybe it's time to find another place to race.'"
"It is called the racetrack," Morris added. "It's not the breaking track, so 2-year-olds and yearlings should be broke somewhere else. It's not the layup track, so if a horse needs some time off to get turned out or freshened up, it needs to happen elsewhere. ... We're looking at start-per-stall stats as well as other (aspects).
"It's free stabling out there, and the only way we get a return on that investment is if the horses get onto the racetrack."
California Thoroughbred Trainers executive director Alan Balch declined to comment on the statements by Ritvo and Morris, but a day before the cancellation was announced, trainer John Shirreffs spoke about the issue after Gormley 's workout.
"The (Thoroughbred Owners of California) and Santa Anita management are always upset with the small fields," Shirreffs said. "I think they have a right to be upset, but there's a lot of five-horse fields at Belmont (Park), and they certainly have a much bigger horse population to draw from. And their purses are 25%-30% bigger than ours, so I think the horsemen here are doing a pretty good job filling races.
"And somewhere along the way, instead of always having this negativity, they should (acknowledge) the horsemen are working hard to fill the races. Don't you think honey is a little better than vinegar?"
TOC's president and chief executive officer, Greg Avioli, said the issue was multifaceted, but also agreed with the overall sentiment expressed by The Stronach Group executives.
"At one level, we would agree with (Morris and Ritvo)," Avioli said. "The reality is, for horse racing to work in California, owners and trainers need to run their horses more. There are more than 3,000 horses in training in Southern California, and we believe there are horses that can be entered in races that aren't running.
"At the other level, I think it is incumbent on the racetracks to work with the trainers to come up with races that can fill. The fact is that the system is not working right now. If anyone thinks the system is working right now, they're not paying attention to the numbers.
"The solution is working together—coming up with something that works for trainers, owners, and the track. It might sound trite, but we're all in this together."
Morris and Ritvo said nine races will run on Santa Anita's Friday card June 9, 11 are scheduled to run for June 10 (Belmont Stakes Day), and they're hoping to run 10 races June 11.
Santa Anita often takes Thursday race days off following holiday racing on Mondays, but the track's executives decided to run June 1 following the May 29 Memorial Day holiday to make up the first Thursday cancellation of the season April 27. Morris and Ritvo said the cancelled June 8 card will not be made up.
"Obviously running the extra make-up day was going to have an effect moving forward," Ritvo said. "Whether or not that was a better day than this would have been—we'll never know, but it looked like it was."
Morris and Ritvo both said they are concerned with filling cards moving forward until Santa Anita's closing day July 4, but beyond that, both executives also stressed the need for more entries in races that do run.
"The gamblers don't like five-, four-, and three-horse fields," Morris said.
"We're losing market share," Ritvo added, in reference to the short fields Santa Anita has had in recent weeks. "There's only $10 billion in handle to last five years and the guys that are doing a good job of giving quality racing and field sizes—the market is shifting. When we have a bad card, we see that money shift somewhere else. When we have a good card and somebody else has a bad card, we see it shift again. There's only so much money out there."