Although the application for Santa Anita Park's upcoming meet that begins Dec. 26 has yet to be approved by the California Horse Racing Board, executives from The Stronach Group said Dec. 14 that stakes purses for the Arcadia, Calif., track will decrease $600,000 for the meeting that runs through early July.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, said the purse cuts were made to stakes to ensure purses for other levels of racing remained steady.
"We have no middle class," Ritvo said. "It's not going to happen overnight, but we're trying to find a way to get more horses here, rather than guys taking them out of town. ... It's the same purse structure (for other levels of racing) that we've seen in the past, and that was the idea—to take a little bit (out of the stakes) so you can keep the purse structures of the past."
Ritvo and Santa Anita racing secretary Rick Hammerle also noted that, since taking over the majority of Hollywood Park's dates in 2014, an adjustment to the Santa Anita stakes schedule was due. The most glaring reduction on the calendar is the Santa Anita Handicap (G1), which will drop to $600,000 from $750,000 in 2017 and $1 million in 2016. It will be the lowest purse for the Big 'Cap since 1985, when it was $450,000.
"It took a couple of years to figure out, with the Santa Anita stakes and the Hollywood stakes in one meet," Hammerle said. "In some categories there were just too many races."
Both Ritvo and Hammerle indicated races that were eliminated from the schedule in 2018 could be back in 2019 and beyond.
"We want to be very candid—this is an adjustment," Ritvo said. "We looked at all the categories, and we looked at places that were doubled up. We looked at places in the last two or three years, where $100,000 races had five or six horses in it. We're looking to maybe rest them for a year and come back next year—be proactive for races that weren't drawing a lot."
According to Hammerle, the stakes races cut entirely out of the 2018 schedule are the Santa Anita Juvenile and Landaluce (both $100,000 stakes for 2-year-olds); the $100,000 Los Angeles Handicap (G3), a dirt sprint for 3-year-olds and older; the $200,000 Arcadia Stakes (G2T), for 4-year-olds and older going a mile on the turf; the $100,000 Precisionist Stakes (G3), for 3-year-olds and older going 1 1/16 miles on the main track; and the $100,000 Lennyfrommalibu Stakes, a turf sprint down the hillside turf course for California-breds 3-years-old and older.
An addition to the cuts and decreases, the Pasadena Stakes restricted to 3-year-olds at a mile on the turf will be increased from $75,000 to $200,000. The stakes schedule currently released for the upcoming season only goes through April 8.
"It's not a panic or a slice," Ritvo said. "We were a little bit stakes heavy. Percentage-wise for that meet, we were up at 30% (of total purses going to stakes), which is pretty high. It's one of the highest in the country. Most (horsemen's groups) don't want you going over 28-26%."
Thoroughbred Owners of California president and CEO Greg Avioli declined to comment on the purse cut, but did point to what he felt was the primary issue—that The Stronach Group has not reached an agreement with TOC with less than two weeks to go before the Santa Anita meet begins.
"It was inappropriate (for Santa Anita) to release a stakes schedule without a horseman's agreement," Avioli said.