Like most industries, a new year brings about changes and horse racing is no different. Here are a few changes we will see in 2014:
Racing in Southern California - This is probably the biggest one with the closing of Hollywood Park. There will now be more racing at Santa Anita and Del Mar while Los Alamitos will also run thoroughbreds along with their usual Quarter Horses. The following is the 2014 schedule:
Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2013 - June 29, 2014
Los Alamitos: July 3 - July 13
Del Mar: July 16 - Sept. 3
Fairplex: Sept. 4 - Sept. 23
Santa Anita: Sept. 25 - Nov. 2
Del Mar: Nov. 5 - Dec. 3
Los Alamitos: Dec. 4 - Dec. 21
Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2014 - Dec 31, 2014
Aqueduct racing Thursday - Monday - From January thru March of the Aqueduct meet, they will change from Wednesday - Sunday to a Thursday - Monday schedule. This will change in the month of February when they will race four days a week with a Friday - Monday schedule. In April, they will return to a Wednesday - Sunday schedule. Santa Anita tried the Thursday - Monday schedule a few years back and it was not successful. Maybe this will as Aqueduct will likely be the "headliner" on Mondays for the east coast simulcast player.
Preakness Stakes purse now $1.5 million - It appears that Maryland racing is on the improve and a 50% increase in The Preakness Stakes purse seems to prove that theory. This is the first purse raise since 1998 and it will be interesting to see if The Belmont Stakes purse is raised soon. It is nice to see a healthy circuit and maybe Maryland can make a profit on a day outside of The Preakness someday soon.
Rolling Doubles eliminated at Santa Anita - There will now only be three Doubles offered on the card at Santa Anita with a lowered 18% takeout. A Double wager can now only be made from races 1-2, 4-5 and the last two races on the card. Click here to view my blog about this change.
Omni wager debuts at NYRA tracks - This wager will be offered for every race with a 15% takeout. It requires a better to select two of the first three-place finishers. In order to win, your two horses can finish 1-2, 1-3 or 2-3. This has been tried at Hollywood Park and Keeneland in the past and it has since been cancelled. They probably should think about eliminating the Grand Slam wager as it only handled $61,097 on Belmont Stakes day and only $18,362 this past Dec. 14.
Graded Stakes - There are always good and bad discussions about this as with all other human judgements. I feel there are way too many Grade 1 races and it is hurting the sport (click here for my take on Graded Stakes). The La Troienne at Churchill Downs is now a Grade 1 while The Prioress at Saratoga and The Princess Rooney at Calder were downgraded to Grade 2. Four races were upgraded to a Grade 2 while seven races were downgraded to a Grade 3. Two races, The Sapling at Monmouth Park and The Ohio Derby at Thistledown, lost their Graded Stakes status.
A change that has been discussed, but not implemented yet is a possible increase in admission at Belmont Park and Saratoga. The NYRA has explained that this is needed to make a profit without help from the slot machine fund. Outside of Belmont Stakes day, there is rarely a crowd of over 10,000 at Belmont Park so this wouldn't seem to help and it may keep angry customers away. At Saratoga, why would you want to keep people away from such a successful and grand meet by raising admission prices? Let's hope they see the light and do not increase admission prices.
With change comes hope and these changes (whether you like them or not) will likely make their impact. Whether it is positive or negative that remains to be seen, but let's hope for more positive changes that will help improve our industry for the years ahead.