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Santa Anita closure hurts Nevada horse racing handle

Updated March 15, 2019 - 5:30 pm

Nevada’s horse racing betting handle has suffered a sharp decline over the past dozen years, falling from $596.5 million in 2007 to $269.1 million in 2018.

The state’s 2019 racing handle already has taken a hit with the recent closure of Santa Anita Park.

“Santa Anita and Del Mar are kind of the bread and butter for Nevada (books),” said DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello, former Wynn Las Vegas race and sportsbook director. “Without Santa Anita up and running for three or four weeks, that hurts.”

The Southern California racetrack suspended racing indefinitely March 5 after 21 horses died since the track opened Dec. 26. Another horse died at Santa Anita on Thursday during training, and it’s uncertain when the track will reopen.

Several Las Vegas bookmakers contacted by the Review-Journal didn’t provide specific numbers, but conceded that their race handle was down because of the closure.

“Anytime you lose a popular track like Santa Anita, it’s definitely going to have an effect (on the handle),” Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “The Southern California tracks are always some of the most popular. But we still offer a lot of other tracks.”

The Westgate also has seen its race handle drop without Santa Anita.

“Some people, they play California tracks or they don’t play at all,” Westgate sportsbook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “That’s why we don’t get any runoff.”

Santa Anita is the only Southern California track scheduled for racing through June 26. Los Alamitos is slated to run from June 26 to July 16, and Del Mar is scheduled to run from July 17 to Sept. 3.

Before Thursday’s death at Santa Anita, the track had been tentatively set to reopen March 22.

“There’s no way,” horse racing handicapper Hank Goldberg said. “It’s not close to being ready.”

The cancellation of the San Felipe, a Kentucky Derby prep race that had been scheduled for March 9 at Santa Anita, resulted in several horses being shipped to Arkansas for Saturday’s Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

The field that will run in the split divisions of the Kentucky Derby prep race will feature several Southern California horses, including the top two Kentucky Derby favorites — Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert’s Game Winner (4-1) and Improbable (5-1).

“You can bet Oaklawn. It’s a good card,” said Goldberg (Sportsline.com). “But it’s not going to get near the business that Santa Anita would’ve brought in (to Nevada books).”

Goldberg, former horse racing analyst for ESPN, likes Improbable and Game Winner to win Saturday’s races and Our Braintrust to finish second in the second leg.

The Santa Anita Derby is scheduled for April 6, and the Breeders’ Cup is set for Nov. 1 and 2 at Santa Anita.

But Goldberg predicts the track might lose the Breeders’ Cup after The Stronach Group said Thursday that it will ban the administration of race-day medication at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. Lasix is the only legal race-day medication in California.

“That’s declaring war against horsemen,” Goldberg said. “They’re trying to shift blame away from the lousy job they did maintaining the racetrack and trying to blame horsemen for running unsound horses.

“Lasix helps horses breathe easier. It’s an anticoagulant. It doesn’t have anything to do with soundness.

“If they maintain that and stick to that (rule), the Breeders’ Cup is going to move to Churchill Downs.”

More Betting: Follow at reviewjournal.com/betting and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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