Del Mar, Saratoga a remedy for short-field blues

Updated July 13, 2017 - 6:41 pm

In addition to great locales and historic but top-notch facilities, Del Mar and Saratoga racetracks offer a welcome respite to horseplayers tired of trying to wring a profit out of too many five- and six-horse races.

The fuller fields at horse racing’s crown jewel racetracks can be expected to continue next week when Del Mar opens its 36-day meet on Wednesday and Saratoga kicks off its 40-day run on Friday.

The boutique race meets remain popular with horsemen and owners, but Del Mar spokesman Mac McBride says the track where the surf meets the turf had to get creative to keep its numbers up. In 2011, he said, Del Mar initiated a “ship and win” program that provides owners of horses outside California a check upon arrival — bumped from $1,000 to $1,500 this year — and a 30 percent bonus on earnings in the first start.

The program has drawn more than 800 runners to the seaside oval, most of whom have remained in California to race, McBride said. The new runners also add to the handicapping challenge, he said, adding, “There’s nothing better than to add some spice to the stew.”

My advice: Enjoy the full fields while you can.

Even though both tracks have managed to battle the trend of shorter and shorter fields, they’re under increasing pressure to do so. And while they’re mostly treading water, other tracks are sinking and the underlying problem is getting worse.

This is one area where a national horse racing authority could really make a difference, as the states appear to be happy to squeeze the lemon until there’s nothing left but rind.

Consider, for example, Hollywood Park’s closure in 2013. California racing officials had an opportunity to pare back the schedule, but instead essentially just divvied up the racing days to the state’s remaining tracks.

As a result, Santa Anita was forced toward the end of its just-concluded and ridiculously long six-month meet to cancel four Thursday cards. Surprise: Field sizes increased when the track raced three days a week.

Eventually the situation will get so bad that the states will have no choice but to act. The best solution would be to cut back days and coordinate schedules between tracks in all racing states. That would maximize exposure for the tracks and enable all to offer more competitive racing and generate bigger purses.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

#RJhorseracing featured race

This week’s featured race is the $200,000 Indiana Oaks, a 1 1/16th-mile stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Indiana Grand.

The horseplayers who got their #RJhorseracing handicapping challenge picks in early think the 7-5 morning-line favorite, Mopotism, looks tough to beat. Majestic Quality (2-1) was well back in second, followed by the speedy Stonetacular (7-2).

“Mopotism just missed in her last start vs. Faypien when beating Paradise Woods, who was the favorite in the Kentucky Oaks vs. Abel Tasman,” regular contributor Richard Saber wrote, summing up the sentiment. “Her race to lose.”

I’m going against the favorite, confident that I can’t be more spectacularly wrong than I was last week. I think Majestic Quality will get the better of Mopotism in their fourth meeting, with Wicked Lick third. I loved the relaxed way she moved into contention in the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) on April 8 before getting into an uncomfortable position and losing focus. Her two races since then seem to have her headed in the right direction.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Friday. Contact him at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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