We are only two weeks into the Del Mar and Saratoga meets, and we have reached a fork in the road.
Both tracks have raced one more day per week than the normal schedule on their circuits. This is because of the immense popularity of their summer meets. Now we’ll find out if they have the horse inventory to keep the full fields going on which horseplayers love to bet.
I suspect that Del Mar will be the first to crack, and the reasons take only common sense to figure out.
Southern California racing always has been on an island. No racetracks are nearby to draw from for additional horses. The purses paid have been well above average at Del Mar, but outside of the Ship and Win program, only so many new horses are available.
Meanwhile, Saratoga has such overflow fields that our Las Vegas race book overnight for the Spa must be printed on both sides of the sheet.
Saratoga purses are by far the highest in the country. The big fields siren the two sweetest words to the ears of a racing secretary – “also eligibles” – into play nearly every race. And if not enough horses are at Saratoga or Belmont Park, then more horses can ship in from tracks up and down the Eastern seaboard.
We’ve seen the positive effects of full fields at Del Mar and Saratoga betting. Handle is way up after the first two weeks. A pick 6 carry-over seems to be at one track or the other, sometimes both, every day.
So while the momentum should continue at Saratoga for the rest of the summer, a softening of business can be expected at some point soon at Del Mar.
■ THE MANSION – In the rich-get-richer department, Churchill Downs announced it is building The Mansion for $9 million where the sixth floor media center used to be. It will house the type of people for whom money is no object.
From the renderings I’ve seen, if it’s half as opulent as The Mansion at the MGM Grand, it’ll be a home run for the uber-rich who like horse racing.
This area where the press box was offers the best view of the racetrack, bar none. I suspect a Churchill executive asked why the space was being wasted on media when it should be converted into a huge profit center.
The Mansion will be marketed to the top 1 percent of those with money. It creates an even higher comfort level, unimaginable for the common folk who attend Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby days.
The philosophy is not much different from the casinos’ in Las Vegas: If you have the money to pay for an unforgettable experience, then we’ll build it for you.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.