10/08/2009 11:00PM

Cal Cup changes appear necessary

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The start of October has been a rough time for California's Thoroughbred industry.

The nine races in the California Cup program at Santa Anita's Oak Tree meeting on Oct. 3 drew just 63 starters, including three races with five runners. In the $200,000 California Cup Classic, the day's richest event, two of the six runners did not finish because of injuries. Grazen, the 4-5 favorite, suffered a bowed tendon; Blackbriar, a fatal sesamoid injury.

Two days later, the California Cup yearling sale at Barretts last Monday saw averages prices drop 25 percent from 2008, from $16,689 to $12,413. The fall in business was not a surprise, but was still painful to officials with Barretts and the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, which jointly conducted the sale.

"When you look at every other sale across the country, the number seems to be between 25 and 35 percent, depending on which market you look at," said CTBA executive director Doug Burge. "We would have loved to have not shown that much of a decline.

"Unfortunately, in the economic climate, we'll have to get through it."

The sale topper was a California-bred Tiznow filly purchased by Budget Stable for $120,000. She was the only horse to surpass six figures, which did not surprise Kim Lloyd, the vice president of sales at Barretts. "We expected to take a hit," he said.

The yearling sale suffered a sharp decline for the second consecutive year, results that have coincided with a recession that has placed a premium on discretionary income for horse owners.

"We were at the beginning of the economic swoon and we're still in it," Lloyd said.

Burge is hoping that a newly created bonus program, which pays $20,000 to the owners of California-breds that win maiden special weight races in Southern California, and $10,000 to owners whose horses win such races in Northern California, will spur interest in owning California-breds. Such bonuses could offset the high cost of getting an inexpensive yearling to the races.

"I think the response to our new program was good. There was a buzz on the sale grounds," he said. "We just announced it. We've tried to advertise it as much as possible. I think the real advertisement is when we send the checks out."

There is concern among CTBA officials about the short fields for the California Cup, with discussions expected with track officials about possible revisions to the 20-year-old program.

One possible change is the inclusion of maiden and first-level allowance races similar to the four races run each April on California Gold Rush Day at Hollywood Park. While those Gold Rush races may not be proper stakes, they are typically well-supported. Earlier this year, those races attracted fields of 8, 9, 12, and 13.

Also, the Matron, run over 1 1/16 miles on the main track, and the Distance Handicap, run over 1 1/4 miles on turf, may be too similar to continue running both races.

"I think there is too much overlap," Burge said. "There is a need to revamp the Cal Cup."

Deputy Commander euthanized

Deputy Commander, a Grade 1 winner on the racetrack and a sire in Kentucky and California, was euthanized on Oct. 7 at Ballena Vista Farm, near Ramona, Calif., because of declining health, the farm announced earlier this week. he was 15.

Deputy Commander's last full season at stud was 2007. In recent years, he suffered from physiological and neurological problems that required hospitalization. His health declined in recent months, the farm said in a statement.

By Deputy Minister, Deputy Commander won 4 of 13 starts and $1,906,640.