09/03/2010 4:39PM

California board skews takeout tale


Raising the takeout always leads to lower handle and unhappy customers and is the last resort for struggling track operators. The increases that the California legislature has approved and that will become effective Dec. 26 once the bill is signed into law by the governor, who supports them, are particularly onerous despite the California Horse Racing Board’s attempt to portray them as reasonable and consistent with the rates in other states.

The takeout is being raised by three points from 20.68 to 23.68 percent, a 15-percent increase, on bets involving three or more horses – the intrarace trifecta, superfecta, and super high five and the multirace pick three pick four, pick six, and place pick-all. At 23.68, this takeout is higher than Kentucky’s nation-low 19 percent rate on these bets but still lower than the bite in New Jersey (25.0 percent), Maryland (25.75 percent), New York (26.0 percent), and Pennsylvania (30-31 percent.)

A statement from the California racing board Thursday applauded the legislation and correctly noted that the 23.68 rate “compares with a takeout rate of 26 percent on many wagers involving three or more horses or legs in New York.” (“Many” rather than “all” because of New York’s 16-percent rate on non-carryover pick sixes.)

The racing board was silent, however, on comparisons with other states regarding the other takeout increase in the bill – a jump from 20.68 to 22.68 percent on two-horse bets such as exactas and daily doubles.

The silence is understandable: Only three tracks in the Unites States (Arapahoe Park, Canterbury, and Suffolk) take more than 22 percent on two-horse bets, while every other major racing state has a significantly lower bite on them, including New York at 18.5 percent and Kentucky and New Jersey at 19.0 percent.

So while bragging that its new exotic rates are still 2.32 percentage points lower than New York’s, the California board is simply ignoring that its new two-horse rates – on bets that attract roughly twice as much handle as the more exotic exotics – are 4.18 percentage points higher.

“Even with this takeout increase of 2 to 3 percent on exotic wagers, California’s takeout rates will remain lower than those in some other states with comparable, high-quality racing,” said the racing board’s statement.

In fact, a 22.68 takeout rate on exactas and daily doubles is exorbitant and by far the highest at any major circuit in the country.

Pletcher rebounds with a vengeance

The race for the Saratoga jockey title could go down to the last race on Labor Day, as John Velazquez led Javier Castellano by just 50-49 entering the last four days of the meeting. The trainer’s race, however, was effectively over weeks ago, as Todd Pletcher has rebounded from three years of second-place finishes to post a runaway victory that is impressive even by his own high standards.

Pletcher led the Saratoga standings for five straight years from 2002 through 2006, but then ran second to Bill Mott in 2007, Kiaran McLaughlin (by 17-15) in 2008 and Linda Rice (20-19) in 2009.

This year, through the first 36 of 40 days, he had 31 winners to Rice’s 19, with Chad Brown third at 16 and Mott fourth with 11.

Despite some high-profile disappointments – Devil May Care was fourth at 4-5 in the Alabama, Quality Road was second at 2-5 in the Whitney, and Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver was 10th in the Travers – he has won three Grade 1 stakes (the Ruffian with Malibu Prayer, the CCA Oaks with Devil May Care, and the King’s Bishop with Discreetly Mine).

His most remarkable achievement, however, has been winning an astounding 15 races for 2-year-olds with 14 different juveniles, 13 of them maiden races and 10 of those with first-time starters. Of those 15 victories, 14 were in dirt races of 5 1/2 to seven furlongs.

He’s probably not done. Pletcher has 16 2-year-olds entered in the final four days of racing, including 44 percent of the field in Sunday’s Grade 1 Spinaway: Valiant Passion, the 3-1 morning-line favorite; the Repole stable entry of Stopspendingmaria and Sky Hosoya, the 7-2 second choice; and R Heat Lightning, the 4-1 third choice. He tries Monday’s Hopeful with just Stay Thirsty while awaiting next month’s Champagne with 14-length debut winner Uncle Mo.

Those two colts are both owned by Repole, who sold his Vitamin Water concern to the Coca-Cola Co. in 2007 and has become Pletcher’s leading client and the top owner overall at Saratoga this year.

Pletcher’s resurgence has been heartening for his fans and frustrating to rival trainers, who have always complained that he gets too many of the sport’s top horses. Either way, it’ has been quite a comeback for a trainer who just two years ago was widely pronounced as having lost his touch with 2-year-olds.