05/13/2010 11:00PM

California Cup program being tweaked


The California Cup program will revert to a late October date this year, from an early October running in 2009, and is likely to comprise a different lineup of races, according to Doug Burge, general manager of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.

The races are scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 30, on the final weekend of the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting. Last year, the event was held at the start of the month, to be positioned away from the Breeders' Cup, which was run at Santa Anita on the first weekend of November. This year, the Breeders' Cup is at Churchill Downs on Nov. 5-6.

"Historically, we've had the best success with the California Cup when the Breeders' Cup wasn't in California, and, secondly, when it's at the end of the meeting," Burge said.

He said a later California Cup date allows for more prep races to be run at the Los Angeles County Fair meeting at Fairplex Park and in the early weeks of the Oak Tree meeting.

The California Cup also will probably offer less purse money than last year, Burge said. In 2009, California Cup purses were worth $1 million, but this year a figure in the $800,000 range is more likely. The Classic, run over 1 1/8 miles, will be worth $150,000 to $200,000, Burge said. Last year, the race was worth $200,000.

"We have to take into consideration economics," he said.

Burge said that the lineup of races, particularly the minor events, is still under discussion, with plans expected in time for an early June announcement. This year, the starter handicaps for claimers may be dropped, but maiden races could be added to the card, similar to what is offered during the California Gold Rush program at Hollywood Park each April.

In addition, there may be one fewer six-figure stakes for older fillies and mares. In 2009, the program had three races for older females - the $100,000 Distaff on the hillside turf course, which drew 10 runners; the $100,000 Matron over 1 1/16 miles on the main track, which drew five; and $100,000 Distance Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf, which also drew just five runners.

Burge said there have been discussions about eliminating the Distance Handicap, which he said targets "very close to the same horses" as the Matron.

The 2009 California Cup was supposed to include 10 races, but offered nine. A $50,000 starter handicap over six furlongs did not draw sufficient entries. Some entrants to that race started in the $100,000 Sprint, which was won by eventual Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Dancing in Silks. A starter handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf drew just five starters.

That may have been the last time those races are run.

"We haven't finalized it yet, but we're taking a look at the races that are offered with the trouble we had last year filling a few of the races," Burge said. "We're looking at tweaking that and possibly eliminating two or three races and replacing those with races that we have a better chance of drawing better support."

Burge said the addition of maiden races on the California Cup program should ensure more attractive fields, which would entice interest from bettors, and that the races are likely to be well-supported by owners and trainers. Since last October, the owners of California-breds that win maiden special weight races in Southern California have been awarded a $20,000 bonus above purse earnings.

"This has been successful in getting people to run in maiden special weight races," Burge said. "If we're able to offer a $40,000 to $50,000 purse and a $20,000 bonus, you're getting everyone's attention.

"You try to offer races for as many horses as possible," he said. "We're still trying to finalize the actual stakes schedule for the day."