Updated on 03/05/2015 10:10PM

Crist: All eyes on first Saturday in March


If you’ve been hibernating the last four weeks – a perfectly reasonable response to the brutal winter weather in so much of the country – you may want to emerge from your den Saturday: There’s important racing at four tracks, including 11 graded stakes worth nearly $4 million. March is coming in like a lion in more ways than one.

The Santa Anita Handicap is the million-dollar headliner, with Shared Belief odds-on against 12 seemingly overmatched opponents, including last year’s Whitney winner, Moreno. Shared Belief, 9 for 10 in his career, has won the Malibu and San Antonio stakes in his last two starts. The Big Cap is carded as the finale on an outstanding 11-race card that concludes with five straight stakes races, including the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile and a showdown among Dortmund, Lord Nelson, and Ocho Ocho Ocho in the Grade 2 San Felipe.

The San Felipe is the best of four graded races for classic-bound 3-year-olds around the country Saturday, which feature the season debuts of the two beaten favorites in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. At Gulfstream, Champagne Stakes winner Daredevil starts his campaign in the seven-furlong Swale, and at Tampa Bay Downs, Breeders’ Futurity winner (and Juvenile runner-up) Carpe Diem starts his campaign in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby.

There’s also the Grade 3 Gotham at Aqueduct, weather permitting, where El Kabeir will be favored against nine opponents seeking their first stakes victories. Aqueduct has two other stakes races, including the Tom Fool, with Salutos Amigos seeking a fourth straight stakes score, but has cleverly scheduled them as the third and fourth races on a 10-race card, apparently so as to have an unbroken quartet of statebred races from the fifth through eighth.

A race that may get lost in the shuffle is the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap for older males, with three major stakes winners making their first starts of 2015: Honor Code, the 2013 Remsen winner; Wicked Strong, last year’s Wood Memorial winner; and Private Zone, who scored Grade 1 victories last year in the Vosburgh and Cigar Mile.

I admit to having a soft spot for Tampa Bay Derby Day. Unlike the other host tracks of this weekend’s stakes, this is Tampa Bay’s biggest day of the year. The track goes all out, and it’s a particularly lively and festive day at the races. The stakes sequence of the Challenger, Florida Oaks, Hillsborough, and Tampa Bay Derby begins a little before 4 p.m. Eastern.

It’s a day of compelling coast-to-coast racing that bolsters the idea that perhaps a “first Saturday of the month” focus could work for the sport. The first Saturday of February featured the Shared Belief-California Chrome showdown in the San Antonio and two Grade 1 races at Gulfstream. The first Saturday in April will include three $1 million, Grade 1 races for 3-year-olds – the Blue Grass, Santa Anita Derby, and Wood Memorial – as well as the Grade 1 Ashland, Carter, and Santa Anita Oaks. I believe there’s also a big race somewhere on the first Saturday in May.

Withholding reform gets a call

In a move that could ultimately prove more important for bettors than the result of any particular race this weekend, the Internal Revenue Service on Monday issued a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Public Hearing” regarding possible changes to IRS reporting and withholding requirements for gambling winnings. While the text of the notice mainly discusses bingo, keno, and slot-machine payoffs, there is a paragraph soliciting comment on the possibility of changing these requirements for pari-mutuel wagering as well.

The idea that has been proposed by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association is to make a bettor’s entire investment on a multihorse wager his base bet. If someone invests $24 on a pick-something, it would be reportable only if it pays 300 times that $24, or $7,200, rather than the current practice of pretending that the bettor made only a single winning wager and reporting proceeds as low as $602.

This is a long-neglected issue that deserves the industry’s full attention and whatever arm-twisting influence it can exert. Putting the hundreds of millions of dollars now unfairly withheld each year back into circulation to be repeatedly churned could lift the national handle by 10 percent in Year 1, as well as wooing back players who have fled the game because of onerous tax requirements.

HatzOffToNixon More than 1 year ago
Steve, the miracle is not that many have fled, but how many have STAYED. Your 10% increase might be a lowball estimate.
Chuck Seeger More than 1 year ago
The concept of the churn means that the money taken by the IRS will all eventually end up in the hands of the state, track owners, purses..... meaning not the player, unless the score is made and no further wagers are ever made. This is the best form of gambling (playing against everyone else) that cannot be played because of the takeout rates. Even if it was a clean game, which we all know is a ridiculous thought.
Mary Reynolds More than 1 year ago
What a fantastic day of racing! (The UNC-Duke game tonight will be almost anticlimactic....Go Heels). Fantastic Derby preps with so many of the most talented 3 year olds competing AND some of our best older horses racing including Wicked Strong, Private Zone, Salutos, Za Approval with, arguably our best dirt horse in the Big 'Cap. So, get out your PPs, make your bets and enjoy an amazing day watching these gorgeous athletes!
Richard Helfman More than 1 year ago
Positive news - hopefully - from IRS. But EVERYBODY, except yours truly, forgets that the reason the IRS came up with this 300-1 (on a $2 wager, standard in its day), i.e. a $600 payoff, business in the first place was because $600 WAS THE STANDARD DEDUCTION IN THAT TIME. So, if the IRS (read Congress of the USA, since the IRS doesn't make any laws, and they'll be the first to tell you so if you confront them about anything) wanted to play fair, they wouldn't bother anybody today unless that person hit a payout over $7500, today's standard deduction. Naturally, anybody reading this should at once - you can wait until Monday - call your congressional reps and let 'em have it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All eyes on the first Saturday in March...and unfortunately they'll have to watch TVG and their "talent" instead of HRTV's talent. Good for the sport?
Frank Reach More than 1 year ago
Thanks for the article Mr. Crist. Always great to read your thoughts. Super Saturday every 1st Saturday of the month. That would be a great national horse race promotion. Hopefully, the IRS will change the policy on parimutuel wagering.....long over due...but, I'll stay positive on the subject , as no question it would help us all. Saturday will be a great day of racing on all angles. Above all else, let's hope all the entrants return to their barn healthy and ready for the first Saturday in May.
George Cernansky More than 1 year ago
There is no all stakes pick 4 according to the past performances.
George Cernansky More than 1 year ago
There is no all stakes pick 4 at tampa.
Matthew Linda Jr. More than 1 year ago
Steven Crist ?? Ever wonder what an Owner does with his PRIZE Thoroughbred when he can't compete anymore .. That same answer could be your legacy. Time to hangup your bridle and go fishing.
harrison More than 1 year ago
Correct! DRF never customer service(?) never returns a phone call!! The columnists never respond back to emails. It all starts at the head and Mr. Crist has either instructed these employees to not respond or doesn't really care about the loyal customer!
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
i hit a superfecta and a trifecta and exactas at DELTA DOWNS 4th race Wednesday and as i waited for the prices to be posted they announced a tote malfunction.as i waited thinking it was going to be resolved so i could cash my tickets an announcement came that the race had been declared a non race due to the tote malfunction. Unbelievable even when you win you loose in this game.
Brandon Layer More than 1 year ago
That's the racing gods punishing you for betting Delta Downs on a Wednesday.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
another reason I quit betting horses. Between the uncoupled entries, high takeout, and the high expenses ($7.50 racing form). It is a losing proposition.