06/20/2014 2:24PM

Race betting in California up this year

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CYPRESS, Calif. – All-sources mutuel handle on all California racetracks, including Quarter Horse and harness, showed an increase of almost 3 percent for the year through May, according to Rick Baedeker, the executive director of the California Horse Racing Board.

During a report at the outset of Thursday’s monthly racing board meeting, Baedeker said Thoroughbred racing at the major tracks is up almost 5 percent for the year through May, but night racing – Quarter Horses and lower-level Thoroughbreds at Los Alamitos and the harness racing in Sacramento – is down 12 percent, with 10 percent fewer racing days than last year.

Baedeker said handle on Thoroughbred races had shown an increase of almost 14 percent in May, with account wagering through the Internet leading the way.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in business in account wagering for the entire year,” he said.

Baedeker said handle at the night meetings was down 1 percent in May, with three fewer racing days compared with 2013.

◗ Mutuel handle at Santa Anita’s spring-summer meeting has been higher than expected, leading to a projected surplus in the purse account when the meeting ends June 29.

On Thursday, executives with the racetrack and the Thoroughbred Owners of California said it was unclear whether the purse underpayment would be enough for a retroactive purse payment, or whether the extra money would be set aside for the track’s autumn meeting.

Both Santa Anita president Tom Ludt and TOC president Joe Morris said in interviews that their organizations are in favor of developing uniform purse levels for the three race meetings at Santa Anita.

The purses for the current meeting are higher than those from last fall in some categories. For example, a maiden special weight race for sprinters is worth $56,000 at the current meeting, compared with $48,000 last fall. An optional claimer – for first-condition allowance horses or $40,000 claimers – is worth $58,000 at this meeting, or $7,000 more than last fall.

Some purses are similar. A $20,000 claiming race for maidens was worth $20,000 last fall and is worth $19,000 at this meeting. Purses for $9,000 to $10,000 claimers are the same at $19,000.

Ludt described a move for uniformity in prize money as “better for the horsemen.”

Until 2010, uniform purses at Santa Anita were not feasible since the track’s autumn meeting was operated by the Oak Tree Racing Association, which leased Santa Anita. Santa Anita has operated the autumn meeting since 2011.

“I think year-round purses make sense,” Morris said.

Morris said it was “hard to say” whether the purse surplus would be enough to necessitate a retroactive purse increase.

Morris said uniform purses at Los Alamitos this year will be a goal between the track’s July and December Thoroughbred meetings, but the same objective is unlikely at Del Mar since the track’s summer meeting is expected to draw considerably higher handle than an autumn meeting in November, which will be held there for the first time since the late 1960s.

Santa Anita is offering a record number of racing days this year, with a 69-day meeting from Dec. 26, 2013, through April 21, the current 39-day meeting from April 26 through June 29, and a 23-day autumn meeting from Sept. 26 through Nov. 2. The track added its current meeting following the permanent closure of Hollywood Park last December.

◗ Morris said the California Marketing Committee, which was formed in 1998, will use its funds to recruit horses to California. In recent years, Del Mar has formed a successful horse-recruitment program for its summer meeting.

Over the years, the committee’s funding has been used for a variety of purposes, including marketing and publicity and increasing overnight purses on the biggest days of racing.