In a sport apparently in need of millennials, California has been attracting them this week. Unfortunately, twenty-something-twitter-memes involving gifs of burning dumpsters is not exactly positive.
Although I don't believe that a cancelled Thursday card signifies the death of the sport on the left coast, I do certainly think California racing isn't hunky dory.
Racing, in a state that would be the eighth largest country (in terms of GDP) in the world, struggles, and it has continually confounded us.
Sure, we can point to the fact that studies completed as far back as 1989 have told them to lower the juice and be more customer-friendly (while they have arguably done the opposite).
We can point to a 12 Monkey's, X-Files CHRB meeting moment where everyone applauded a takeout increase (seriously, could you see any board of directors applauding a price hike..... "Reuters reported the Ford BOD applauded that their cars just got more expensive"). There are seemingly one-hundred issues.
But one issue seems to stand out like a sore thumb. In the land of movie studios and warm weather, it seems things are different with the horse population.
O_Crunk put it this way a month or two ago:
So, we have 74% of the horses in the US working to start. In California, that number drops to 66%.
There are many ways to interpret that, but there sure seems to be something there.
Anecdotally, I noticed similar at the Great Race Place when I was slamming the money through the windows (before the takeout hike, after which I stopped betting) and studying it each day.
Jcapper (a program used to analyze the races) has a nice feature called "Workout Score". This algo looks at frequency and speed of works and assigns a number to the horse. There can be "no score" (horses who rarely, if ever work, but race often, or no data), to a score of 57 or 58, which are lights out, bullet after bullet, every six days or so.
I noticed, again anecdotally, that California trainers seem to have so many big scores compared to other trainers. I see it even to this day, with shippers. If there's a "57", chances are it's a Baffert, or Miller, or O'Neill.
Analyzing the data deeper (to make it more encompassing and less anecdotal) let's have a look at workout scores from 2106, at Santa Anita, Gulfstream and Belmont.
The differences are striking.
I do want to be perfectly clear - in a world where I follow both Trump haters and likers, where I see the same data being spun based on that view in back to back tweets - we can't be guilty of the same thing.
The above data should not be used to form a conclusion, but be treated as something that needs to be examined further. There could be some chicken or egg (workout times are expressive of the inventory and not the other way around), no charted works could happen more often in the east, etc. As well, this data should be subset, and subset again, probably being buttressed or eliminated via in-person interviews and field tests.
However, it does appear that - for whatever reason - a whole lot more horses do their racing in the morning in California.
I have always been of the opinion that California's issues have been deeper than most think. It's more than raising prices and thinking it's a great idea. It's more than what we read on twitter when the stews don't bring a horse down.
It has always seemed cultural and structural and these are the most difficult problems to solve. For that reason, I think Tim Ritvo is up against it. I wish him luck.
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