The Breeders’ Cup Forum: California Racing and Hollywood Park

by | 04.28.2011 | 6:42am
Martin Panza

As racing secretary and vice president of racing for Hollywood Park, Martin Panza is on the front line of California racing's battle to adapt to a changing environment of fewer owners and horses and increased competition from other racing states. The good news is that Panza is armed with lucrative, rising purses, the highest in the track's history.

Panza was named Hollywood Park's racing secretary in 1994.  He also serves as North American representative for the Dubai Racing Club, is a member of the North American Ratings Committee, served on the American Graded Stakes Committee and chaired a committee of racing secretaries whose work led to the expansion of the Breeders' Cup championships in 2008.

California racing is getting beaten up over a lot of issues (takeout increase, short fields, bad injury rate at Santa Anita's meeting).  Tell me a few things that are right with California racing?
From a horsemen's standpoint there are several positives about racing in California.

California is the only state to offer two year-round racing circuits. Whether a trainer is based in Northern California or Southern California they never have to move their operations to the extreme that a trainer back East may face. Stabling in California is free, which can be a significant savings for owners. Horse transportation from auxiliary training centers on race day is also complimentary. California still offers a large amount of graded stakes race opportunities.

Speaking for Hollywood Park, the overnight purse structure is at the highest level ever. The purse levels at Del Mar this summer will be outstanding. The weather in Southern California allows for turf racing throughout the year. The condition book, which dictates the racing product, is uniform and consistent from meet to meet on a year-round basis with an emphasis on trying to use the races that are offered in the book.

We are fortunate to have both TVG and HRTV based in Southern California, which probably gives us some sort of home field advantage on the media front.

Being under the spotlight all of the time makes you address the issues; some are easily fixed, while others will take time.

What are you proudest of in terms of the accomplishments under your tenure at Hollywood Park?
The creation of the American Oaks will always be close to my heart. It was one of the few American races that could attract horses from Japan and Europe on a yearly basis. More importantly, it strengthened my belief that racing can prosper if given the proper resources in the right environment and the courage to try something new.

The creation of the Breeders' Cup Marathon and some of the marathon dirt races now available in the United States came about through a series of meetings amongst various racing secretaries. Fortunately, Mr. (Greg) Avioli, Mr. (Bill) Farish and Mr. (R.D.) Hubbard, along with the rest of the Breeders' Cup board, were willing to take a chance in anchoring that pattern of races with the BC Marathon.

The first guaranteed wagering pool in the United States. The first few guaranteed $1,000,000 pick six pools at Hollywood Park were a lot of fun, I think they got into the $3,000,000 range. I give Mr. Hubbard and Keith Chamblin, then Director of Marketing, credit for taking the chance. As a result, there are guaranteed pools all over the country now.

Hollywood Park, several years ago, began offering a starter race “for horses which broke their maiden for $40,000 or less and had not won two races” — sort of a one other than allowance race for the winner of a maiden claiming race. In one fashion or another, this type of race has spread to a few tracks across the country.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges racing in California faces right now?
Leadership. It is not that we are lacking leadership; we just need to all get on the same page and move in the same direction if possible. You have three major racetracks in Southern California run by three different management groups; add the TOC, the CTT and the CHRB. That is a lot of opinions in trying to form a consensus. A lot of different agendas.

My opinion, since you ask:  Hollywood Park is not going anywhere for several years because of the downturn in the economy and the real estate market. Instead of focusing on closing Hollywood Park down as soon as possible and giving the dates to Santa Anita, we should be working as a group to develop a “game changer” for racing in California. I can't think of many tracks that run 10 months a year and can offer a desirable product on a continual basis. Giving any one track that many dates puts everyone else at the mercy of that track; way too much power for any one group to have.

The business of owning racetracks in California does not make economic sense regardless of the number of days you run. It is like the house is on fire and we are fighting about who gets to sleep in the master bedroom! We need to stop fighting over table scraps and start working together.

Hopefully as Santa Anita comes under private ownership, along with the hiring of Greg Avioli, the Stronach racing enterprise will get more engaged in California. California is a sleeping giant. We need to find a way to take advantage of the environment we operate within with its massive population and the sheer size of the local economies.

What is the Southern California horse population now compared to where it was about five years ago?
The horse population has dropped from well over 4,000 horses down to a low of around 2,400 over the last few years. There are encouraging signs in the last few months as several trainers have begun to increase their numbers. Numbers are for accountants though; they can go up and/or down and only tell part of the story. People such as Bobby Frankel or John Mabee, as examples, are hard to replace.

How much of that drop is due to the decline of California's breeding program?
There is no doubt that the number of horses that are produced each year in California is on the decline, the same could be said for most states in the country. I am not sure that we have felt that pain yet. Plus with two circuits running year round, things could get even more difficult down the road.

The CTBA recently started a bonus program for Cal-bred maiden allowance winners. A $20,000 bonus is paid to the owner of any Cal bred that wins a maiden allowance in Southern California or $10,000 in Northern California.

For example:
Current Cal Bred Maiden Allowance purse at Hollywood Park is $50,000, with 60 % to the winner, $30,000 (minus jock/trainer fees, $24,000.

–CTBA bonus check, $20,000, a total $44,000.
–Breeder award if owner/breeder (12%), $6,000, a total of $50,000.
–Stallion award if stallion owner (14%), $7,000, a total of $57,000
If an open maiden race 30% more on win, $8,000, a total of $65,000.

Since the inception we have seen an increase in the number of Cal-bred maiden allowance races offered and an increase in field size for those races. As the foal crop does declines it will mean fewer horses competing for over $30 million in Cal-bred monies.

Is it fair to say the shortage so far is really owners, not horses?
If the sport can make some economic sense for owners once again, then they will come back. As the demand increases for horses then so will the supply. Unfortunately there will be a lag time of two to three years due to the horse production cycle.

There is a perception that California trainers don't run their horses as often as trainers in other parts of the country do. Fair or unfair?
Through statistics from Equibase we know that our horses have several more workouts in California than in most other racing jurisdictions. Why that is I am not sure. I think some trainers feel comfortable running certain horses often and some prefer to be more selective. In choosing a trainer I would suggest owners put some research into each trainer's philosophy on this subject.

I don't think any trainer has horses ready to run and just is not entering. This economy probably will weed out the non-participants, as owners will increasingly not stand for it.

The increase in takeout on certain bets helped raise purses, but it looks as though it led to decreased handle. Have the purse increases had any measurable effect on owning horses, or is it too soon to tell?
Without a doubt we are beginning to see some trainers pick up more horses. It takes time but there is some light at the end of the tunnel despite all of the forces working against us. With higher purses the trainers now have a chance to recruit new owners or pick up new horses for existing owners. I would not want to imagine what the horse inventory would be like today without the purse increase.

Who would have guessed that Jerry Jamgotchian would have sent a string of horses to Santa Anita this winter!

As I stated earlier in the article, racing can prosper if given the right resources in the proper environment.

What options are there to offer a better product for horseplayers and still remain a financially viable industry for tracks, horse owners and industry employees?
In California, racetracks are going to have to walk a fine line with regards to the number of races offered in direct correlation to the active horse inventory. If one track over-uses the population if will have serious consequences for the next track.

What is better product? Is it higher field size? Who would have guessed 10 years ago that Belmont Park would be offering maiden claiming $25,000 races on the turf and they seem to handle well! I am not knocking NYRA but it shows you how much the game is changing. It is human nature to look back on times gone by and wish they could return.

In California, we are just beginning to expand our satellite/OTB outlets to try and expose the game to new patrons. I think Rick Baedeker has been put in charge of trying to help expand that network. In turn it should mean more purse money and some growth for the industry in areas where racing has not had a presence. I am envious of the whole New York OTB system, while I understand the financial woes, it has helped to make racing relevant throughout that state.

In this economy most of our fans probably can't afford to put money on account with an ADW provider and leave it there so the development of mini-OTBs should be beneficial. Racing is meant to be a social event, people want to brag about their latest winner, drink a few beers with their friends, check out the scenery, get out of the house for the day.

Hollywood Park, along with Dr. Allred at Los Alamitos Race Course, has begun to offer Monday and Tuesday dark day simulcasting in the Los Angeles area, which should help with the growth of the mini-satellites/OTBs while generating some additional purse money.

Owners can be helped by higher purses, and the races in the condition book going.

Industry employees are looking for job stability which correlates directly to the financial stability of the track at which they are employed.

Tracks will need to find new revenue streams wherever they may be available. In California I think it will need to be a “Game Changer” as stated earlier.

Are we approaching the point where California can no longer support two year-round racing circuits?
I think it is very important that Northern California/Golden Gate Fields survives. As an industry in California we need to do all we can to ensure their survival. We are very isolated on the West Coast and Northern California racing gives our horsemen another option.

Golden Gate Fields inherited the Bay Meadows race dates and I don't believe that has been a financial boom for the track. Sort of proving an earlier point, that shutting down Hollywood Park and giving the dates to Santa Anita will not resolve any of the core problems that the industry in California faces; it only further narrows our options.

If Southern California can get healthy from a horse population standpoint through higher purses, then eventually some of those horses will make their way to the northern California circuit.

Is three-day-a-week racing or weekends only on the horizon?

I don't think three-day race weeks are viable. There will not be enough opportunities for jockeys, owners or trainers unless there can be massive purse increases on the level of Hong Kong or Japan.

Most of our employees are working four days a week now and trying to survive. I would rather see fewer races run each day than the further reduction of racing days.

  • Bottom line: nothing is at it appears.

  • Rene Romero was an invited guest at a HPark breakfast for select V.I.P. customers to discuss ideas with GM Eual Wyatt.Martin Panza attended the meeting.Mr.Romero was the ONLY person that brought up the GUARANTEED P-6 idea not Panza.The invited V.I.P.guests at that meeting have known that for over a decade along with myself.

    The first Guarantee involving the P-6 was at HPark a year or so earlier.We had a weekend/holiday promotion that GUARANTEED $250,000-if it wasn’t hit then $500,000 then $750,000 and finally a Million dollars if there was ONE winning P-6 ticket and that ticket was purchased on-track at HPark.The marketing dept. paid the insurance premiums for the Guaranteed P-6 Bonus for 2 hits…if a customer won then we’d start over the next weekend at $250k again. Rick Baedeker was the head of Marketing at the time.The P-6 Bonus came close a few times but real close for a Million dollars.I remember Trevor Denman announcing that if this horse wins the last race the Million Dollar Bonus would be paid.Trevor’s best last race call in history….everyone including HPark officials wanted the horse to win (we paid the insurance so it wasn’t our money)and I want to say the horse name was Momoneymomomey (something like that)and Trevor called this cheap claiming race as if it was the Breeder’s Cup Classic…..around the far turn here comes Momoneymomoney and the crowd went nuts only for the horse to flatten out in the stretch to finish 4th or so.The P-6 Guaranteed Bonus wasn’t renewed the next year as I recall Rick Baedeker telling me the insurance premiums were raised and just too costly.The P-6 pools on-track increased 43% for that Spring/Summer meet and customers really enjoyed the promotion.Geez…that last race was exciting…the buzz and electricity as if it was yesterday.

    I informed some customers we wouldn’t be doing the P-6 Bonus for the upcoming meet and Rene first mentioned his P-6 Guarantee idea at this time when we were sitting in the clubhouse.Rene later brought up this same P-6 Guarantee idea at this breakfast that was requested by GM Eual Wyatt.

    Trevor was later fined by the stewards for announcing that there was a ticket alive with this one horse….now the graphics give that information. :)

  • steve

    Mr. Panza doesn’t sound very confident.

  • ITP

    Mr. Panza does not mention the words…bettor(s), horseplayer(s), customer(s) or takeout in any of his answers/statements.

    Imagine that. This is typical for most CA racing dolts.

    How can someone in this position not mention any of the above?

  • the-distaff-side

    I think Mr. Panza sounds realistic given all the negativity here in SoCal. He was forced to be creative in writing races some time ago and I know the $40,000 Starter races have been popular, providing a nice option for new winners while producing decent fields. Remember, years ago there was always a lull between the end of the Oak Tree meet and the start of the main Santa Anita meet (except for the 18-day LA County Fair meet at Pomona). HOL changed that in ’85 or so when they went with the one-turn mile and their Fall/Winter meet. And why not? 16-Horse fields were the norm of the day up and down the left coast. In a way, they sustained the problem of too much racing, but they are holding their own and are an option to shipping to the Bay Area. Plus their Fall Turf Festival attracts some of the best around. The three-day racing schedule would be the death of this sport here no doubt, but I personally find that unrealistic. Perhaps shaving a week to ten days off the local racing schedule every year would make a difference, at least initially. I wish Mr. Panza continued success and I don’t envy his position.

  • SixteenK Claimer

    Bay Meadows = a pile of rubble…Company that owns Hollywood Park = Could care less about Horse Racing….Hollywood Park is gone after 2012…embrace it…deal with it.

  • Mike R

    Panza said “California is the only state to offer two year-round racing circuits.” Maybe therein lies part of the problem. Calif. certainly does not have the largest horse population but is the ONLY state to have two year-round circuits. I agree with Panza that 3 days a week would not be good. How about then having a month break between meets and coordinate northern and southern schedules so sometimes they overlap and sometimes only one of them is running? At the time that Rene Romero made the guaranteed payout suggestion he and his group were some of the biggest day in and day out P.6. bettors at the track! Once again in racing someone champions an idea that is good for them–it just so happened that this one also turned out to be good for racing.

  • Mike R-
    Well you know Rene Romero then….if you see him, bring up the P-6 Guarantee…make sure he’s sitting down :)

    Rene was (I’m sure still is) a top handicapper who did focus on the P-6 each race day in So Cal and big Carryover’s elsewhere.He was a very gracious customer throughout my 9 years at HPark.

  • Mike R

    Roger–I have known Rene for about 40 years but have not seen him in quite awhile. I distinctly remember that it was his input that was the impetus to get Hollywood Park to try the guaranteed bet. Now 30 years later R.D. Hubbard and Keith Chamblin are getting the credit–oh well. Interesting concept–Hollywood Park listened to a bettor, tried something, and it worked–imagine that!

  • Jerry Jam

    ATTN: CA OWNERS, TRAINERS AND FANS

    MARTIN PANZA HAS THE KNOWLEDGE AND ABILITY TO SAVE CA HORSERACING…………. THE PROBLEM IS THAT NOONE WILL LISTEN TO HIM SO THERE IS NO HOPE WHATSOEVER!!!!

    FORGET CA HORSERACING AS THE LEADERSHIP (“BETFAIR BRACKPOOL ET AL) ARE MORE CONCERNED ABOUT GETTING EXCHANGE WAGERING OPERATING IN CA.

    THAT’S THEIR ONLY AGENDA AND IT WILL BRING AN END TO CA HORSERACING AS PURSES WILL DECLINE AND HANDLE WILL DISAPPEAR!!!

    IS THERE ANY REASON TO RACE IN CA, OTHER THAN THE WEATHER? THAT ANSWER IS A CLEAR NO!!!

    JERRY

  • Aaron

    Romero was only good with other peoples money backing him. Once the Ron Anson gravy train dried up he fell off the map with small stops at Los Al and Palm Springs trying to get a bankroll to back him.

  • Mike R-
    Martin Panza took all the credit…..he only mentions R.D. and Chamblin now. Keith did help him at the time with all the b.s media stuff.This wasn’t 30 years ago…14 years ago maybe….time flies:)

    Aaron- didn’t Rene have P-6 partnership with clocker Gary Young for years before Ron Anson? I thought I read something a few years back about Gary on how successful he was with P-6 partner Rene years ago. Anyway, it was Rene’s idea about the P-6 Guarantee and he was a nice and gracious customer.

  • Jerry Jam-
    Panza mentions the string you brought to Santa Anita because of purse increases via the takeout bill.Let me ask you….will that string still be out here if Santa Anita announces an overpayment from last meet and has to cut purses for the 2011-12 meet? I mean really Jerry….you’ve been around….how can a track announce a 25% increase in purses before the meet opened on Dec.26 and then wind up with mutuel handle numbers over $100 million LESS than the previous meet and not have a purse cut? How would someone on the outside know if indeed there was a PURSE OVERPAYMENT at Santa Anita? If there was an overpayment wouldn’t it be addressed at the next meet based on what I’ve read over the years that tracks do from time to time?

  • The Takeout is too Damn High

    Fix the real problem. The boycott is still on and will probably last forever.

  • If field size continues to drop, what’s going on now is going to be a bigger problem than it currently is.

    It may be time to seriously consider some form of consolidation of the two circuits. While Frank Stronach may not like the idea of Santa Anita seeing their dates reduced overall (after having just taken what had been the traditional Oak Tree dates away from them), but consolidating the two circuits into one, which inconvenient for some horsemen may be needed to assure larger fields and better overall racing. Assuming Hollywood Park stays open (as mentioned in the interview), what may be needed to be looked at are some serious changes where the winter Santa Anita and spring Hollywood Park meets are seriously shortened in particular, returning the meets to what they were in the 1960’s while Golden Gate only runs when there is no racing in Southern California EXCEPT for a very brief Hollywood Park fall meet to run the Autumn Turf Festival, while otherwise So. California is by itself except during the period of the California Fair circuit in the summer. One possible way of doing it for 2012 using this example:

    Santa Anita: Dec. 26-March 12 (Santa Anita Derby is run closing weekend)
    Hollywood Park: March 14-May 7 (Swaps become final So. Cal Derby prep)
    Golden Gate: May 9-June 25 (after which, the Northern California Fair Meets would take place)
    Hollywood Park: June 27-July 23 (with the No. Cal Fair Meets running)
    Del Mar: July 25-Sept. 12 (returning to its former closing date, with the No. Cal Fair Meets running through late August)
    Fairplex: Sept. 13-Oct. 1
    Santa Anita (ex-Oak Tree): October 3-29
    Golden Gate: October 31-Dec. 23 (running by itself EXCEPT for a brief Autumn Turf Festival Meet at Hollywood)
    Hollywood Park (Autumn Turf Festival): Nov. 22-Dec. 3

    Obviously, stakes would have to be adjusted for this, and there actually could be some instances (except with the former Oak Tree Stakes that would be run at Santa Anita in the fall) where some Santa Anita stakes could be moved to Golden Gate and run during one of the two meets there, boosting their stakes schedule considerably.

    What this also would allow is for the California tracks to more easily return to a mainly five-day-a-week schedule, getting back some of the dates that would otherwise be lost in this consolidation, along with the return of ending meets on a Monday as used to be the case in California.

    It may not be the popular way to go, but at this point, it may be best for all at this point.

  • backstretch

    California welcome to the real world??? There are many racing circuits with lack of horses. Frank Stronach will kill California racing as looks like he wants all racing at Santa Anita. Hey Frank won’t work???? California horsemen need to come together and speak up for better times. Stronach and Magna have killed Maryland Racing completely. Mr.Panza how about 7 and 7 with Golden Gate. 14 races a day with 7 at each location and spaced a race from Hollywood and then a race from Golden Gate Fields???? Bigger fields leads to more handle!!!!!!!

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