by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

Saratoga typically dominates the racing scene in late July and August, so it was good news for Del Mar that the West Coast track had its opening a week earlier than the Spa this year, putting it in the national spotlight at least for a few days.

And a very good debut  it was, with the largest opening-day crowd in history – despite an increase in parking and admission prices, soaring gasoline prices and a spiraling economy. A stubborn TVG (do they have any friends left in the industry?) continues to make it difficult for fans to wager online, and that factor had to contribute to a 10% drop in handle.

Last year's problems with the newly installed Polytrack (the afternoon heat softened the wax, making it more like mushytrack) seem to have been corrected, and the race times in the afternoon are several seconds faster than they were in 2007. Just as important, the track is safe – so far. But horseplayers can't be blamed for holding back a bit on their Del Mar wagers if they're uncertain about the kind of track they'll be getting. More closers than front-runners seem to be winning, but the track is playing fair.

Speaking of playing fair (or not), why did the controlling members of the Breeders' Cup board of members and trustees gang up to keep NetJets founder Richard Santulli off the 14-member operating board of directors in a recent election? Santulli is a highly respected businessman who brings everything to the table you'd think the Breeders' Cup board needs. Apparently, however, he lacked the one thing the controlling members wanted: a nodding head.

One fellow the controlling board members favor is Terry Finley, the founder and president of West Point Thoroughbreds, a successful racing partnership. The week after Finley was re-elected to the Breeders' Cup board, the organization teamed up with West Point in a creative promotion  for the popular ESPY Awards on ESPN that gave all the participating celebrities and athletes the opportunity to redeem a free share in a West Point horse and enjoy a free, VIP trip to the Breeders' Cup championships. West Point in turn would be able to promote the celebrity/athletes as a West Point partner. No matter how innocent the choice of West Point may have been, it's amazing no one within the Breeders' Cup saw the potential to read this as another good ol' boy deal of “we'll scratch your back if you scratch ours.”

A guest editorial submitted to the Paulick Report by Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield is sure to have heads shaking with disagreement in some corners over Whitfield's proposal to amend the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 to address some of the issues the industry is struggling with, including medication. Kentucky's newly configured racing commission and the California Horse Racing Board took steps this past week to regulate anabolic steroids, and that's a good thing, but Whitfield's efforts may be gaining momentum in Congress.

A Paulick Report reader called it typical for the “land of fruits and nuts” when Calilfornia Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed former actress Bo Derek  to the California Horse Racing Board, but what's wrong with having someone whose life is largely committed to the protection of animals (horses in particular) on a governmental board that regulates horse racing? We weren't the only one to call the appointment a “10.”

Interesting that on the same day the Paulick Report was writing about the death of print coverage of horse racing (at least in the Los Angeles Times, the nation's fourth-largest newspaper that axed its two racing writers) , Jess Jackson was stimulating interest with an online poll asking the public to help him guide Curlin through the rest of his racing career. Sure, it's a gimmick, but it's a smart one that got a lot of people talking about racing's biggest star instead of racing's biggest problems. Within a couple of days, more than 10,000 people had voted in the poll. Go here  to vote or see the current results of the poll.

Anyone else wondering what's up at the Downs? Churchill Downs, the publicly traded company cut a couple of dozen jobs  this past week in the wake of a falling share price. CEO Bob Evans hasn't pulled a rabbit out of his hat yet, and neither has the team of techies he put together in California's Silicon Valley to develop new products and ideas. Confrontations with horsemen over distribution of account wagering revenue haven't been productive to Churchill Downs or the industry. 

By Ray Paulick

Copyright ©2008, The Paulick Report

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