In what amounts to a horseplayer's version of the L.A. Marathon, or perhaps the Alaskan Iditarod, Santa Anita will be putting its patrons through the wringer Saturday with an unprecedented 8 1/2-hour, 15-race program highlighted by the seven-race Breeders' Cup series from Gulfstream Park in Florida.
Beginning at 9:30 a.m., three live races will precede the first televised Breeders' Cup event, scheduled for 10:55. After the Breeders' Cup Classic is declared official at about 2:35 p.m., there will be five more live races at Santa Anita, including the $75,000 Morvich Handicap.
By the time the dust has settled late Saturday afternoon, bettors will have gorged themselves on nine exactas, a daily double, a daily triple, a pick-nine and a pick-six that includes the first four Breeders' Cup races. There is an outside chance that the Santa Anita single-day handle of $15.4 million, set on Breeders' Cup Day in 1986, will be surpassed.
Last year, when the Breeders' Cup was held at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., local track officials were content to tack four live races onto the end of the telecast. Including all satellite betting facilities, the Southern California handle on the 1988 Breeders' Cup races alone was $6,761,286 on attendance of 41,640.
A total of $33.7 million was bet on the Breeders' Cup last year at 92 simulcasting sites in the United States and Canada. Northern and Southern California combined for 28% of that amount.
"Actually, we don't make that much money off the Breeders' Cup handle," said Ray Rogers, general manager of the Oak Tree meeting under way at Santa Anita. "We have to split our commission 50-50 with the host track, in this case Gulfstream Park."
Rogers said that the decision to beef up the local supporting program was prompted by a negative reaction to last year's Breeders' Cup day, which had no live racing until 3:16 p.m.
"That wasn't good enough for our patrons," Rogers said. "Particularly the special groups, who come out to see horses in action, not simply watch and bet on televised races."
With twice the live racing this year, Oak Tree figures to do considerably better than last year's corresponding $3,943,659 bet on non-Breeders' Cup events. Saturday programs at the current meet have been averaging about $7.7 million.
Ten other Southern California sites, among them Del Mar, will simulcast the entire card.
The Santa Anita pools will be separate from the betting at Gulfstream Park, which will make for some unusual discrepancies. Easterners and foreigners are often underestimated, while local horses are routinely overplayed. Last year, for instance, Turf winner Great Communicator, a West Coast favorite, paid $26.80 at Churchill Downs and $14.60 in Southern California.
Rogers said that he would have preferred interspersing live races among the televised Breeders' Cup events, precisely what is being done at Bay Meadows for the Northern California fans. However, said Rogers, there was no way the odds for two concurrent betting pools could be displayed at the same time.
In the meantime, racing secretary Tom Robbins noted that fan endurance is not the only problem to be faced Saturday.
"Simply filling eight races that day will be a challenge," Robbins said. "With most of the top riders out of town for the Breeders' Cup, some trainers will be inclined to pass a race rather than shop around for a new jockey."
Laffit Pincay, Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye, Alex Solis and Corey Black all have Breeders' Cup mounts.
"On top of that, we'll have to close the main track at 7:45 a.m., cutting back on the training hours," Robbins added. "And any horse in that first race on the Lasix list will have to get his shot at 5:30 a.m."
Local trainers are taking the split program in stride, even though some will have horses running in the morning and then in one of the later events. Eddie Gregson even found a way to make it work to his advantage.
"I've got a horse who trains great and runs lousy, a real morning glory," Gregson said. "I was hoping to get him in at 9:30 a.m. Then maybe he'll run his race before he knows what's really happening."