Garry Jones / AP

Chrome continues to bring gold to California horse racing

Published: Thursday, Jul. 10, 2014 - 9:00 pm

It’s not Chrome, but Cal Expo hopes racing fans go for a new Gold Rush – and Gold Strike – when thoroughbred racing returns today to Sacramento.

State Fair officials anticipate the interest in Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner California Chrome will entice fans to check out the live racing – and maybe even buy or breed a racehorse some day.

“Definitely, California Chrome is good for the industry,” longtime racing publicist Sam Spear said. “He gets people excited about horse racing, not just as fans, but as owners.”

But before becoming an owner, you need to be able to afford to buy a racehorse. For fans who dream big, Cal Expo will offer two new 20-cent wagers with potential five- or six-figure jackpots. The Gold Rush Pick Six requires bettors to choose the winners of six consecutive races, but the full prize is paid out only if there’s one winning ticket; the majority of the pool carries over to the next day. Likewise, the Gold Strike High Five requires fans to pick the first five finishers of the last race in order but pays out fully only if just one ticket is correct.

“They’re 20-cent bets, but they can generate huge pools,” said Larry Swartzlander, the State Fair’s racing director. “We tried this at Pleasanton (at the recently concluded Alameda County Fair) and it was sensational. More than $275,000 was bet into the High Five on the last day.”

At Pleasanton, one 20-cent winning ticket paid $118,632.76 in the Gold Strike High Five. In the Gold Rush Pick Six, a 20-cent investment returned $58,989.92.

Although he won’t make an appearance at the fair, California Chrome already has been a winner for Cal Expo. Local interest in his exploits were no doubt spurred by his owners, first-time horse breeders Perry and Denise Martin of Yuba City and Steve and Carolyn Coburn of Topaz Lake, Nev. After suffering a hoof injury in the Belmont Stakes, California Chrome is expected to return to training next week.

“One of the best things to happen to California racing was California Chrome,” said Spear, noting recent spikes in attendance and wagering. “We hope the inspiration of California Chrome gets more people back into the game.”

A record crowd of about 4,000 packed Cal Expo’s simulcast center to watch California Chrome’s Triple Crown bid in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, said Cal Expo general manager Rick Pickering, who thinks many of those patrons will return to the grandstand this weekend. “Our previous (simulcast) record was 2,400,” he said. “A lot of good things for California racing came out of Chrome.”

Larger crowds in the grandstand’s simulcast center helped Cal Expo’s concessions partner have a profitable year, and part of those profits were used for a clubhouse makeover.

Because of a statewide horse shortage and changes in Southern California, Cal Expo will host seven days of racing – one fewer than 2013 – during the State Fair to mirror the south track schedule. The State Fair meet’s first three days overlap the closing weekend of Los Alamitos Race Course’s first major thoroughbred meet. Del Mar opens Thursday, a day later than its traditional Wednesday opening, so Cal Expo chose to skip Wednesday racing, too.

“We’re going for quality over quantity,” said racing secretary Tom Doutrich.

More allowance races will be part of Cal Expo’s schedule, Doutrich said. The meet’s highlight will be the $75,000 Governor’s Cup for fillies and mares July 19.

Next year, Cal Expo will expand its meet to three weeks, the full length of the State Fair, Pickering said.

“We generate more money into California racing than any other fair,” he said. “Our third week is traditionally our busiest week and those fans will finally see live racing. We’re really excited about that.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington.

Read more articles by Debbie Arrington

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