No Rest for Racing Fans: Boutique Meets End, but Breeders’ Cup Excitement Builds

Racing fans at Del Mar. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

If you are a newcomer to the sport of horse racing, you might be surprised to learn that there is only one day in the calendar year when there is no live racing in the U.S. That is Dec. 25, Christmas Day.

I start my column with that fact because the non-stop nature of horse racing is either a curse or a blessing, depending on your point of view.

If you try and bet every single day, then horse racing can turn into a grind. It’s tough on your brain and sometimes on your wallet. The antidote for that is to take a break once in a while. To freshen up. If a racehorse can take a breather to recharge the batteries, then so can us humans.

On the other hand, you want to be involved when the sport puts its best foot forward. We've just wrapped up the closing meets at Del Mar and Saratoga. There has been a lot of memorable horse racing at both boutique summer meets.

Del Mar, in particular, has had a sensational meet, and in my mind, the biggest factor for this has been field size. To their credit, Del Mar has been able to average close to nine horses per race. Considering today’s national horse population, that means they must be cloning racehorses on the backside. I’m kidding, of course.

Another factor that has aided the simulcast side of business at Del Mar has been the wet weather at Saratoga. It has been the rainiest summer in many years at the Spa, forcing dozens of races that were taken off of the turf. Even adding main-track-only horses when races are transferred from turf to dirt has not been enough to overcome the reduced field sizes.

A lot of horseplayers may take a breather now that Del Mar and Saratoga have closed. But if you are prepared to keep riding it, in the horse racing carousel does not stop.

With just nine weeks until the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, there will be some major meets where the Cup participants will race in their final tune-ups.

The New York horses will move downstate to Belmont Park which opens on Friday, Sept. 7. When I worked for the New York Racing Association they called it the Belmont Park Fall Championship meet.

In Kentucky, where the two-day Breeders’ Cup will be held at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2 and 3, horses will be prepping at the grassy Kentucky Downs five-day meet in early September, and then at Keeneland which opens on Oct. 5. I could see the Keeneland meet in particular being popular with horsemen. The fall weather turns cooler and the chance to stable your horses in Kentucky and acclimate for a month are both positive factors.

Last, but certainly not least, Santa Anita Park opens on Sept. 28 following a 3-week long bridge meet at Los Alamitos. Powerful barns like those of trainers Bob Baffert, Jerry Hollendorfer, John Sadler, and Peter Miller, to name a few, will hone their hopefuls in one final Breeders’ Cup prep race.

Thus, the closing of Del Mar and Saratoga is only a turn-the-page moment for me. There is a lot of great racing coming up right on the horizon.

Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing.  For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on

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