Week 17 is in the books at Santa Anita Park and the weather continues to be good with most of any rain in the rear view mirror. Management continues to have large cards to try and make up for many of the days that have been lost in the past. Saturday had 12 races and Sunday had 10. The main track favored early speed on Friday but played fair over the weekend. The turf course continues to play fair regardless of where the inner rails are placed. Jockey Ramon Vasquez has been the hot rider recently winning four on Saturday and has now moved into second place in the rider standings. Racing returns this Friday with a Rainbow pick six pool at $277,762 for any single ticket winner. Kentucky Derby day is this Saturday with an early 1st post of 12:30 here at Santa Anita. We will have selections out for both SATURDAY and SUNDAY this week and Saturday’s card will be put out on Friday evening.
STAKES RECAP: They ran four stakes over the weekend, two each Saturday and Sunday, and all four ended up with small fields. That’s the way it seems to be at Santa Anita these days, as the race ready stakes horses ship back east for more lucrative purses, and it’s hard to blame the owners and the trainers locally with the continued increased costs of keeping horses in training. Five ended up going to the post in the Grade 3 Providencia stakes for sophomore fillies on Saturday at 9 furlongs on the infield turf course. Ancient Peace was made the odds on favorite off her last two impressive races, but she got in a speed duel with Broadway Girls, and neither one of them were around at the finish. The Phil D’Amato trained Paris Secret, who only had a maiden win to her credit, sat well off the pace, but came to the leaders at the top of the lane and went on to a ¾ length victory under Kadashi Kimura, who flew in from Toronto for the mount. Longshot Pleasant Wave put in a good run down the lane and finished a strong 2nd with Broadway Girls four lengths further back in third. With Ancient Peace off the board in a five horse field, the show prices were huge with the winner paying $6.00, the runner up $11.60 and “Broadway” $7.00. D’Amato will focus on the Del Mar stakes program now with the winner, namely the San Clemente on July 22 and the Del Mar Oaks on August 19. The other stakes on Saturday was the Grade 2 Santa Maria for older fillies and mares at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and they also had but five runners. This race was pretty much decided in the morning when Mongolian Panther became a late scratch and Adare Manor became the lone speed. She went off at 3/5 under leading rider Juan Hernandez and made every pole a winning one winning off by five at the wire. Big Switch did all she could to try and stay with her early on, but just didn’t have the early speed to do so. She ended up a well beaten third while Bellamore came on late to get second. It really wasn’t much of a race when a classy runner such as Adare Manor is the lone speed in the race on a track that usually favors speed. Bob Baffert was the winning conditioner.
They ran two stakes on Sunday, both were on the turf and both were for older fillies and mares. The Grade 3 Wilshire was at a mile on the turf and though there were only six runners, it was still very much a contentious race. Closing Remarks went off as the 9/5 choice but didn’t have her normal rally and was off the board. Quattroelle, who was a Best Bet on the day for Turfdom, was off at 5/2 but stumbled badly at the start to lose her best chance. However, that man Phil D’Amato, who dominates on the turf course like no trainer since Charley Whittingham, won his 4th stakes over the weekend (two were at GGF) with Macadamia, the South American bred ridden expertly by Tiago Pereira and paid $8.20. She won by a length over Quattroelle, who still ran a strong race in spite of the bad start. It was two lengths more back to Very Scary, the third horse. Rhea Moon, another D’Amato runner was a late scratch when she hurt herself in her stall with a leg cut. The winner may look at the Grade 1 Gamely stakes on May 29 along with possibly Rhea Moon. Six also went to the post in the mile and a half Santa Barbara, an ungraded stakes with a purse of $100K. Duvet Day and Queen Of the Temple were both 2/1 co-choices in this marathon and that was the exacta as the latter won by a neck over the fast closing Duvet Day. Recent maiden winner Exit Soul set the pace and ran huge for Kent Desormeaux, just failing to last on the lead and ended up a neck further back in third. This was just the second win for “Temple” as she has had six seconds in her career out of 13 starts and was handled perfectly by the veteran Joe Bravo for trainer Dan Blacker. Duvet Day was stuck down on the rail for most of the race and appeared to have no chance at the top of the stretch, but once J.J. got her to the outside at the 1/8 pole, she put in a strong stretch kick and would have gotten there in a few more jumps. But the wire came up just in time for Queen Of the Temple who increased her earnings to $237,840.
THIS WEEK’S STAKES: They have three stakes lined up for this week, but that almost becomes secondary when the most popular race in America is held in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday. We will have our selections for that race and all of Saturday’s card out on Friday evening. The two stakes on Saturday will be the Grade 3 Seniorita stakes at six and a half down the hill for three year old fillies and the ungraded Laz Barrera stakes at 7 furlongs on the main track for sophomores. Laz Barrera was the trainer of Triple Crown winner Affirmed, one of the two greatest race horses that I have seen at the track in person in my life. Spectacular Bid was the other. Then on Sunday, three year olds remain in the limelight with the running of the ungraded Singletary stakes at 9 furlongs on the grass.
THE HALL OF FAME: Corey Nakatani finally got voted into the Hall of Fame this past week and deservedly so. The Southern California rider won 3909 races in his career and had earnings of a whopping $234 million plus. He won 341 graded stakes in his 20 year career and 10 Breeders’ Cup races. If that isn’t deserving of being in the Hall, nothing is. And he did all of that while competing with such talented riders as Pincay, McCarron, Delahoussaye, Stevens, and Solis amongst many others. Corey was a gifted rider but often turned people off by saying what was on his mind. The three other inductees were all horses and all three of them were based in Southern California, i.e. Arrogate, California Chrome, and Songbird. All three made it in on the first year of eligibility and all three had dynamic careers. 82 year old jockey Fernando Toro also made it into the Hall voted in by the Historic Review Committee and will join Nakatani for the presentation at Saratoga on August 4th of this year. Toro won 3555 races in his 24 year career and was an outstanding turf rider. Born in Chili in 1956 he was based in Southern California as well and seldom left the circuit to ride elsewhere. “Toro on the turf” was the rallying cry at many of Hollywood Park turf races in the 70’s and the 80’s.
DERBY DOINGS: As I write this on Tuesday morning, the field of 20 for the Kentucky Derby this Saturday looks set. Forte will be the favorite and is listed at 3/1 or 7/2 depending on whose morning line you look at. He figures to be around 5/2 at post time and certainly is a deserving favorite. However, since 1908 the favorite has won this race just 28% of the time, so no matter how good he looks, he is vulnerable on that basis alone. Like all favorites, he has to overcome 3 issues, and they are not small ones. 1. He has to deal with a 20 horse field, which he will never see again in his lifetime. 2. He has to deal with 10 furlongs, which he has never done before. 3. He has to deal with a tremendous amount of noise, which he has never seen at this level before. Horses hate noise and they are not used to 150,000 people screaming and yelling all at once. So once again, Forte, who drew post 15, which is OK, has lots to overcome, as does any horse in the race. It’s going to be a crapshoot and this is one race where the name of the horse or the color of the silks may be as good as anything. With the ill fated Wild on Ice having dropped out this past week due to an injury, and then having to be euthanized, Skinner gets in the field, drew post position #9 and is listed at 12/1. The proverbial “hanger” does have a shot, especially with John Shirreffs changing riders to Juan Hernandez. This will be his 1st Derby and this was a crushing blow to his regular rider Victor Espinoza who has won the “Run for the Roses” three times. This was not Shirreff’s call as the owner wanted J.J., and who could blame him. Hernandez is the NOW rider and Espinoza is just a shell of what he once was. Age does that to all of us and once you reach the age of 50 in this profession, you just can’t do what you could at 25 or 30, and that happens to all of them sooner or later. Skinner is bred to get the trip, is training strongly, and J.J. just might be the answer for this colt. At his price, he certainly is worth a flyer. We will have all of our selections for this race and the complete Saturday Santa Anita card out on Friday evening.
THE RIDERS: Most of the jocks on this circuit put in an all out effort to win just about any race and if anything, they are overly aggressive with the use of the whip, and are often fined and/or suspended because of it. But that’s not the case with Mario Gutierrez, who rides just about every race like he’s out for a morning stroll. His ride on New York Dreams in the first race at Santa Anita Saturday was a joke, as he sat like a statue on the horse for the entire race and never moved a muscle to ask this horse for any run at any time. Off at 5/1, New York Dreams was certainly a contender in this race for trainer Steve Knapp and I doubt that Gutierrez was riding to trainer instructions. He sat a perfect trip down the back side and had plenty of horse turning for home, but Mario did absolutely nothing to encourage this horse to contend down the lane. Now if this was a one time instance, I wouldn’t bother bringing this up, but this is the way Gutierrez rides 90% of his mounts. Why would any trainer bother giving this guy a leg up on any horse when there is no effort put forth at any point in the race? And why do the three stooges (excuse me, the three stewards) allow this to happen on a daily basis without some type of a fine and/or suspension? This looks bad to the wagering public when a rider makes no effort to try and win the race. This rider doesn’t have much talent to begin with and if it wasn’t for owner Paul Reddam giving him mounts on a regular basis, he would never cut the mustard on this circuit. But any trainer who trains for Reddam knows well in advance that Gutierrez gets the mount if he has a horse in the race. And Reddam puts more horses through the entry box than any other owner on this circuit, year after year. And without horses to run in these races, there is no racing. How Gutierrez ever won two Kentucky Derbys for this man is beyond me, but he did, with both I’ll Have Another and Nyquist, and I guess that type of loyalty goes a long way with Reddam. Trainers like Doug O’Neill, Ed Freeman, Ben Cecil, and recently Antonio Garcia, train for Reddam and I’m sure that when they have a “live” mount, they cringe having to give a leg up to a guy who will produce a half baked effort. Kent Desormeaux often acted the same way as Gutierrez, only he had much more talent to offer when he wanted. He doesn’t act like that as much anymore, because when you’re 53 years old and you’ve been ruled off the track by the owners of the track more than once, if you want to ride, you better show the trainers you are hungry. Because of his relationship with Reddam, Gutierrez gets a free pass and does just about what he wants and that is criminal. The stewards need to do the job they are paid for and not allow this to continue. Racing doesn’t need any more bad looks than they already have.