News and Notes Feb 14 – by Rod Young Turfdom

  • After rain on Saturday morning, Sunday was a beautiful day and the main track returned to a fast surface at the Great Race Place in Arcadia, California. The turf course was still labeled as “good” but the times were fast enough to call it a firm surface. Most of the weekend was pretty “chalky” but there was a $69 bomb in the finale Sunday, which gave one person the only winning pick six ticket resulting in a payoff of $148,205. Both the main track and the turf course played fair over the weekend. They race five days this week due to Presidents Day on Monday, and you know what that means, lots of short fields. They have 59 horses signed up for Thursday and only 55 for Friday, with 3 of the first 5 races yielding five horse fields. Del Mar in the Summer can handle five day race weeks. Santa Anita in the Winter cannot.
  • They ran two Grade 2 stakes on Saturday and the “money rider” Mike Smith won them both. It was pretty much a paid workout for Vale Dori at $2.60 in the Santa Maria stakes but Bolo, coming off a long layoff, was a bit more of a surprise at $14.60 in just a five horse field. Bolo just got up in the final strides to take the Arcadia Handicap in a thrilling finish and you could throw a blanket over the first four finishers. What a View may have run the best race and just got nailed right on the wire after leading the entire trip. Conquest Enforcer, the co-favorite at 6/5, looked like a winner at the 1/8th pole, but then hung in the final furlong and was third beaten about 3/4 of a length. All three will probably come back in the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile on Big Cap day March 11. With both Songbird and Stellar Wind enjoying some time off, Vale Dori is stacking up a bunch of Grade 2 wins beating up on allowance horses. She easily won the Santa Maria by two lengths over an improving Show Stealer for her 4th consecutive victory. She will be odds on in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita on March 18 as both Songbird and Stellar Wind won’t be back to the races until April or May. Smith didn’t win the Grade 2 on Sunday, as Flavian Prat, subbing for an injured Bejarano, picked up the mount named Iliad for Doug O’Neill in the San Vicente at 7 furlongs for sophomores. Iliad was the second choice in the wagering at 2/1, won by 3.5 lengths, all in the real good time of 1:21.62 on a pretty FAST main track. Battle of Midway, the 4/5 favorite, broke slowly, then never really got into the race and finished a distant third. The winner may come back in the San Felipe on March 11 and see if he can get two turns, which he undoubtedly can, and be on the Derby trail for owner Kaleem Shah, who moved his horses away from Baffert about a month ago.
  • Considering this is a five day Holiday week of racing, the stakes schedule is extremely light. There is only one graded stakes and that is the Grade 2 Buena Vista at a mile on the turf for older fillies/mares on Saturday. Prize Exhibit (Smith) and Mokat (Desormeaux) head up that field. On Sunday they have an un graded stakes called the Spring Fever (it’s still Winter) for older fillies/mares at six furlongs. Then on Monday they have the Baffle stakes for 3 year olds coming down the hill. Baffle was one of my favorite race horses back in the early seventies, and he had at least six or seven wins coming down the hill in his career. However, rain seems very likely once again, starting on Friday, and that can throw a monkey wrench into these races as rain is forecast for the entire weekend.

Bejarano went down in a spill on Saturday, then took Sunday off as a precaution, but will return to riding on Thursday. Prat and Baze both won two on Sunday and Prat remains 7 in front for the riding title, 32 to 25. Norberto Arroyo has been on six days of suspensions and will resume riding this Saturday, and Mario Gutierrez will be at Golden Gate Fields to ride Ann Arbor Eddie for Doug O’Neill in their premiere race, the El Camino Derby this Saturday. Ann Arbor Eddie is one of the “gamest” race horses on the grounds, and if he handle that synthetic surface, they won’t beat him. Richard Baltas is one up on both Miller and the Dorf in the trainer standings, 15 to 14, and that man D’Amato is lurking with 11 victories. The trainer race is very tight, to say the least.