News and Notes for March 17, 2020
- Wow, what a difference one week makes. As the nation tries to get their arms around the deadly Coronavirus, the country has almost come to a standstill with regards to our everyday lives. With all the major sporting events either completely shutting down or at least postponed for some time, thoroughbred racing becomes the ONLY GAME IN TOWN. They won’t allow you to go to the track, as they have cancelled all on site spectators throughout the country, but you can watch and wager from home, which most people do anyway. Some satellite shops are open, but they are limiting the count to 200/250 people, if they are open at all. Most of the tracks are running around the country without spectators, but a few are closed down completely like Turf Paradise in Phoenix. Parx racing in Pennsylvania is shut down for two weeks and then will evaluate their situation. More tracks are shutting down as we write this and there will be an update at the end of this column. Locally, Santa Anita escaped rain over the weekend, how, I don’t know. In fact the track was fast most of Saturday and safe as well. It’s great having Dennis Moore back as superintendent of the racing surfaces. The track played fair on Saturday, but rally wide closers on the outside dominated early in the day Sunday, but the rail was good in the last tthree races on a surface rated as “good”. There was no turf racing over the weekend and the two turf stakes scheduled have been moved out on the racing calendar. Racing returns on Friday, but with no pick six c/o, as it was taken down Sunday by one ticket worth $421,150. Turf racing will be back this coming week.
- They only had one stakes over this past weekend and it was a dandy as older fillies and mares went a mile on the main track in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile. Hard Not to Love was the heavy 3 to 5 favorite in this field, but this was her first time going two turns and until they actually do it, one never knows for sure, especially having to leave from the rail. She figured to stalk the pace in this one as she had done in her sprints, but under a questionable ride by Mike Smith, he gunned her to the lead into the clubhouse turn and they pretty much set suicide fractions of 22.63 and 45.72 for the half. When the real racing began in the stretch, she couldn’t hold off the perfect tripper Ce Ce, who was loaded turning for home. The latter won by three and Hard Not to Love did well to hold second. Ce Ce has come back a monster this year as this was just her second start back and she won her first, a sprint, by four going away. She received a Beyer rating of 100 for the race. The race prior to this, Baffert sent another of his amazing sophomores to the gate, and Charlatan did not disappoint, as he simply destroyed a decent field of allowance runners winning off by 10. This was just his second start of his career and first going two turns. Charlatan ran the mile in 1:36.24, received a Beyer of 106, and Grade 1 older runners ran their race, one race later in five lengths slower time of 1:37.33. With Nadal taking down the Rebel stakes Saturday in wire to wire fashion against a good field, Baffert is loaded with good sophomores heading for the Derby. This duo along with Authentic, who is already proven at two turns against good horses, Baffert just wants the Derby to run on May 2nd, and that may not happen. The word is that Churchill doesn’t want to run that day without on track attendance. They will announce their decision this coming week.
- Two Grade 3 stakes on the grass are lined up for this Saturday, both for older runners, with the San Luis Rey at a mile and a half and the San Simeon at five and a half. The nine year old Ashleyluvssugar will be setting a record when she runs in the San Luis Rey, as the first horse to run in the same stakes race for four consecutive years. That has never been done at Santa Anita in its history dating back to 1934. One of John Sadler’s ace sprinters, Cistron, heads up the San Simeon, which originally was going to be run this past Saturday. On Sunday, older Cal breds are in the limelight in the Sensational Star stakes at five and a half on the turf.
- The jockey race at Santa Anita has turned into a four man race, primarily because such top riders as Joel Rosario and Flavien Prat are in demand around the country, as Rosario spent Saturday at Oaklawn where he knocked down the Rebel stakes with Nadal. At the conclusion of Sunday, Prat is on top with 41 wins, Rosario has 37, Abel Cedillo 36, and Umberto Rispoli has 34. The latter has a new agent, as he picked Scotty McClellan to handle his book starting the first of April. McClellan is very good and was sitting on the sidelines once Joe Talamo left and decided to ride in the Midwest, currently at Oaklawn where he is doing quite well. All four riders won once on Sunday. Rosario has the best win percentage of 26% of any riders in the top twenty.
- The California Horse Racing Board finally submitted their report on the 23 horses that had to be euthanized in the first 3 months of racing at Santa Anita in 2019. Their findings were that none of the 23 horses had any illegal medications in their systems. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t. It just means that under the current testing, they couldn’t find any. 21 of the 23 had pre-existing conditions at the site of the injury, 11 of 23 had cortisone injections, and 9 of the 23 had occurred on some type of an “off” track (sloppy or sealed). To this day Santa Anita has accepted zero responsibility for providing races on unsafe surfaces. However, to their credit, they have turned things around in a hurry. Through 11 weeks of racing, there have been zero deaths in the afternoon resulting from any injuries. When they feel the track is unsafe, they don’t race, and that’s a good thing for all concerned. There were some trainers who came forward and said that they were forced to run their horses last year, even though they knew the track was unsafe. Management wanted full fields and threatened the conditioners with stall space if they didn’t cooperate. One trainer scratched four horses on a day when it was raining and was asked why he entered to begin with. The answer he gave was that it wasn’t raining at entry time. I certainly believe that all of this is true but that’s not the way it is today. It is safety first for the horse and rider and everything else becomes secondary.
- If it wasn’t for the Coronavirus outbreak, the big story of the week had to be the indictment of 27 individuals who were caught cheating and doping horses on the east coast. Top trainers such as Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis were using performance enhancing drugs on all of their horses, and that includes Maximum Security, who was one of the top three horses in the country. The two trainers were actually working together using drugs that were unlawful and relabeling medications along with their vets. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as this is going on in every racing jurisdiction throughout the country. The sad thing about all of this is that racing itself did nothing about catching these individuals. An outside source led the investigation, the F.B.I. Lord knows they have better things to do these days than to clean up our sport. Once again, it shows that racing cannot police itself. As much as we all despise government intervention, racing cannot take care of itself. At every location around the country, most of the people know who the cheaters are. They are just too scared to step up and make the accusations. So it continues on and the “super” trainers, those winning at 30%, continue to stay one step ahead of the testing labs, and that’s not all that hard to do. The problem with all of this is that the FBI cannot take care of our business throughout the country. They have better things to do. Why don’t the state boards like the CHRB do their job and clean up the sport, once and for all. The answer to that is that they just don’t care. They lack the will to do their jobs and that’s a sad state of affairs. They put way too much emphasis on testing and that’s just a part of the solution. They need more cameras in the barn areas and more investigative action, something that the FBI is so good at doing. Until that happens, racing will always have a dark cloud over its future.
- As I write this Monday morning, here’s the latest on closures of race tracks around the country. Laurel and Pimlico are shut down completely in Maryland, tracks and their casinos. Sunland Park in New Mexico is shut down for 2 to 3 weeks. Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs are closed in Kentucky. Oaklawn Park shuts down their casino but will continue to race. Turf Paradise is closed in Phoenix and Parx Racing is shut down in Pennsylvania. For the moment, the rest of the tracks will continue to race without spectators, but that can change at any moment. On one hand, the horses need to train and race, so I hope they continue racing. On the other hand, if just one person on the back stretch tests positive for the virus, it can spread very quickly. This is a very contagious disease. The decisions will be left with the Governors in each state.