NEWS AND NOTES for March 24, 2020
• For the last 12 months, the “Great Race Place” has been consistently attacked by the media, the Governor, state senators, and animal activist groups, and through it all has managed to continue racing. But now there is a new invisible enemy, the Coronavirus, 10 times more deadly than the seasonal flu. And while many tracks across the country have shut down, Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields continue to race. But they only do so under the strictest of regulations, and new protocols are put in place every day so they can continue to do so. If the virus breaks out on the backstretch, where as many as 1000 people live, it’s all over. There are over 1500 horses here and they need to be cared for on a daily basis and exercised accordingly. All jockeys and exercise riders have their temps taken daily and are denied entrance to the track if they show any sign of illness. The six foot distancing rule is firmly in place and only licensed working personnel are allowed within the gates. The general public has been banned from the tracks for the last two weeks and now owners of the horses are also banned. Racing will continue here on a Friday through Sunday schedule and with the closing of other tracks, the cards are getting deeper here by the day. The main track continues to play fair and a horse can win from practically anywhere, as evidenced by a horse Sunday coming from 20 lengths back and getting up right at the wire, and it was a SPRINT. The turf course also is playing fair with an edge in route races for off the pace runners. Racing resumes this Friday with an eight race card and a pick six c/o of $75,660.
• They ran two Grade 3 stakes this past Saturday and both were on the turf course, which was labeled as “good” after some mid week rains. Older runners sprinted at five and a half in the San Simeon stakes and a Midwest invader, Bound for Nowhere, looked pretty much unbeatable even though he was coming off a layoff. He got a good trip up on the pace as the 1 to 2 choice, but got nailed late by another comebacker, Cistron, from the high powered John Sadler barn. Cistron paid $10.40 to win and once again proved how good Sadler is with layoff horses. Cistron was a Grade one winner in 2019, but it was on the dirt, and he had never won a graded stakes on the lawn. The other Grade 3 was the San Luis Rey stakes and this was at the marathon distance of 12 furlongs. Oscar Dominguez from the Richie Baltas stable was sent off as the even money choice, but he had a rough trip rallying from behind and the second choice in the wagering, Ward ‘n Jerry, got the jump on him and won rather easily at 9/5 under Flavien Prat, who won two on the day. The winner was also proven at the distance and he needs at least a mile and a quarter to be effective. That’s where both of these runners will probably show up next, in the Charlie Whittingham stakes in early May at 10 furlongs.
• This week’s stakes are the Grade 3 Santa Ana for older fillies and mares at 10 furlongs on the grass on Saturday, and then the Santana Mile, an ungraded affair on the main track for older runners on Sunday. Distance specialist Siberian Iris from the Richard Mandella barn heads up the Santa Ana field and he will have Rafael Bejarano back aboard. The 37 year old rider had announced he was leaving for Kentucky to ride the first of April, but now with the closing of Keeneland, he has decided to stay put. Bejarano can still ride as good as ever, he’s just not getting the good mounts any more. This one needs a new agent.
• Speaking of riders, Flavien Prat won two more on Sunday and is now six up on Abel Cedillo for leading rider and Cedillo has had 70 more mounts. In third is Joel Rosario, who missed all of last week while riding at the Fair Grounds awaiting the Louisiana Derby. He is two behind Cedillo. Rosario was planning on leaving anyway and riding at Keeneland when they open in April, but that isn’t happening now so he may stick around longer. He continues to have the best win percentage at 26% of any rider in the jock’s room. The trainer title is just as close as Richie Baltas is one up on Bob Baffert, 22 to 21, with Peter Miller just two back of Baffert. Peter Miller has the best win percentage at 26% while two other conditioners having strong meets are Mike McCarthy, who won two on Sunday, and Jeff Mullins.
• The big announcement this past week is the moving of the Kentucky Derby from the first Saturday in May to Sept. 5. The Derby just isn’t the Derby without 160,000 screaming fans getting juiced up on Mint Juleps, not to mention the $100 million of revenue to Churchill Downs bottom line. It looks like the Preakness and the Belmont will follow suit and run in the same sequence, though that will take quite a bit of rearranging. A later date certainly helps a horse like Charlatan who got a late start for the Derby and only has two races, but it may hurt horses like Authentic, Tiz a Law, and Nadal, all who have been programmed to try and hit their peak the first Saturday in May. The Santa Anita Derby is still a go in just two weeks and will feature Authentic, Thousand Words, and Honor A.P. amongst others. The April 4th card at Santa Anita will have 7 stakes out of 11 races with the Derby the highlight. Honor A.P. worked 5/8 in 1:00 flat on Sunday with Mike Smith up. He is going to be a “load” for trainer John Shirreffs in this race. Another good sophomore, Ginobli, who was not going to race in the Derby, worked a half in 47.60 Sunday and was headed for the Bay Shore stakes at Aqueduct, which is not going to happen with that track shut down. Baltas may send him to Oaklawn for a sprint stakes as he is strictly a sprinter. Bellafina, a six time stakes winner for Simon Callaghan was going to race in the Grade 1 Madison at Keeneland, but now may stay home for the Las Flores, a Grade 3 on April 5th here at Anita. The favorite for the Santa Anita Oaks, also on the blockbuster card of April 4th, is Venetian Harbor. She worked on Sunday as well and blazed 5/8 in 58.60 for Baltas. She’s the real deal. Other top horses that worked here on Sunday were Higher Power, targeting the Grade 2 Californian on April 18, Fashionably Fast, who has won six in a row, targeting the Grade 3 Kona Gold on April 19, and Thousand Words, who will be in the Derby lineup for Baffert on April 4th.