Santa Anita News and Notes Feb. 4

• Week six at Santa Anita was completed on Sunday and for the second consecutive week, there were no racing mishaps. Both the turf course and the main track continue to play fair and the weather continues to be good with warm days that will continue throughout the coming week. However, the horse population continues to dwindle, especially now that Oaklawn Park has opened in Arkansas with their large purse structure. Because of that the track has decided to not race the next two Thursdays and will resume racing this Friday, the 7th. The goal is to have fuller fields and better quality racing, even if it means fewer days. They will race four days the following week as the 17th is Presidents Day with the Monday holiday. Average field size so far for the meet has been 7.56 runners per race and last year at this time the field size was at 7.72 runners per race; down, but not dramatically down. When racing does return on Friday, the single ticket jackpot of the pick six will be at $135,744.
• They had three stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday and all had exciting finishes, however, the win prices weren’t too exciting. The Grade 2 San Pasqual stakes, the prep race for the Big Cap in early March was won by Midcourt, a rising star on this circuit and a Turfdom Best Bet, who paid $6.40 on the front end. After getting a miserable ride by Victor Espinoza in the San Antonio stakes back on opening day, the winner came out running with the same rider, grabbed the lead into the clubhouse turn and never looked back, defeating 7 others and a pretty decent field in the process. He won by three and a half at the wire and the next stop will be to face Gift Box in the Big Cap. Two Thirty Five outran his odds to grab second while Roadster, the 9/5 favorite, never raised a gallop and finished seventh. He has some serious issues and even Baffert can’t find his hole card these days. The other two stakes on the card were both won by jockey Flavien Prat and both of the winners were odds on. Richard Mandella’s project, United, became a millionaire with his win in the Grade 2 San Marcos for older runners at 10 furlongs on the grass. He sat just off the pace in this race, grabbed the lead at the 1/8 pole, and then had just enough to hold off Cleopatra’s Strike at the wire. The winning margin was a half length. United’s claim to fame was running Horse of the Year Bricks and Mortar to within a half length in the Breeders Cup Turf this past fall at 51 to 1. The Grade 3 Robert Lewis stakes was the third stakes on the afternoon and in this one, Bob Baffert trained his 3000th winner as Thousand Words remained undefeated with a hard fought win at a mile and a sixteenth for sophomores. The winner got shuffled back to 4th on the back side and was down on the rail, but bulled himself through a seam at the top of the lane and then held off a late run by 18 to 1 shot Royal Act. The winner is a fighter and a grinder and all of three of his victories have been by less than a length. The runner up is a horse to watch. This was his first try on the main track after two turf races and he ran lights out. Peter Eurton is going to take him on the Derby trail and his next start will probably be one of the stakes at Oaklawn leading up to the Arkansas Derby. His sire is Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. Eurton also has his juvenile champion on the Derby trail, Storm the Court, and he surfaces this Sunday in the San Vicente stakes at 7/8 on the main track.
• There are three stakes lined up this week at the Great Race Place with two on Saturday and one on Sunday. Majestic Eagle and Kingly head up the field for the Grade 3 Thunder Road stakes at a mile on the turf Saturday for older runners, and then three year old fillies will be in the limelight for the Grade 2 Las Virgenes stakes at a mile on the main track. The San Vicente is the headliner on Sunday with Eclipse award winner Storm the Court making his 2020 debut at 7/8 on the main track. Baffert will send out two to try and defeat him in Azul Coast and Ra’ad, while other contenders are the quick sprinter Ginobili and the recent Cal Cup Derby winner up north named Fast Enough, who I doubt is fast enough with this group.
• Joel Rosario remains the leading rider at the meet with 24 victories, five more than Abel Cedillo, who is riding almost every race it seems. Both Flavien Prat and Drayden Van Dyke are tied for third with 15 wins. Cedillo has 51 more mounts than Prat so far at the meet. Rosario has the top win percentage of any riders in the top 20 at 24% with Van Dyke second at 20%. Richie Baltas won two on Sunday and has the trainers lead at 17 to 13 over Bob Baffert, but the latter has the best win % of any in the top 20 at 30%, closely followed by Peter Miller and Brian Koriner, both at 29%.
• On a bit of a sad note, Peggy Whittingham passed away this past week at the age of 95 in her home in San Marcos, California. She was the wife of one of the great trainers of all time, Charlie Whittingham, who passed away back in 1999 at the age of 86. Peggy was the “rock” that held everything together for Charlie, who liked his “toddies” in the evening and would saunter home at all different hours of the night, yet was always one of the first at the barn the following morning. One of the best books ever written about horse racing is titled “Whittingham” and was written by the now retired Jay Hovdey. If you are a racing fan, this one is a must read. You will not be able to put the book down once you start reading. Peggy would have been 96 at the end of February.
• 2019 was a rough year for thoroughbred racing in California, but as we head into a new year, it is not all gloom and doom for the sport which we all love. Advanced Deposit Wagering continued to be strong with over $1.5 billion being wagered last year, which generated over $25 million to California purses. Golden Gate Fields racing continued on an upswing with a 6.5 % increase in handle and a 5% increase in runners per race. California had more graded stakes than any state in the country last year. The 2019 Breeders’ Cup set a number of records at Santa Anita with a record $175 million wagered in the two days of racing. And total on track attendance for two days was at 109,054, the 4th highest in the 36 year history of the event. And finally, if the California Sports Wagering Enforcement Act is passed in November (it is on the ballot), year round sports wagering will be available at Santa Anita, Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, and Los Alamitos, and will generate millions of new purse subsidies for California owners. Bigger purses mean larger fields, just ask the people running Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, and they don’t even have a turf course
By Rod Young (Turfdom)