Santa Anita News and Notes for March 31
• As I write this early on Monday morning, I would say there is about a 50/50 chance that racing at Santa Anita will start up this weekend, or maybe even Friday. The L.A. County Dept. of Health shut down racing here this past week due the Covid-19 virus and it is up to the track’s management to convince the department that the racing of horses is an “essential” business. So far, there has been no positive viruses found at the race track and that includes about 750 employees, which take care of 1700 horses that live on the back side. Aidan Butler of Santa Anita along with the TOC group head up the charge. They feel that the continuation of racing at Santa Anita does not represent a health risk to the workers that live here at Santa Anita Park. Furthermore, there are not enough farms in the area to take these many horses if racing is totally shut down. The racing revenue keeps the 1000 workers from adding to the homeless problem that Los Angeles already has, should they become unemployed. It has already been mandated that the care of these horses is an “essential” business here in the state and that is why three other counties continue to race, i.e. Alameda County (Golden Gate Fields), Orange County (Los Alamitos), and Sacramento County (Cal Expo). Also, to keep the number of people to a minimum at the track in the mornings, jockeys will no longer be allowed to exercise or work horses. They will only be allowed at the track in the afternoons, if they have a mount that day. Exercise riders will work or gallop all the horses in the A.M. Jockey agents will not be allowed on the back side either. They will have to do all their work by phone with the trainers. This remains a fluid situation and I would think we may know by late Tuesday exactly what the resolution will be.
• If racing does continue this week, this Saturday would be the single largest day of the winter/spring meet with six stakes races on tap headed up by the only $1 million dollar race at Santa Anita, the Santa Anita Derby. The work tab was loaded this past weekend with all three major candidates for the Derby out on the track. Thousand Words, who was so disappointing in the recent San Felipe stakes, worked a strong 7/8 in 1:25.60 for Baffert, and he was quite pleased with the drill. Another Baffert runner, Authentic, who won the San Felipe, worked behind horses and got a lot of dirt in his face for the first time, and went ¾ in 1:12.40 Sunday. This one is loaded with speed and has won all three of his races gate to wire, but Baffert knows at some point down the road, he’s going to have to learn to rate off other horses. Honor A.P., the John Shirreffs runner, who is coming up to the Derby in great form, worked 5/8 in 1:00.20 with regular rider Mike Smith in the irons. Another big race on the card will be the Santa Anita Oaks for three year old fillies and the three major runners for that race also worked over the weekend. Venetian Harbor, who has been so impressive in her last two starts, zipped a half mile for Richie Baltas in 46.80 and she is ready to run. Another who will vie for favoritism in that race is Donna Veloce for Simon Callaghan, and she went a solid 5/8 in 1:00.60 and she is also set for a big race. Gingham was also impressive, working in company for Baffert going ¾ in 1:11.20, and though she will be somewhat of a long shot, her work was visually impressive. Other graded stakes winners that also worked over the weekend were Hard Not to Love and Ollie’s Candy.
• There was no racing this past week at Santa Anita but still a number of riders still made some headlines. It doesn’t look like Joel Rosario will be back riding at Santa Anita for quite some time. A new mandate at the track is that any rider that leaves to race outside the state, has to go through a 14 day quarantine period before he can come back and ride. Rosario left for the Fair Grounds to ride in the Louisiana Derby two weeks back, and then went on to ride at Gulfstream this past weekend. He can continue to ride in Florida apparently without any quarantine period. Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith was suspended for 9 racing days for his infraction in the Saudi Cup in Saudi Arabia February 29. He is suspended from April 10-26 and was also fined a whopping $210,000 for his excessive use of the whip on Midnight Bisou, who finished second in the race. That was the amount of money Smith was to get for his second place finish in this $20 million race. That’s a far cry from the slap on the wrist that riders receive in this country for riding infractions. And finally, Kent Desormeaux is back riding in California, but not at this track. The winner of 6049 races in his career, and 3 Kentucky Derbys and 3 Preaknesses, is riding cheap claimers up at Golden Gate Fields. He left earlier in the year to ride in Louisiana, but had only 3 winners from 59 mounts. Jim Pegram, his new agent, convinced him to come to GGF where he would get plenty of top mounts. That has happened and he has 18 winners from his first 100 mounts, along with 18 seconds and 20 thirds. Desormeaux, who turned 50 in February, has always had some type of attitude problem, and doesn’t always ride a horse out if he thinks he can’t win the race. But his new goal is to become the all time leading rider from Louisiana, where he was born. He’s got a ways to go to catch Hall of Famer Eddie Delahoussaye, who retired with 6384 victories.
• The CHRB held their monthly meeting this past Thursday and though the Covid-19 virus wasn’t on the agenda, it quickly took over the proceedings. The meeting was held via teleconference with the new state guidelines. Although they are the ones who should determine whether racing is being conducted within the state, they turned it over to the individual counties to make the decision for them. They are and have always been a spineless group. Other news of note to come out of the meetings had primarily to do with medications. With two year old racing generally starting in late April each year, juveniles will race without Lasix in California in 2020. If they find that they need Lasix in order to run, they will have to wait until their sophomore year or ship out of state where Lasix is allowed for two year olds. This is phase one of doing away with the bleeder medication. Phase two will apply to all stakes races within the state. Another new ruling is eliminating all drugs within 48 hours of post time with the exception of race day Lasix. All forms of Bute, Ketoprofen, Flunixin, and Electrolyte solutions will not be allowed. Both tracks, Santa Anita and Golden Gate, had to change their entry dates in order to meet this requirement. The only exceptions to this ruling will be vitamins, ulcer medications, and race day Lasix. It’s pretty much getting down to hay, oats, and water 48 hours prior to post time. This is all part of the yearlong trend to reduce injuries that lead to fatalities at the race track and California is taking the lead in the country for doing so. Eventually, racing may become the cleanest sport in the United States, but only if they can survive the dreaded Coronavirus.