Santa Anita News and Notes Jan 14

• Week three at Santa Anita Park concluded on Sunday without any mishaps. The main track continues to play fair and there was no precipitation during the week. The turf course is playing fair for the route races, but at five and a half on the turf, the late runners have all the best of it, as the first 13 races at that distance were all won from off the pace. The times are normal on the turf but the main track is still running on the slow side, and that’s just the way they want it, to keep racing as safe as possible. Racing returns this Friday with a four day week and will include Monday, Martin Luther King Day. The single ticket jackpot of the pick six has grown to $432,042.
• There were two graded stakes on Saturday and one ungraded stakes on Sunday, and they all went to the post with small fields. All three races involved older fillies and mares. On Saturday they ran the Grade 3 La Canada stakes at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and Queen Bee to You got the best of Der Lu by a nose in a driving finish. This race had been a Grade 2 in previous years, but the quality of the race has gone south the last few years and once Spiced Perfection became a late scratch, this race clearly became a Grade 3. However, the winner did run extra game in here and she was a Grade 3 winner at Del Mar, though it was on an off track. She paid $6.60 to win and she is at the top of her game now for 30 year old Andrew Lerner, who has grown his stable from 12 to 40 horses in the last 18 months. Der Lu ran superb in defeat while on the lead for Van Dyke, while the 4 to 5 shipper, Hydrologist, just didn’t fire. The other Grade 3 on Saturday was the Las Cienegas at five and a half on the turf. The Brazilian import, Jolie Olimpica, who hadn’t raced since June of last year and had not raced in this country at all, was sent to the post as the 6 to 5 choice in a field of five. The public obviously knew what they were doing as she cruised to a length and a quarter win, without ever being asked by Mike Smith at any point in the race. She established a new course record of 1:01 flat in the process and left our choice in the race, Storm the Hill, a good 3 lengths in the arrears. “Jolie” made our Horses to Watch list and is a future star in the making. She will have no problem with two turns and she is now undefeated in four trips to the post. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella calls the shots. On Sunday they ran the Kalookan Queen at six and a half on the main track. Baffert entered two to make the race go and Lady Ninja and Mother Mother were the principles. The latter was the speed of the race and when she didn’t break alertly under Rosario, he wisely took her back and she relaxed nicely off the pace. She went after Ninja at the top of the lane and the two favorites went head and head down the lane, with Mother Mother prevailing late at 2 to 5. Rosario won three on the afternoon to maintain his riding lead at the meet.
• Field size should pick up this week as Saturday is Cal Cup Day, with inflated purses for those bred in the state or by sires standing in California. There are five stakes for Cal breds and the purses range from $150K to $200K for all five of them. There are two races for newly turned 3 year olds, the Derby for the males and the Oaks for the females. Then there are two sprints, with the older males going six furlongs on the main and the older females going five and a half on the turf. The best race will be the Classic at 9 furlongs on the grass for older runners. 9 year old Ashleyluvssugar heads up the Classic along with The Hunted, Irish Heatwave, Appreciated, Ward n’ Jerry, and Wound Tight rounding out the top contenders. The Filly and Mare sprint has such hard knockers as Just Grazed Me, Apache Princess, and Stealthediamonds. The Cal Cup Derby will be headed by Rookie Mistake, Summer Fire, Sacred Rider, and Indian Peak. The Cal Cup Oaks will feature Been Studying Her, Almost a Factor, Homehome, Warrior’s Moon and Wise Rachel amongst others, while the Cal Cup Sprint will mark the return of Heck Yeah for Bob Baffert. Also trainer Blaine Wright sends down the top Nor Cal sprinter, Baja Sur, who has won five of six starts. On Monday they will run the Megahertz stakes, a Grade 3 for older fillies and mares at a mile on the lawn. This race has a really good field of runners led by Excellent Sunset, Brill, Keeper Of the Stars, La Sardane, Super Patriot, Tiny Tina, and Tonahutu. Good racing lined up this week.
• There will be days this meet at Santa Anita where they will struggle to fill the race cards. Then there will be days when they have some outstanding cards as well, like this Saturday, and the day that they run the Pegasus Cup in Gulfstream in two weeks. But too many horses will be leaving this area for Oaklawn Park in Arkansas when they open later this month. Trainer Doug O’Neill, who has always supported the Southern California racing programs in spades, is sending 12 of his better horses to Oaklawn and another 10 to Dubai. He says it’s because of management and their lack of direction, but I think it’s because the purses are so much larger there, where they have a casino on track site. Plus they have four $1 million races and Santa Anita has one, the Derby in April. Others going with some horses will be trainers Phil D’Amato, Peter Eurton, Peter Miller, and Richie Baltas. There is no turf racing at Oaklawn, so the turf horses will remain here, but each trainer will have 6-8 horses leaving and that doesn’t sit well with local management. Oh, and by the way, Jerry Hollendorfer, who has been banned from Santa Anita and Golden Gate, will have 30 head in Arkansas as well. If the fields get too small here in the next few months, you will recognize many of the horses at Oaklawn, plus jockeys Martin Garcia, Joe Talamo, and Tyler Baze are already there working horses.
• As I write this on Monday, Bob Baffert turns 67 today, and is closing in on 3000 thoroughbred wins. His purse earnings for training have amounted to over $295 million and with trainers earning 10% of the purse money, that’s not a bad way to make a living. Another employee at the track, John Shear, turns 99 this Friday the 17th. He is the Paddock Captain at the track and has been employed here since 1961. He will be honored between races this Friday with a cake. Shear stands 4 ft 11 inches and weighs in at 104 pounds. Prior to working in the paddock, he has been a groom, an assistant trainer and an exercise rider. His key to a long life? Find something you love and do it, stay positive, exercise, and don’t worry about things you can’t control. All good advice for all of us to remember.
By Rod Young (Turfdom)