Santa Anita News and Notes Jan 7

•    The Great Race Place completed week two of their winter meet under fair skies and temps in the high sixties. The main track has played fair this past week but the times continue to be on the slow side. Overall, the track is as safe as any dirt track can be. The turf course has also played fair with an equal amount of winners on the pace as well as from off the pace. The sprint distance of five and a half on the turf has favored off the pace runners. Racing returns this Friday with just a three day week and the single ticket jackpot of the pick six has climbed all the way up to $292,520. On Sunday there were five horses alive in the final race to be the single ticket winner, but it wasn’t meant to be.
•    There were four significant stakes races this past week and Baffert won two of them, both with newly turned three year olds. On Saturday, his Authentic easily wired the field to win by 8 in the Sham stakes, the first race in Southern California for sophomores on the Derby trail. It’s a good thing he was far in front down the lane because twice he ducked it toward the rail and nearly unseated Van Dyke. The first time was because of the crowd noise and the second time was because he was so close to the rail. He paid $4.40 as the chalk and Baffert ran second as well with Azul Coast. The winner may be in Arkansas for his next start as Baffert likes to keep his sophomores separate as much as possible. Authentic does appear to be a very “live” Derby type of horse. On Sunday Baffert entered three in the Santa Ynez stakes and ran one, two, three, just like Charlie Whittingham used to do in the old days. Bast, a three time Grade 1 winner, got the money at 3 to 5, but Van Dyke was scrubbing on her at the ¼ pole and she was all out to get up and beat Auberge by two at the wire. The latter ran very well from the rail slot in the 7 furlong race and was yielding a lot of experience to the winner. The other race of significance was the Grade 2 San Gabriel on Saturday, a 9 furlong grass event for older runners. Richie Baltas, who must be one of the hottest trainers in the country on turf, had Desert Stone ready to roll off a 7 month layoff and got the money at 7/1 under a heady ride by Geovanni Franco. The winner got up on the outside very late to nail Cleopatra’s Strike, the 6 to 5 favorite. The pace was very slow for 9 furlongs but the stretch runners still got the best of it in the late stages.
•     The principle stakes this weekend are both on Saturday, both Grade 3’s, and both are for older fillies and mares. The La Canada is on the main track and will have a smaller field headed up by the consistent Queen Bee to You, who just won a Grade 2 at Los Alamitos on an off track. Other probables for that race will be Horlogist, Message, Spiced Perfection, who will probably go favored, and Zusha. The Las Cienegas stakes will be run at five and a half on the turf and will yield a much larger field even though the purse is a $100K less than the La Canada. Entries for both races will be drawn this Wednesday.
•    Although jockeys Tyler Baze and Joe Talamo both rode their last races on Sunday and are heading back to what they believe will be greener pastures in the Midwest, theres plenty of newcomers who want to be here and will soon be household names. Of course everybody knows Joel Rosario and he is picking up right where he left off last April by winning two or three each day. The other newcomer that hardly anyone knows is Umberto Rispoli, the 31 year old Italian rider who is here via Hong Kong. He won his first race here last Wednesday on a 4/1 shot on the turf, then won one on Saturday and two on Sunday. Both his wins on Sunday were on the turf and in both cases he came from off the pace. He also has a number of seconds, mostly all on longshots. He was second on Originaire at 15/1 in last weeks’ Grade 2 Mathis Bros. Mile. The young man can ride and he knows how to finish. His agent is Ron Anderson, the same agent Rosario has, so you know he’s going to start getting some “live” mounts.
•    Today’s Racing Digest put out an interesting article this week on the most popular wagers on thoroughbred racing in 2019 across the country. To no surprise, win, place, and show wagering controlled the top spot at $3.5 billion, just as it had in 2018. Exacta wagering held the second slot at $2.4 billion and trifecta wagering was third at $1.6 billion. All of these are single race wagers which means the majority of players would rather attack each race than to concentrate on multiple races.  This all makes sense but there are some significant changes in the other types of wagers. For one, the regular pick six has lost its glow. This type of wager is down a whopping 52% while the single ticket jackpot of the pick six is up 33% and had 4 times the amount of handle. The jackpot pick six is a 20 cent wager while the regular pick six is a $2 wager. The average customer would rather bet a little to try and win a lot, much like the late Bobby Frankel used to say, when he first came to California and became such a dominant trainer. (He was also a player). The other growth area of multiple race wagers was the 50 cent pick five, which is often offered twice on race programs, early and late. This wager was up 12.46% vs. 2018 and is yet another wager that can yield a large payoff for a small amount of risk. However, one must be on their game for picking five successive winners in a row is no easy task. Too many things can go wrong in a horse race and any “singles” can often be quite scary. The old time daily double was down 2%, and both the pick three and the pick four were down vs. 2018. The Super High Five was down 10% and generated very little handle and the roulette wager, which Santa Anita initiated, drew very little handle and has been dropped entirely.  In summary, the times they are a changing, but no matter how one wagers, it’s still a grand old game.
By Rod Young (Turfdom)