Santa Anita News and Notes May 7

• It has now been five straight weeks of racing and over 5500 workouts on the main track without an incident at Santa Anita since the overhaul of the main track. Of course, it helps that the showers have stayed away as well. It’s just a matter of time before a fatality happens, it’s just the nature of the sport, but at least track management has shown that they have a safe racing surface. The main track continues to play fair, the times continue to be slow, but the surface is as safe as any in the country right now. The turf course is playing fair overall regardless of the placement of the rails. On Saturday all five turf races were won on the front end, yet the rails were all the way in. They moved the rails out 20 feet on Sunday, something that would normally help early speed, and 4 of the 5 races were won from well off the pace. Go figure. It just goes to show that you have to handicap speed on the turf right now just like it was on the main track. They are going to start using the hillside turf course once again starting this Saturday, but it’s not what you might think. They are only going to use 3 furlongs of the course for the mile and a half Santa Barbara stakes. The hillside sprints look like they are dead for the rest of this meet. Those races are a bit on the dangerous side, with the dirt crossover and a turn at the same time. Racing continues with their 3 day weeks, Friday through Sunday. The single ticket of the pick six remains elusive as the jackpot has now swelled to $405,029 heading into this Friday.
• The real buzz around racing this Monday morning has to be the Kentucky Derby and the first disqualification of a horse due to a riding infraction in the 145 year history of the race. Was it the right call for this race? Certainly it was the right call for any normal race, but the Kentucky Derby is not a normal race. When you have 19 or 20 horses going a mile and a quarter around an oval track, it’s like 8 year old kids playing bumper cars. Horses get squeezed, they get cut off, they get bumped and nearly go down, and they suffer some of the worst trips in racing. And never before do they get disqualified. Why this year? Why at the ¼ pole? Why is this Derby any different from the ones before? They did a poll by a reputable publication whether Maximum Security should have come down in this race by a large group of knowledgeable horse players, and the results were 50/50. Half said yes, half said no. Here’s my take on the race. I think the horse should have stayed up. Yes, he came out and impeded other horses. Some say he was spooked by the noise, some say he was jumping a puddle, some say he was just plain tired. Either way, he MAY have cost some other horses a better placing. If so, why didn’t the stewards call an inquiry? They didn’t. Nothing was done until Prat raised an objection on Country House, and he was hardly even touched. There was no way he should have been objecting. The rider on Maximum Security quickly straightened out his horse and “Country” had the entire stretch to catch the front runner and couldn’t do it, because he wasn’t good enough. There’s a reason there hasn’t been a disqualification for 144 years. That’s because the Derby is different. There are too many horses and too many infractions. Horses get eliminated at the start, into the first turn, and so forth and so on. Now the stews have opened up a can of worms for future races. They have set a precedent. I personally did not benefit one way or the other whether the horse stayed up or came down. I thought there were only four possible winners and only one of them hit the board. I thought Improbable was the most likely winner and he had every chance when the hole opened at the top of the stretch, but he didn’t fire when the opportunity presented itself. Maximum Security ran the best race, he was the best horse on this given day, yet he ended up 17th. Doesn’t seem right. So now, it’s on to the Preakness in just two weeks. Country House will probably be there even though his trainer would prefer to wait. Maximum Security will probably pass. Improbable will probably be the only Baffert runner to make the Preakness field. Tacitus, the other Bill Mott horse ran well, he got moved up to third and he will wait for the Belmont. He should be very tough in that race. There are a host of other runners who didn’t qualify for the Derby on points that will be ready for the Preakness. They should have a field of 11 or 12. We always remember the 1968 Derby when Dancers Image was disqualified from the purse money long after the race when “Bute” was found in his system. And we remember the time Willie Shoemaker stood up early on Gallant Man and misjudged the finish line. And we’ll remember the 2019 Derby as well, when Maximum Security won the race and was disqualified by the stewards for the first time in the 145 runnings by a rider infraction.
• Even though the weather was lousy and rain was forecast and did eventually come, that didn’t stop the American public from hitting the windows. Total wagering on both the race and the entire card set all time records. $251 million was wagered on the entire program, an 11% increase from the previous all time high that was set in 2018. The race itself totaled $165 million, up 10% vs. last year which was the previous high. The country of Japan, which had a starter in the race, had $4.1 million added into the pool for the first time ever. Attendance at the track was 150,729, a 4% decrease from last year.
• Although Santa Anita is on just a three day week schedule for the next 4 weeks, both Los Alamitos and Del Mar plan on running full weeks when their meets start this summer. Los Alamitos will run from June 27 through July 14 and will race four days per week. Then Del Mar opens on July 17 and runs till September 2, and they plan on running five days per week. But both tracks plan on running without any Lasix limitations and other medication restrictions that Santa Anita put in place. Del Mar management has been in touch with the trainers that shipped stock to Kentucky this spring and all said they would be back here for the Del Mar meet.
• If the Stronach group has any intention of selling off Santa Anita, their actions certainly don’t speak of that move. As part of their safety reform package, they have agreed to purchase a machine that can provide rarely seen imaging of a horse’s ankle, in the hope of detecting injuries earlier before they may happen. The machine has been used on humans but not on horses and costs well over $1 million. The Stronach Group will invest over $500,000 for the machine with U C Davis and the Dolly Green Research Foundation coming up with the balance.
• Entries get a bit stronger this week when the track puts on a 9 race card Saturday highlighted by the Grade 3 Santa Barbara stakes at a mile and a half on the turf for older fillies/mares. Causeforcommotion, Kodiak West, Lynne’s Legacy, and Queen Bee to You head up the field. Then on Sunday, which is Mothers Day, they will also have a 9 race card with the Frans Valentine stakes for older fillies and mares at one mile on the lawn for Cal breds.
by Rod Young (Turfdom)