Santa Anita News and Notes Nov. 5
• Santa Anita’s six week fall meet concluded on Sunday, and though it was a pretty tough meet with plenty of short fields, they really looked like they would pull off a successful meet the final week, highlighted by the World Championships. But then in the final race of a spectacular two days of racing, tragedy struck. Mongolian Groom, a horse that had just defeated McKinzie four weeks earlier, was pulled up on the far turn in the Classic with a hind leg injury. Given the extent of the injury, a group of five top vets concluded that the horse had to be put down. It marked the 37th fatality at this track since racing began last December 26, and though that number is pale in comparison to both Kentucky and New York, in a state as liberal as California, it is way too high. In fact, just prior to the running of the Breeders’ Cup races, state senator Diane Feinstein wrote a scathing letter to the California Horse Racing Board, suggesting that racing shut down in the state should any horse break down during the Cup races. It was the 7th fatality at the track in the six week meet, and that’s with management doing everything in their power to prevent any injuries whatsoever. It is with relief that racing switch to Del Mar for four weeks, where they went through their seven week summer meet without a single fatality in the afternoons of racing. What’s hard to understand is that both track surfaces are made up of the same material, yet Del Mar’s surface seems so much safer. Of course that track is not used nearly as much as Santa Anita on a year round basis. And that may be a factor trying to put a finger on all of this. To the credit of Santa Anita’s management team, they left the track deep and tiring, which is probably the safest in the long run. But many trainers were hoping it would tighten up so their horses could handle the surface, because not all of them could. A case in point was the running of the Classic. Vino Rosso simply adored running over this surface, while a horse like Code of Honor never could get a hold of it. Johnny Velasquez stated after the race that the second choice in the wagering was struggling over the surface the entire trip. The one puzzling aspect is that the management of the Stronach Group states that there will be a thorough investigation of each fatality and those findings will be made available to the public. Well, it’s been 10 months and nothing has been released to the public, and it probably never will. The PETA people are livid about this and they not only want to shut down racing in California, but the entire country. All I know is that if this ever gets on the ballot of the 2020 election, it could be devastating for our industry.
• Other than the tragedy of Mongolian Groom, the Breeders Cup was a booming success over the weekend. Wagering set records on both Friday and Saturday with total handle exceeding $152 million on Saturday, an increase of 12% over last year. On track attendance was over 67,000 Saturday with clear skies and a temperature right around 80 degrees. A total of 163 horses competed in the 14 Cup races with the average field size at 11.6, making for some excellent wagering opportunities. The pick six on Saturday paid out at over $55,000 for a $1 ticket and we had all six winners on our contenders list, with the toughest one to find, Iridessa, right on top at $28.40. The riding star for the B/C was Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode four Cup winners out of 12 mounts, with the biggest one in the Classic, Vino Rosso, when Velasquez chose to ride Code of Honor instead. With Midnight Bisou running second in the Distaff, after being undefeated all year long, three horses emerged out of the Cup races to vie for Horse of the Year honors. Mitole, who ran a giant race to catch Shancealot in the closing strides of the Sprint, Bricks and Mortar, who won the mile and a half turf race to go six for six for the year, and Vino Rosso, who won the Classic by four widening lengths in authoritative fashion. Although the HOY honors seldom goes to a turf horse, Bricks and Mortar seems a lock this year. Mitole had a great year and did win the Met Mile as well as a bunch of Grade 1 sprints, but sprinters rarely become Horse of the Year. The older handicap division didn’t seem very strong this year and the three year olds kept beating one another all year long, without any one single standout. On Friday they ran all the juvenile races and the big one was the Juvenile itself to try and crown the best two year old in the country. But the first three finishers went off at odds of 45/1, 23/1, and 35/1 and the two favorites never ran a step. Dennis’ Moment had an excuse, as he went to his knees at the start and lost all chance, but Baffert’s Eight Rings had a pretty good trip and came up totally empty when the real racing started. Peter Eurton trained the winner, Storm the Court, who got an excellent ride from Flavien Prat and went wire to wire, but he was staggering at the end and if he goes on the Derby trail, and he probably will, he’s not going to scare anybody. The filly race was a different story. The winner, British Idiom, had a horrible trip throughout the race, was under a drive all the way back to the 3/8 pole, but still dug deep and caught the 2/1 favorite Donna Veloce right on the wire. She’s the real deal and is very capable of beating the boys at this stage of her career. “Veloce” ran huge in defeat as this was just her second start and first around two turns. She should have quite a future next year for Simon Callaghan with the Kentucky Oaks her ultimate goal.
• After such a great day of racing on Saturday, it was pretty difficult to get very excited about the closing day card on Sunday. But they did have the mandatory payout of the pick six and the 20 cent pool had climbed all the way up to $437,000. The economy in this country must be humming right along because after all that was wagered the prior two days, they still kicked in over $3 million additional dollars to this pool. The winning payout was $1105 to a bunch of happy customers. Flavien Prat did win the final stakes of the meet on Sunday aboard the 2 to 5 chalk, and caught Abel Cedillo for the riding title with 21 wins apiece. The bug boy, Jorge Velez, was a distant third with 15. Prat had 23 fewer mounts than Cedillo. Doug O’Neill won two on closing day and had a monster meet with 22 wins, 10 more than Richie Baltas and Phil D’Amato. It’s not very often a trainer has more victories than the leading rider.
• Del Mar opens for four weeks of racing this Friday, the 8th, and they have a number of good stakes races, especially the final weekend with 8 graded stakes over the final three days. They start with the Kathryn Crosby stakes on Friday, a one mile turf affair for older fillies/mares at a mile on the turf. Another mile turf race headlines the Saturday card called the Let It Ride stakes for three year olds, and then Sunday concludes with the Desi Arnaz stakes for two year old fillies at six and a half on the main. The Grade 1 Matriarch stakes is the big race on closing day and Chad Brown will probably send B/C turf winner Uni out for that race. The best turf trainer in the country will also be well represented in the Hollywood Derby on closing weekend and the Jimmy Durante stakes for two year old fillies. All of these races are on the grass. Trainer Brad Cox is pointing both Julie Foxtrot and Beau Recall for the Matriarch as well. Plus trainer Don Chatlos will bring a 12 horse string to Del Mar for owner Larry Best with such top horses as Instagrand and Brill, all who have been racing on the New York circuit. Chatlos will also stay on through the winter season at Santa Anita. And finally, jockey Joel Rosario, one of the top riders in the country, and certainly one of the strongest finishers, will move his tack back to Southern California on December 26 and plans to ride through April at Santa Anita. Our prices for the Del Mar fall meet are on our web site at myturfdom.net.
By Rod Young (Turfdom)