TURFDOM NEWS AND NOTES for April 14, 2020

Santa Anita Park remained closed for the third consecutive week and there doesn’t appear much hope for them to return to racing in the near future. Officials from the track do have a meeting set up with the Los Angeles County Dept. of Health this Saturday, the 18th, to reassess the county’s position, but they do not appear to make any exceptions to the mandates set forth due to the virus. There was some talk of Santa Anita and Los Alamitos switching dates as they continue to run in the evenings, but that has been taken off the table. Los Al officials are afraid if they ran in the daytime, Orange County personnel may just cancel their evening quarter horse meet. Currently, that is the only track open in the state. The feeling from the TOC group is that if they don’t return to racing in the next couple of weeks, the damage to the industry in the state may be too great to overcome. The track continues to train in the mornings and the day rates continue for the owners, but without “live” racing, there is no income to pay for the workers who care for the horses. The very wealthy owners/trainers can withstand the heat for some time, but the average people who put on the show will be forced to turn their horses out, or get out of the game all together. Then when racing does return, there are not enough race ready horses to fill a race card. The Calif. Horse Racing Board should never have left it up to the individual counties to make the decisions on who races and who doesn’t. The County Health Departments have been influenced by the animal activist groups who have pounced on the opportunity to shut down racing in the state. As of now, the PETA group has their victory, and they won’t stop until they have shut down every race track in the country.                           

SELECTIONS: With both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields shut down from racing, and no immediate solutions in sight, we have started offering selections from the three major tracks back east that continue to operate i.e., Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream, and Tampa Bay Downs. We started this past weekend and quickly learned about the quirks of racing at these establishments. For example, Oaklawn Park has mile races that finish up at the 1/16 pole instead of running all the way to the finish. With the short stretch, this allows speed horses to have quite an advantage, as horses from the back of the pack need to start their bids earlier if they want to contend. Otherwise, the track plays fair with regards to pace. At Gulfstream, they run many one turn mile races, and horses down on the inside have no shot, unless they are quick enough to make the lead. This is like drawing the one hole in six furlong sprints. On Sunday in race six, the #2 horse, Prairie Wings, was a good example. And probably the most disturbing issue is that the morning line makers at these tracks have no clue to how the public will wager on these horses, especially at Gulfstream. Their job is to make a morning line based on how the public will be wagering, and either they are inebriated when doing so, or just totally incompetent. 8/1 shots should not be consistently going off at 3/2 and 3/1 shots should not be going off at 10/1. Why is the morning line important? Because it is one of the factors to determine if a favorite in a given race is a vulnerable favorite. In order to do this, you have to know where the public is putting their money. You can’t beat this game betting on 6/5 favorites in each race. I guess we have been spoiled out in California with Jon White at Santa Anita and Russ Hudak at Del Mar. Anyways, it’s a learning curve, and they do consistently have full fields at all three tracks and that’s a big plus. And more importantly for now, it’s the ONLY GAME IN TOWN. 

For some reason, they don’t run hardly any stakes races at either Gulfstram or Tampa Bay, but they do at Oaklawn, especially on Saturdays. They had two really good ones this past Saturday with full fields of quality stock. Unfortunately the rains came just before the Oaklawn Mile and the race was run on a wet/fast track. It didn’t matter to the favorite, Tom’s d’Etat, as he rallied off the pace to run down a very game Improbable under Joel Rosario. Joel has now ridden “Tom” in five races and he has won all five. Improbable ran very good from the 14 hole, that was actually moved in 3 spots due to scratches, but he still had a very wide trip the entire way. Bankit ran a good third at 13/1 and was only beaten 2.5 lengths for all of it, but really was no threat to the top two, who have both won Grade 1 races in their past. “Tom” paid $3.60 as the 4/5 choice and won by ¾ at the wire. This race was not graded but was at least Grade 2 quality. The other race was also ungraded and was called the Oaklawn stakes for three year olds, and the first 3 finishers are eligible to run in the Arkansas Derby in three weeks. By this time the track was rated sloppy, and the early pace was so fast for 9 furlongs that anyone near the front had no chance at the end. Gold Street set torrid fractions of 22.07 and 45.47 for the half and they were all gasping for air by the 1/8 pole. That set it up nicely for the late runners who were a good 15-20 lengths off the pace down the back side. Mr. Big News got the money at 46/1 under Gabe Saez and he beat Farmington Road, a 5/1 shot by a half length at the wire. Taishan, a co-favorite at 5/2 was another 3 lengths back in third. The other co-favorite, Thousand Words, for Baffert, stumbled badly at the start and never ran on from there. Because the track was sloppy and the early pace was so fast, it’s pretty hard to draw any conclusions from this race moving forward. I doubt that either of the first two will be much of a factor in the Derby in three weeks, should they choose to run.

There are no stakes races this week at Tampa or Gulfstream, but Oaklawn has two graded stakes on Saturday, and both should offer good wagering value. Come Dancing, who is now in the D. Wayne Lukas barn, and a former Grade 1 winner, heads up the field for the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at a mile and a sixteenth. He worked ¾ this past week in a smart 1:12.60. Others to consider will be the speedster Serengeti Empress, who won the Grade 2 Azeri on March 14, a prep for this race, Go Google Yourself, who won the Grade 3 Bayakoa on February 17, and Street Band, who is a Grade 1 winning millionaire. Also on the card is the Count Fleet stakes, a Grade 3 six furlong sprint for older runners. Whitmore, who won this race in both 2017 and 2018, and was second last year, heads up this group. Other contenders in the race will be Bobby’s Wicked One and Mr. Jagermeister. This should be a large field as they had 30 nominations for the race.