TURFDOM NEWS AND NOTES for February 19, 2020

  • Eight weeks are now in the books at this winter meet and the weather continues to be rain free, which really helps the condition of both the main track and the turf course. For the 4th consecutive week at Santa Anita Park there have been no mishaps (knock on wood)  and the PETA people are getting tired of carrying their signs with nobody reading or listening. And there is no rain in sight in all of California for the next week as well. Both the main track and the turf course continue to play fair and favorites are dominating at the meet so far, mainly because of the small fields on most days. They raced four days this past week and they really struggled to put a card together for Monday. Favorites are winning at 39% overall, 42% on the main track and 36% on the lawn. The national average runs right around 33%. Racing returns this Friday with just a three day week, and that’s where they need to be right now with the current horse population. The single ticket jackpot of the pick six is up to $366,954.                                                                                                                                                         
  • They ran three stakes over the weekend and favorites dominated two of the three. The Grade 2 Santa Monica was run on Saturday at 7 furlongs on the main track and Hard Not to Love ($3.20) was ultra impressive winning off by three and a half under a hand ride by Smith. The four year old filly, who only has one good eye and suffers from anxiety most of the time, has now won five of six races in her career, all right here at Santa Anita. Under a tremendous training job by John Shirreffs, she has never been two turns, but will give it a shot in the Grade 1 Beholder Mile on March 14. The way she handles 7 furlongs, one mile is a mere formality. She has the speed to go to the front or relax and come off the pace. And she’s growing quite a fan base as well. Then on Sunday, Peter Miller shortened up Laura’s Light in the Grade 3 Sweet Life stakes for 3 year old fillies at five and a half on the turf. At 2 to 5, she was all out to get by Lighthouse in the lane, but get up she did to win by ¾ from just off the pace. Lighthouse made our HTW list for the week. On Monday they ran the Wishing Well stakes at five and a half on the turf for older fillies and mares. This was an ungraded stakes for horses who have not won a graded stakes in the last 8 months. Under a great ride by the red hot Rosario (he won four on the day), An Eddie Surprise came from five lengths back at 7/2 and won in a driving finish in a three horse photo. He paid $9.40 to win for trainer Doug O’Neill, who has many of his horses either in Dubai or at Oaklawn Park.                                                                                                                                                         
  • There are just two stakes this weekend but the one on Saturday should be a good one. It’s called the Buena Vista, a Grade 2 for older fillies and mares at a mile on the turf and a full field is expected. Mandella’s Brazilian invader, Jolie Olimpica, who was so impressive in her U.S. debut and made  everyone’s HTW list heads the field, and it is a good one. Other top contenders are the razor sharp Caressa, La Sardane with Flavien Prat, the improving Super Patriot with Ruben Fuentes, Meal Ticket, Keeper Of the Stars, Sold It, and Muchly. Then on Sunday, older fillies and mares that are Cal breds, sprint six furlongs on the main track in the Spring Fever stakes for $100 grand.       
  •   Jockey Flavien Prat won four races on Saturday to put him right in the thick of the jockey standings with 24 wins, just two behind Rosario and Abel Cedillo. Rosario was not here Saturday as he rode in the Risen Star stakes at the Fair Grounds. He gets back in town Sunday and then rides 4 winners himself to re-establish himself back on top. He now has 30 wins;  Cedillo blanked on Sunday so he is still at 26, and Prat won one Sunday to move to 25. How good is Rosario? When he’s here, which is usually just 4 months out of the year, he’s the best rider in the room. He won on a horse Saturday that was currently way out of form for Steve Knapp and paid $35. If Rosario hadn’t been on him, he would have paid double that. He is far and away the strongest finisher on this circuit. He reminds me a lot of Laffitt Pincay Jr. and Eddie Delohoussaye in their prime.        
  • Last week we touched on Monmouth Park going to fixed odds wagering for win, place, and show when they open their spring meet in May. Since that time, Jim Lawson, the CEO of Woodbine race track in Canada, has also come out in support of that type of wagering to coincide with pari-mutuel wagering. He has seen the success of fixed race wagering in Australia and knows that if racing is going to survive long term, they have to start attracting younger people to the sport. Today’s young generation love to gamble on football and online poker, and in both cases, they know the price they are getting well in advance of their wager. Legalized sports wagering will be spreading across the country in the next 12 months and there will be a huge amount of revenue for the states. And in all cases, it will be fixed odds wagering. Horse racing must get on board, everywhere.

Just this past week, there has been a bill proposed in the state legislature of California that could be very damaging to the sport in this state if it becomes law. Assembly Bill AB 2177, titled Equine Welfare and Safety in Horse Racing Act was introduced by Ash Kalra from San Jose. The purpose of the bill is to eliminate deaths completely in the state and is co-sponsored by our friends in the PETA organization. This is all due to the 37 deaths at Santa Anita Park in the year 2019. The proposed bill would require CT scanning equipment on site at every race track in the state, a pharmacy set up at each race track in the state, so vets could not bring in any medications from the outside, and then trainers, either be suspended or their license revoked if any horse dies under their care, pending an investigation by the CHRB. Based on past investigations by the Board, that could take up to a year. If this bill were to become law, there wouldn’t be any trainers left in California, as they would immediately take their horses and their clients out of state. And maybe that’s what the bill is proposed to do, at least as far as PETA is concerned. Now granted, things have got to be done to decrease the amount of deaths in horse racing, and many of those steps are already in place. Del Mar went all 7 weeks of racing last summer without a single fatality in afternoon racing, and Santa Anita is currently on a four week streak without any mishaps. But injuries in this sport are as much a part of it as injuries on the football field. No matter how many preventive measures are in place, horses can take a bad step and their career is over. They are very fragile animals to begin with. Just looking at 1100 lbs. of flesh on those skinny legs and then traveling upwards of 40 MPH will tell you that. Unfortunately racing has not been able to take care of their problems, and so government is now intervening, and in this case, that’s not a good thing.          

By Rod Young (Turfdom)