TURFDOM NEWS AND NOTES for March 10, 2020

• As much as I’ve criticized Santa Anita Park the last few weeks due to short fields and inferior racing, I really had to eat some “crow” this past weekend, as the Great Race Place re-discovered their name with good quality and quantity fields, three days in a row. And Saturday was by far the best, with four graded stakes, good weather, no incidents, and a good crowd on hand. Even 87 year old Ron McAnally won a race, his 706th winner at this track, 4th on the all time list. And what’s really been amazing, is that there have been zero fatalities on the main track from afternoon racing for 10 consecutive weeks. How many tracks in North America can say that? Yes, there have been some fatalities from the turf course and some from training in the morning, but the track overall has certainly righted the ship and is steering it in the right direction. Management is clamping down on all medications after entry time (with the exception of Lasix) and California racing will soon be hay, oats, and water three days prior to race time. The main track is in excellent shape, the times are a bit faster, and in any given race, a horse can win from anywhere in the pack. The turf course could use some rain and that is in the forecast this week, but continues to play fair regardless of where the rails are placed. Racing returns this Friday with the pick six single ticket jackpot at $290,854.

• Saturday’s card reminded me of the good old days with high quality racing. The San Felipe was the highlight of the day for me, as this was the toughest Derby prep that has been seen in this country so far this year, and the best horse won the race. Authentic really is the real deal, and even after he bobbled at the start and almost went down to his knees, he still made the lead with a fast first quarter in 22.80 with Storm the Court hounding him every step of the way. But he put that pretender away at the ¼ pole and when Honor A.P. came to him, he still found another gear in the lane and went on to win by two and a half at the wire. The latter is all race horse and this was his first race in five months. He will be heard from down the line. Both horses will stay home for the Santa Anita Derby on April 4 and the winner received a 98 Beyer for the race. The other Baffert runner in the race, Thousand Words, was a disappointment. He was undefeated in 3 trips to the post, raced too close to the pace today, and was totally empty in the drive. Another strong Baffert Derby hopeful, Nadal, heads to Oaklawn for the Rebel stakes this Saturday along with American Theorem from the Papaprodromou barn. Both had strong workouts at Santa Anita on Sunday.

• The Big Cap really lost a lot of its luster when Gift Box wrenched an ankle early in the morning and was a late scratch. He was the best horse in the race and it looked like trainer John Sadler wasn’t going to win three Big Caps in a row with three different horses. But as fate allowed, Rosario took over the mount on Combatant, and he got the job down in a three horse thriller getting up on the outside at 9/1. Midcourt ran well as the 6/5 choice but never did look comfortable at any point in the race, even though he had an ideal trip. Maybe the 10 furlongs is a bit beyond his best distance. The winner received a 98 Beyer figure for the race. I really thought the mare, Got Stormy, was the best horse in the Kilroe Mile, the other Grade 1 on the card. But River Boyne is a new horse since Abel Cedillo got the mount, and he just outran the talented mare in the final furlong and got up on the inside to win by a neck. It was his 2nd stakes win in a row and the time was fast for a mile, 1:33.88. He received the highest Beyer figure on the day, a solid 99. River Boyne paid $12.00 to win, it was his 7th stakes win, and his earnings are now over $1.2 million. Trainer John Sadler did win two stakes on the day, as did his principle owner, the Hronis brothers, as Flagstaff took down the Grade 2 San Carlos for older runners on the main track at 7 furlongs. He had a perfect trip sitting just off the lead in 4th, as the speedsters dueled early, and he swept by them at the 1/8 pole. Roadster ran on well to be second but was never a threat to win the race. The winner got a 96 Beyer number and now will go on the road to either Dubai or Keeneland for his next start.

• There are three good stakes races lined up this weekend and the principle one is the Beholder Mile for older fillies and mares on the main track. Hard Not to Love, who has only one good eye, heads up that field and she is coming off back to back graded stakes wins, but both around one turn. She has the style to get two turns and she will be hard to beat. The purse is $400,000. Ollie’s Candy from the hot Sadler barn will be in the lineup along with Kaydetre, Queen Bee to You, and Zusha. Mother Mother and Der Lu, both from the Baffert barn may start as well. Also on Saturday will be the San Simeon stakes, a Grade 3 for older sprinters at five and a half on the lawn. Yet another Sadler horse, Cistron, will be making his comeback in that race. On Sunday, Cal breds take center stage in the Irish O’Brien stakes at five and a half on the turf for older fillies and mares. Top sprinters Just Grazed Me and Stealthediamonds will head up that field.

• Jockey Flavien Prat won three on Sunday to take over the lead in the rider standings 38 to 36 over Joel Rosario, who will miss this Saturday, as he is off to Oaklawn Park for the Rebel stakes. Abel Cedillo is in third with 34 wins, although he has almost 100 mounts more than Rosario for the meet. Newcomer Umberto Rispoli also won 3 on Sunday and is close by with 33 wins and continues to impress. He still doesn’t have an agent since Ron Anderson left him for Johnny V. in New York. Drayden Van Dyke is in fifth with 22 wins, but is not riding well these days, even with some very good mounts. Rosario has the best win percentage at 26%. Way down in 17th place is former riding champ Rafael Bejarano and he announced this week he is packing it in and heading for Keeneland, when they open their meet on April 2nd. Bejarano is 37 now and he hasn’t been the same since returning from hand injuries and switching agents. He has been the leading rider in Southern California at 28 different meets, has 4053 total victories, and his mounts have earned over $204 million in his career. He joins Martin Garcia, Joe Talamo, and Tyler Baze in Arkansas/Kentucky, riders who have left for better opportunities. We wish him well. The top three in the trainer standings are also very close with Richie Baltas at 21 wins, and both Baffert and Peter Miller at 19. Believe it or not, Peter Miller’s win percentage is actually higher than Bafferts, and he leads all trainers at 27%.