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April 27 Santa Anita News and Notes

Turf racing is back in full flight as week 18 at the Great Race Place came to an end on Sunday. Both the turf course and the main track played fair for the week. Kentucky Derby weekend kicks off this Friday with an 8 race card at Santa Anita and the first “baby” race of the season for two year old fillies. The Rainbow pick six pool is up to $186,141 for the single ticket winner.

STAKES RECAP: They had three stakes over the weekend with two on Saturday and one on Sunday, but all three had short fields, which seems to be the norm around here lately. Too many of the really good horses are shipping back east for more lucrative purses than what this circuit has to offer right now. Plus, Golden Gate Fields had their Gold Rush weekend this past week and offered 8 stakes in two days, including the Grade 3 San Francisco Mile, which was won by a Southern California shipper, Whisper Not, for Baltas. In fact on Saturday, Southern California shippers won five of the six stakes at GGF. Here on Saturday, As Time Goes By, easily won the Grade 2 Santa Margarita for Baffert as only five went to the post in this 9 furlong race on the main track for older fillies and mares. She went right to the front for Mike Smith, set moderate fractions throughout, and easily pulled away in the stretch to win by nine widening lengths. As Time Goes By went off as the 3/5 choice and paid $3.60. Second choice Harvest Moon tried to stay with her early but couldn’t, even though the fractions weren’t overly quick. She is just a shell of her former self as she was a well beaten third. Pharoah’s Heart, who was the third choice in the race, was a total mess. She acted up in the post parade, was very difficult to load, and for the first time, she came out with all four wraps on. She figured to be on the lead, but missed the start, and never ran a jump. This race used to be a Grade 1, but based on this field, I could see why they downgraded it to a Grade 2. Nonetheless, the winner is a nice horse and Baffert is targeting her for the Breeders Cup Distaff in the fall, but she beat absolutely nothing on Saturday. The other stakes on Saturday was for Cal breds in the Crystal Water, at a mile on the turf for older runners, and it was more of a race. Although only five went to the post, 8 year old Brandothebartender made it two straight under Rispoli, when he came from dead last and won going away in this mile turf race at 5/1. North County Guy, the even money favorite who was shooting for his third straight stakes win, rallied for second and was beaten just ¾ at the wire, while it was another length back to Acclimate, the early pace setter under leading rider Prat. This was Brando’s 8th win of his career but the first time he has ever won back to back. His career earnings now stand at $668,364 for winning trainer Craig Dollase and his owners. This race was named for the Cal bred Crystal Water, who in 1977 won both the Big Cap and the Hollywood Gold Cup, both at 10 furlongs on the main track.

This week they have two stakes lined up for Saturday but nothing for Sunday. Of course, they do have a race over in Kentucky Saturday that is quite popular. Locally, three year old fillies are in the spotlight Saturday with the Angel’s Flight stakes at 7 furlongs on the main track and the Grade 3 Senorita stakes at a mile on the turf. Trainer Richard Mandella, who is having an outstanding meet here, has an awfully strong hand in the Angel’s Flight with Missy P, who broke her maiden by 9 lengths in her only start, and Astute, who is coming off a layoff but is already a stakes winner at Del Mar last fall. Astute worked on Friday 3/4 on the main in a very quick and solid 1:11.40. With Prat in Kentucky for the Derby, Juan Hernandez has the mount on Astute while Tyler Baze will be up on Missy P.

DERBY DOINGS: The big race in Louisville is this Saturday and though Essential Quality is five for five and undefeated, it sure seems like the Derby is pretty wide open this year with a number of contenders who have a real shot at the roses. The draw is Tuesday and that will have a lot to say about where everyone is in the 20 horse field. Three Southern California horses dropped out this past week and all three had enough points to get in. Peter Miller didn’t like the way Get Her Number worked 5/8 at San Luis Rey on Saturday so he is out. Baffert didn’t like the way Hozier has been working so he is out, and Peter Eurton is going to race Dream Shake on the undercard at Louisville in the Pat Day Mile. Speedster Caddo River, 2nd in the Arkansas Derby, was ruled out by trainer Brad Cox on Sunday and will take some of the pace out of the race. However, a 20 horse field still seems probable as I write this Monday morning and the three locals, Rock Your World, Hot Rod Charlie, and Medina Spirit    all seem to have more than a punter’s chance. We feel pretty good about the first two and will have our selections available around 6 PM on Friday evening, along with the Saturday Santa Anita card. Hot Rod Charlie worked ¾ on the main track here in 1:13.40 on Saturday before boarding the plane out, while Rock Your World worked earlier in the morning Saturday, 5/8 in a crisp 59.40. Prat was up on Charlie while Sadler’s exercise rider was up on “Rock” who also had a strong gallop out which pleased Sadler the most. Joel Rosario has the mount on the “Rock”. Medina Spirit, the lone Baffert runner in the field, worked a solid ¾ in 1:12.20 last Thursday and was at Churchill by Saturday. With all the good three year old colts Baffert had this year, it’s hard to believe that this is the only one going to the post, and this one was the least expensive, costing only $35K at auction. He is hard on them; they either hold up or are cast aside. Baffert does have the Eclipse award winning female sprinter of last year on the Kentucky Derby undercard this week. Gamine went ¾ at Santa Anita on Saturday in 1:13 flat and will be in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff at 7 furlongs on the main track.

Every once in awhile a horse comes along that really blows your socks off with their performance. Hence was the case on Saturday when trainer John Sadler unveiled his million dollar colt called Flightline. In a real “salty” maiden special weight field (Baffert had two well bred youngsters as did Callaghan), Flightline broke a step slow under Prat, but then quickly contended for the lead. On a track that has been playing on the deep and slow side for much of the meet, Flightline went through early fractions of 21.59 and 44.42 for the half. He was 8 clear by the top of the lane, then completely shut the door on the field with a final quarter in 24.33, yet was geared down the final furlong. He won by 13, stopped the timer in 1:08.75, and could have won by much more if needed. His Beyer number came back at 105. Now Sadler already has Rock Your World all set for the Derby this Saturday, but he has another really good three year old on his hands as well. He won’t make any of the Triple Crown races but they may be thinking Breeders Cup with this one in the fall. Out of the great sire Tapit and an Indian Charlie mare, this one could be any kind.

One of the toughest things about being a thoroughbred trainer is something called the “absolute insurer rule.” And what this means is that the trainer is 100% responsible for whatever happens to his/her horse in a race. If a disgruntled employee gets mad at you and somehow puts any type of an illegal drug in your horse, the trainer is 100% responsible, no ifs, ands, or buts. In many ways there is nothing fair about this rule, but life itself isn’t fair. Well, last year you may recall, trainer Bob Baffert had two of his star horses test positive for the drug, lidocaine, a therapeutic medication that is not performance enhancing. Both horses, Charlatan and Gamine, are two of the classiest horses in their divisions, and they have proven that time and again, and are still racing. In a July 13 hearing last year, the stewards in Arkansas found Baffert guilty, fined him, suspended him for 15 days, and disqualified both horses from their purse money. Baffert appealed the case to the Arkansas Racing Commission, and then went out and got the best attorneys that money can buy. Baffert is a multi-multi millionaire. Baffert contended all along that his assistant, Jimmy Barnes, had a lidocaine patch on his back for a recent injury, and when he saddled both of these horses for races in Arkansas, the drug somehow got on his hands when applying the tongue tie. As it turns out, this was not the case. The drug was found to be in the horse’s system AFTER the race, probably from the test barn. After a two day trial this past week in Arkansas, where even Baffert took the witness stand, he stuck to his story about his assistant somehow transferring the drug to his two stars. The case did have a lot of holes in it where the paper work was transferred from one lab to another, some of the labs had lost their accreditation, and even had Charlatan listed as a gelding instead of a colt. The Arkansas Racing Commission was in a quandary. You just don’t go against the stewards in racing, they have the final say. Just ask Gary and Mary West when they tried to overturn the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby two years ago. The Commission was in a no-win situation, damned if they do, damned if they don’t. But in the end, Baffert won. Both disqualifications were over turned. The money was restored to the winning owners, Baffert’s 15 day suspension was lifted, but he did have to pay a $5000 fine for each horse with the lidocaine in their system. Chump change for a man of Baffert’s wealth and stature. But in the end, what does this really say about the system? Do some trainers get away with murder because they are rich and powerful and the rules don’t apply to them? Remember the mishandling of Justify in the Santa Anita Derby and how that was swept under the rug by the California Horse Racing Board because Baffert is Baffert. Justify shouldn’t have even been able to run in the Derby, much less win the Triple Crown. In the end, the rules really don’t apply to the rich and powerful. Remember what our past President said, “I could kill an individual right down on Fifth Avenue in broad daylight and get away with it.” In this world today, I believe that he could.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

p.s. checkout Rod's newest book (below) to help you uncover hidden jockey/trainer winning angles

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