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Feb 21 News and Notes Santa Anita

Week 8 is in the books at the Great Race Place and they raced four days this past weekend with holiday racing on Monday. The main track played fair over the four days but the bias on the turf course was all over the place. Generally, the course favors off the pace runners, but on Saturday all five turf winners were on the pace, either winning in wire to wire fashion or sitting in second close up early on. The turf rails were out 20 feet on Saturday. Rain is in the forecast this week from Thursday through Saturday and tapering off some early Sunday morning. The Arcadia oval could see as much as 3-5 inches for the three days. Racing has already been cancelled for Friday, which was a make - up day to begin with, and a decision on Saturday’s card will be made on Wednesday when entries are to be taken for that day. When heavy rain is in the forecast, track management has taken all of the precautions necessary to protect the horses. This is the 4th cancelled date so far this meet. If Saturday’s races are cancelled, the Santa Ysabel stakes for sophomore fillies would be delayed till the following Sunday. When racing does return, the Rainbow pick six pool is up to $214,355.

STAKES RECAP: They had three stakes run over President’s weekend, one each for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. On Saturday, they ran the restricted Wishing Well stakes down the hill for older fillies and mares and it had an exciting finish. In the end you could throw a blanket over the top three finishers as all three were separated by a neck and a head at the wire. Freedom Flyer got the victory going wire to wire under the red hot Frankie Dettori, who was winning his 4th on the day. After 3 late scratches in the race, the winner had it all her own way down the hill, setting moderate fractions of 22.26 and 44.35 for the half. These were the 2nd slowest fractions of the meet down the hill and we just completed the 8th week of the meet. This enabled Freedom Flyer to still have something left in the stretch and she just did hold off the late charge of both Big Summer, who went off as the favorite, and Bay Storm, who was the morning line favorite. The winner paid $16.40 and received a Beyer number of 89. Freedom Flyer was trained by Len Powell and was her 4th career victory bringing her earnings to $272,120. On Sunday, only five went to the post in the Spring Fever stakes, a six furlong dash on the main track for older Cal bred fillies and mares. Alice Marble was made the even money favorite under Flavien Prat and she didn’t disappoint, as she sat last in the compact field while three others dueled up front. She was loaded at the top of the lane, found a small seam at the 1/8 pole, burst through it in game fashion, and went on to win by two at the wire to remain undefeated on the main track at 4/4. She returned an even $4.00 for the win for trainer Phil D’Amato, who listened to Prat when he said she was a better horse on the dirt than on the turf. It was the sixth win for “Marble” from just 14 starts and D’Amato may try to stretch her out for her next start and leave her on the dirt. Taming the Tigress ran a good second at 5/1 and is the horse to take out of this race for future starts. The time was 1:10.29 over a fast but fair surface. On Monday, only four went to the post in the Cal bred Tiznow stakes at a mile on the main track for older runners. The Chosen Vron, who was shooting for his fifth consecutive stakes victory went off as the 3 to 10 choice, made the lead on his own easily, kicked clear at the top of the lane, and won in hand by six and a half at the wire. Leyas Candy, off at 5/1, dogged the favorite down the back side, but gave way when the real racing began. Eric Kruljac trains the winner and it was his 10th win in 14 starts for this ATM machine. He will stay in Cal bred company as long as they allow him to and will be pointed for the Sensational Star stakes down the hill on March 19. He is one for one down the hill.

Just two stakes lined up this weekend prior to Big Cap Saturday the following weekend. On Saturday, three year old fillies will compete in the Santa Ysabel stakes at a mile and a sixteenth on the main. This is the final local prep for the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks and will also offer 50 qualifying points for the Kentucky Oaks, one day prior to the Run for the Roses. Richard Mandella’s Coffee in Bed, who won her debut at 19/1 on the main track heads up this field. On Sunday, sophomores come down the hill in the Baffle stakes, named for one of the great sprinters down the hill from the mid seventies, who I remember quite well. With heavy rain in the forecast, both of these races could very well be impacted on their runnability.

THE RIDERS: Juan Hernandez has cooled off a bit as the leading rider, but still holds a huge lead which he will never surrender at this six month meet. He only won one on Sunday and one on Monday and his 39 wins lead by 21 over 52 year old Frankie Dettori, who won four on Saturday to move into second with 18 victories. Speed rider Edwin Maldonado holds down third with 14 wins while three are next in line with 13 wins, i.e. Flavien Prat, Ramon Vasquez, and Hector Berrios. The latter won two on Monday and is the hottest rider the last week. South American Tiago Pereira has the best win percentage of any rider in the top 15 at 27% and has far and away the best ROI of any rider, as his 12 winners have all been long shots. Trainer Bob Baffert, who will take up our final paragraph, leads all trainers with 19 winners, one more than Doug O’Neill. Phil D’Amato is next with 15 and is the projected winner for the entire meet. That’s because so many races are being run on the turf this meet and nobody is loaded with more quality turf runners than D’Amato. Three trainers have win percentages over 20 led by Baffert at 26%, then Steve Knapp and Jeff Mullins next at 22%. Mullins would be much higher had he not been suspended, when his son took over and won 4 of 6 starters earlier in the meet. The combination of Mullins and Berrios have hit at 40% for the meet in spite of the fact there is a huge language barrier between the two of them.

THE END OF THE TRAIL FOR BAFFERT:  For the second consecutive year Baffert will not have a runner in the Kentucky Derby, even though he has 7 runners currently in the top 20 from the Daily Racing Form. A district court judge ruled against a Baffert injunction this past Friday allowing him to run any horses the first Saturday in May in Kentucky. He can still run them in his name for both the Preakness at Pimlico as well as the Belmont in New York, but what Baffert really cares about is winning the Derby. His lawyers will appeal the case but they are running out of time quickly, as Churchill Downs has set a deadline of February 28 for any qualifying points for the Derby this year and those horses will have to be transferred to other trainers by that date in order to compete for the points. That happened last year as well but didn’t work out all that well for Baffert, as both Messier and Taiba ran poorly in the Derby. Once the latter returned to his barn, he had a strong sophomore season and was one of three finalists for the best 3 year old of 2022. Perhaps Baffert’s legal team took an incorrect stance by stating that Baffert would endure “irreparable harm” by not being allowed to run in the Derby, but the courts have stated that all earnings in racing are speculative and theoretical, so no one knows for sure if there is any harm to the trainer. There certainly wasn’t much last year, as Baffert went on to a strong year and 90% of his owners were right back with him after the Derby. It looks like Tim Yakteen may be the recipient once again for most of Baffert’s entourage, though that is not official as of this writing. Horses like Arabian Knight, Hejazi, Reincarnate, and Cave Rock all look to have some sort of a realistic shot at this year’s Derby and have all been carefully prepared by the “Silver Fox.” I know I’m in the minority with my thinking that Churchill Downs has been way to hard on Baffert. Putting a lotion on the outside skin of a horse to clear up a rash hardly seems like a felony to me. Baffert does not use performance enhancing drugs on his stock and when one tries to keep up with all the different rulings and regulations each state has for medications, one needs a PHD in chemistry. Baffert has served his 90 day suspension, paid his fine, and handled himself in a responsible manner, but the Churchill Downs organization has a vendetta on him much like Santa Anita did with Hollendorfer a few years back. They are trying to make an example of him to the industry with their “holier than our” attitude. Believe me, there are dozens of trainers around the country that abuse the medication rules much worse than Baffert ever thought about. But because of the horses that Baffert has in his stable, his misdoings have always happened on the biggest stages. Baffert will endure and perhaps he just needs to let this slide, before the Churchill Downs people make it even worse and ban him for 2024 and beyond. Right now, they hold all the cards, and once you’re licked, it’s smarter to just stay down for the count.

by Rod Young (Turfdom)

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