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Jan 24 News and Notes Santa Anita

Santa Anita Park finally had a dry week of racing and had a make - up day this past Friday and ended up with a firm turf course over the weekend. The main track was fast all three days and played fair for the week. However, the turf course favored off the pace runners, especially in the route races, both Saturday and Sunday while the rails were in all the way on Saturday and just 10 feet out on Sunday. Fair skies are in the forecast this week with racing Friday through Sunday. And though they only had one stakes race this past week, four graded stakes are scheduled for this week with two each day, Saturday and Sunday. First post will be at 12:30 on Friday and the Rainbow pick six pool carries over at $198,088 for any single ticket winner.

STAKES RECAP: Just one stakes race this past week and it was the non graded Astra stakes at a mile and a half on the infield turf course for older fillies and mares. Queen Of the Temple went off as the 5/2 choice in this race and had the lead in mid stretch, but couldn’t hold off the late charge of Duvet Day under Kimura, who was five back at the top of the lane, yet still got up to win by one at the wire. The winner paid $28.80 and although we didn’t have him on top, we had him second in our selections with the “Queen” on top and the $2 exacta came back at $110 in this field of nine. Kimura won a stakes for the second consecutive weekend and the 23 year old is catching on with a number of trainers, mainly John Sadler and Mike McCarthy, who trained Duvet Day.

STAKES ACTION THIS WEEK:  The two stakes on Saturday are the San Pasqual for older runners at 7 furlongs on the main track. 9 figure to go to the post with Hopper, Newgrange, and Parnelli the principle runners along with 2021 Pacific Classic winner Tripoli. Hopper has plenty of speed, drew the rail, and might very well be the one to beat. There is talent aplenty in the Grade 3 Las Virgenes for sophomore fillies at a mile on the main track. Six look likely to go to the post with the talented Justique squaring off against Baffert’s Faiza. Pride of the Nile and Uncontrollable look like logical contenders.  Havnameltdown, Speed Boat Beach, and Faustin will square off in the San Vicente at 7 furlongs on the main track Sunday for three year olds. Arabian Knight is nominated but Baffert says he will go in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn in early February. Baffert had 8 of the 11 nominees for the San Vicente.  A top contentious sprint each year is the Clockers Corner for older runners at six and a half down the hill. And although this stakes isn’t graded, it always has a strong supporting cast.

THE RIDERS: Kazushi Kimura has a new agent in Brandon O’Bryan, and as mentioned earlier, is starting to make a name for himself as a strong finisher, a trait that is extremely powerful in grass races where the final 1/16 often determines the outcome of a race. He won the stakes on Saturday with Duvet Day and also took the final race with Hawker at $16.80. Both races were on the grass. He will be riding Tripoli for Sadler in the San Pasqual this Saturday. Juan Hernandez is all the rage and is way in front in the rider standings with 19 wins already at this young meet. While Flavien Prat continues to struggle, and has just five wins so far but has 19 seconds. Perhaps part of that might be the fact that trainers know Prat will only be here till the first of April, while J.J. will ride this circuit year round. As good as Prat is, and he is very good, trainers like to know that when one of their horses gets good, they like to have a rider that sticks around through the form cycle.

Speaking of the grass horse Hawker, who won the finale on Saturday, we had a pretty good week, especially since we were traveling to the east coast during the week days. On Friday, we had five top choice winners out of 8 races, led by a Best Bet in the first race named Vantastic, who won by five and paid $8.40. On Saturday we had four top choice winners led by Hawker at $16.80 and 7 winners we had from our contenders list with mutuels of $28.80 and $13.00. Both of our Best Bets on Saturday ran second, but both paid $4.00 in the place hole. On Sunday, we had 8 winners from our contenders list out of 9 races with prices such as Agree to Settle at $24.20 and Flat Out Joy at $20.40. We had an early pick 3 that paid $407, an early pick 4 that paid $586 for a 50 cent wager, and the early pick five that paid $6068 for a 50 cent wager. I’m really not one who likes to toot their horn, because in this game you can get humiliated quickly in a New York minute. But once in awhile it’s nice to know that hard work can pay off for one in this game over a period of time.

As per the norm, trainer Bob Baffert is loaded with promising three year olds at this time of the year. And this year is no different as he has at least 10-12 sophomores with their eyes on the Kentucky Derby come the first Saturday in May. However, as of this writing, Baffert is still ineligible to run any horses in that race, and this year Churchill Downs has handed down a doctrine that states any trainer that is ineligible to run, must have that horse transferred to another trainer by February 28 in order to accumulate Derby qualifying points. Baffert does have a hearing in court to further discuss this matter on February 2nd, but Churchill Downs is taking a strong, firm stance on this issue and wants Baffert to stay on the sidelines through 2023, even though he has paid his fine and already served his 90 day suspension. As I have stated many times in this column, Baffert is not a “cheater” like so many other trainers that have made the headlines this past year. Negligent yes, a cheater no. And I really think Churchill Downs is way off base trying to make an example of him to the industry. And there are dozens of his owners that stand by him year after year in spite of all the negative press. Is Baffert hard on his stock in their training coming up to the big races? You bet he is, and many year after year fall by the wayside and are unable to handle the workouts and the races. But when one does gets turned out, there is always two or three more waiting in line to take their place. Just look at the stock he has this year that most any trainer in the country would love to have just one of them in their barn. Faiza will run Sunday at Santa Anita, Arabian Knight will be in the Southwest stakes the following Saturday, Cave Rock and National Treasure ran 2-3 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Reincarnate and Newgate just ran 1-2 in the Sham Stakes at Santa Anita, Hejazi just broke his maiden here and could be any kind. Throw in Gandolfini, Carmel Road, Fort Bragg, and Arabian Lion and you have a tremendous amount of sophomore talent. I doubt anyone in the country has that much talent in their barn right now and NONE of them have any Derby qualifying points to this day. Baffert’s suspension from New York racing ends on Wednesday and he is free to race at any track in the state, along with California, Florida, and Arkansas, as well as Louisiana, but NOT at any tracks owned by Churchill Downs, who think they are God Almighty because they host the Kentucky Derby. There are many things in this world that aren’t fair in life, and this is one of them.

By Rod Young (Tufdom)

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