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Jan 11 Santa Anita News and Notes

Week three is in the books at the Great Race Place, and all three days this past week it was fast and firm with no rain in the forecast for the next 7-10 days. The race cards were on the light side this past week, but things should pick up this week with Holiday racing on Monday and Cal Cup day on Saturday that includes five stakes races totaling $900,000 in purse money. Jockey Flavien Prat continues to roll along as he won three on Friday, three on Saturday, and then topped off the week with four on Sunday, including the lone stakes race on the program. He now has 21 victories for the meet, which is four in front of John Velasquez, and he has won six stakes as well. Talk about dominance, Prat and Velasquez have won 45% of all the races ran through the first 8 days of the meet. Both the main track and the turf course played fair this past week. Racing resumes on Friday with an 8 race card and will race four days this week as the nation celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday. There has been no single ticket winner in the Rainbow pick six as the pool climbs to $391,924 entering Friday’s racing.

STAKES RECAP: They ran two stakes over the weekend, both were graded, and Flavien Prat won both of them. On Saturday six three year old fillies went to the post in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez stakes at seven furlongs on the main track. Bob Baffert’s Under the Stars went to the post as the 4 to 5 choice and did not disappoint on a fine ride from Prat, as she was stuck in the one hole and had to work out a trip. She hung on to win the race by ¾ over the 9/2 shot Awake at Midnyte, who ran her normal game race. “Stars” wasn’t real quick out of the gate but found herself on the lead by the half mile pole and Prat rationed her speed from there. She received a strong 92 Beyer figure for her race and received 10 points toward the Kentucky Oaks. Of course, Baffert is still banned from participating in either the Derby or the Oaks, so it will be interesting to see how many owners abandon him in the next few months, if at all. I personally feel Baffert has something up his sleeve and all of his horses will be in those races, at least those that qualify. I can see the courts using an injunction allowing his horses to compete, and in my opinion, rightfully so. The undefeated Big Switch was a huge disappointment in this race as she finished off the board as the second choice in the wagering. On Sunday, seven older fillies and mares went to the post in the Grade 3 Las Cienegas stakes at six and a half down the hill. This time Prat was not on the post time favorite as the steady Hear My Prayer went off as the 8/5 choice and she sped right to the lead with quick fractions of 21.99 and 44.16 for the half. Zero Tolerance, with Prat aboard, was in close pursuit and had the perfect trip stalking the pace setter. However, Tapwater came from far back and posed a serious threat at the 1/8 pole at 10/1, and almost nailed the winner in the closing strides. Prat held on for a head victory over Bravo and Tapwater, but that lead was diminishing fast, while “Prayer” was another length and a half back. It was the first stakes win for trainer Ruben Alvarado who took over Peter Miller’s stable at the beginning of the meet. Of course, Miller is still calling all the shots and is very active with the stable; he’s just not at the track. The winner paid an even $6.00 as the second choice in the wagering.

There are five stakes races lined up for this Saturday on Cal Cup day when it really does pay to own a “Cal” bred. The Turf Classic and the Cal Cup Derby for sophomores are the two biggest races and each carry a $200,000 purse. The Classic, which is 9 furlongs on the lawn, will be headed up by None Above the Law, Acclimate, Big Fish, and a recent $100,000 claim named Whooping Jay, who is more of a sprinter. This race should set up nicely for Big Fish who does his best running from off the pace for David Hofmans, the 79 year old conditioner. The Derby of course is on the main track for newly turned three year olds. Straight Up G, who is owned by radio talk show host Jim Rome, shoots for his third straight stakes victory in this race and is trained by Richie Baltas. Others expected to be in the entries when they are drawn on Wednesday will be Finneus, Agador Spartacus, Fast Draw Munnings, and Highland Ghost. Finneus will be ridden for the first time by John Velasquez and he blew out this past weekend in 59 flat for five eighths. The ultra fast Brickyard Ride heads up the field for the Cal Cup sprint and he has been well rested since the summer, while Doug O’Neill has a recent claim named Positivity who he is very high on and will contend. Leggs Galore, who is the defending champ, heads the field for the Filly and Mare sprint, which will be on the grass at six and a half down the hill. Stable mate Alice Marble and the stretch running Warren’s Showtime will be factors in the race. The undefeated Professors’ Pride, (3 for 3), heads up the field for the Cal Cup Oaks for newly turned three year old fillies at a mile on the main track. The Cal Cup day is always a good afternoon of racing. The Grade 3 Astra stakes is in the spotlight on Monday at a mile and a half down the hill for older fillies and mares.

Equibase released its 2021 stats this past week on thoroughbred racing and handle jumped up over $12 billion for the year, the highest since 2009, and 11% higher than 2019. That’s sort of hard to believe when you consider that there were 32% less races ran than in that year, and field size was down over 7% nationally over 2019, pre pandemic. In a sport that many consider to be a dying one, and one that does not do enough to attract younger people, and then throw in all the drugs and negative goings on (Baffert, Medina Spirit, Navarro, Servis, etc.), it’s a real credit to those of us that still love horse racing. Of course, the sport is doing just about everything they can to clean itself up and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act go into effect this year. The State of California really is leading the way as Del Mar has the best safety record of any track in the nation, and has had for the last four years, and no track is there tougher to get an unsound horse to the post than Santa Anita. Any inkling of a horse being “off” in any way, they are an instant scratch. And when the track is “off”, i.e. sloppy, muddy, etc., the California Horse Racing Board, the jockeys, the trainers, and the Santa Anita management team ALL have to agree that it is safe to run, or they scratch the day, like they did on December 30. So in spite of all the animal activist groups and the reduction of yearly foal crops, the sport of thoroughbred racing trudges onward, and that’s a good thing for all of us, that love the game, the horse, and all the glamour that surrounds it.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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