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March 7 News and Notes Santa Anita

Week 10 is in the books at Santa Anita Park and they put out an outstanding card this past Saturday, Big Cap day. The main track had a tendency to favor early speed most of the week but horses could rally from off the pace as well, especially in the later races, so we would have to call the track fair overall. The turf course also played fair this past week regardless of where the inner turf rails were placed. They paid out the pick six on Saturday and from a c/o of $237,774 they added $2,141,520 to that total, but the sequence ended up being very difficult. A $54 horse in the second leg knocked most players out of the game and when the dust had settled, only 8 tickets got it right for the 20 cent wager covering six races. The return was a mammoth $208,011 for each winning ticket with only one winning favorite in the sequence. The late pick five paid out at over $104,000 for a 50 cent wager. Racing returns this Thursday with a four day week, as Thursday will be a makeup day for one of the week’s previous cancellation days. WE WILL HAVE SELECTIONS FOR THURSDAY’S 8 RACE CARD with a 12:30 first post.

STAKES RECAP: They had four graded stakes on Saturday and they were all strong races with exciting finishes. We’ll start with the Grand Daddy of them all, the Big Cap, which was the first hundred grander ever in the United States and has been won by some of the greatest horses of all time. Unfortunately, this race is not what it used to be, and we can thank those countries in the Middle East for that, as races like the Saudi Cup and the Dubai Cup with their fat purses have taken the best handicap horses in training from North America. The Big Cap now is struggling to retain their Grade 1 status. Nonetheless, they still had 10 horses line up for a purse of $500,000 and you could have thrown a blanket over the top three finishers at the wire. The Moger brother’s Stilleto Boy got the money at $29.80 once the dust had settled, with a gutty decision over a fast closing Proxy and a late tiring Defunded. The winning margin was just a neck and was the third time in his storied career that the  53 year old veteran Kent Desormeaux has won this race. In fact he is only the second rider ever to win it in 3 different decades joining the great Bill Shoemaker. And he won it in typical Desormeaux fashion, hand riding the gelding the final sixteenth and looking like he was barely making an effort. He was lucky the wire came when it did as Proxy was closing like a freight train on the outside and had him in another jump while Defunded, who looked like a winner at the sixteenth pole, just tired late when the pace and the distance finally got to him. But give trainer Ed Moger credit, as this gelding has been hooking the best horses in training the last two years, and this was his second Grade 1 victory, with Desormeaux also being in the irons down at Del Mar in 2015 with Stormy Lucy in the Grade 1 Matriarch. And while the Baffert runners were missing a drill or two due to the heavy rains at Santa Anita, both Stilleto Boy and Proxy never missed a beat in their training at GGF and the Fair Grounds in New Orleans respectively. And in a close finish, that very well could have made all the difference. Stilleto has now banked over $1.7 million in his career and was purchased by Steve Moger for $420,000. In the race prior to the Big Cap, they ran the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile for older runners on the turf, and once again there was an unlikely winner. Gold Phoenix, from the Phil D’Amato barn, got the money with another neck decision over a fast closing Du Jour, and both horses went off at 10/1. Hong Kong Harry, probably the best mile turf horse in California, went off as the 6/5 choice, but I think he didn’t get the best of rides from Flavien Prat. He was sitting in 4th down the back side under a tight hold with plenty of horse. But he moved him way too soon at the 3/8 pole, probably afraid that Air Force Red and J.J. were going to slip away on the lead. Coming off the layoff, he was a bit “short” in the stretch, and with the early move, had nothing to offer in the final furlong. He ended up fifth. Jockey Kazushi Kimura had Gold Phoenix well back early and came flying late along with Du Jour, who was also trailing down the back side. Cabo Spirit was just ¾ back in third and ran really good at 37/1. This was the second strong race for Du Jour, who is trained by Bob Baffert. Baffert is a 28% trainer on the dirt and just an 8% trainer on the turf, but this one has an explosive late kick at a flat mile.

Both of the other two races on Saturday were Grade 2’s.  And the San Felipe, a major prep for the Santa Anita Derby four weeks out was the best of the two. Nine went to the post with the morning line favorite, National Treasure being a late scratch due to a minor injury that may take him off the Derby trail. Trainer Tim Yakteen had four in here, and three of them were from the Baffert barn following the recent transfer. But the winner has been in his barn all along, and with the perfect trip slipping though on the rail at the head of the stretch, Practical Move got the money at 4/1. The winning margin was two and a half under  Ramon Vasquez. It was hard to gauge this one coming into the race as his only good performance was the Los Al Futurity, and some horses really take to that track while others simply do not. It’s a completely different surface than Del Mar or Santa Anita, with the long straightaways and the bullring type tight turns. And although Practical Move had the ideal trip throughout, it was a legit win. He received a Beyer figure of 100 and was pulling away down the lane. In comparison, Forte won the Fountain of Youth Saturday in a very strong performance and received a 98 Beyer, and he’s the favorite now for the Kentucky Derby. The runner up, Geaux Rocket Ride, was actually made the favorite in the race and this was just his 2nd career start and first around two turns. He never stopped trying down the lane and ran a good race to finish 2nd, as did Skinner who was third, but hung some down the lane. The winner got 50 points toward the Derby and is easily in the race and Yakteen will run him one more time prior to May 6, probably in the Santa Anita Derby, which should have a very strong field.   The other Grade 2 was the Buena Vista for older female runners at a mile on the turf. Once Annaglasia was an early Saturday scratch, there was no speed left in the race. Kitty Kitana broke well under Prat so he decided to go on with her and made the lead quite easily. She had it all her own way and looked tough to beat at the half mile pole. But then Prat pulled her up at the 3/8 pole when he felt she wasn’t right and took her out of the race. Then the whole complexion of the race changed. Closing Remarks, who was moving well on the rail, had to take up badly to avoid “Kitana” who was backing up quickly. She got shuffled back to last, lost her momentum, and was lucky to rally for third. The hard knocking Quatroelle rallied under Berrios once he got her to the outside and she made the last run to win at 3/1 and paid $8.60 as a mild overlay from a 5/2 morning line. She won by a half over Macadamia who was yet another D’Amato runner in the race. Berrios is riding the turf course as well as J.J. Hernandez, who is far and away the leading rider, and a lot better than Rispoli or even Prat for that matter. Trainers are taking notice and Hector is getting better mounts each and every week. His win percentage with Mullins is 40% and there aren’t many favorites in those stats. The Buena Vista was the 2nd graded stakes in a row for the combo of Mullins/Berrios. Kitty Kitana, who was pulled up by Prat, did not appear to sustain any type of injury in the race.

THE SUNDAY STAKES: After such a solid Saturday, Sunday’s three stakes seemed like an afterthought.  Faiza remained undefeated and went 4 for 4 by winning the Grade 3 Santa Ysabel stakes for soph fillies on the main track. She went off as the 4/5 choice in this mile and a sixteenth affair and won off by two to show her superiority in this division, but she is not going to the Kentucky Oaks, as she is trained by Baffert, who remains ineligible to run there this year. And Tell Me Nolies came off the bench with a good performance and rallied for second, but was no match for the winner.  Then in the Grade 3 San Simeon, a six and a half furlong affair down the hill for older runners, the ultra quick Brickyard Ride returned to the races and faced a group of runners without any speed. He quickly opened up two out of the gate but Motorious showed more speed than usual under Prat and was quickly on his heels. He caught Brickyard at the top of the lane and easily went by him to win off by two at the wire. He got bet heavily late and ended up as the favorite in the race and paid $5.00. Anarchist rallied to get second a half length in front of the tiring Brickyard Ride, who only had one drill in the last 28 days due to the track being closed for training this past week. Two races later they used the hill again for the Baffle stakes, an ungraded stakes for three year olds. The fast improving Johannes got the money here also paying $5.00 to win as he bulled his way through horses in deep stretch. Tim Yakteen trained the winner and had a marvelous weekend as a trainer winning his second stakes. Johannes is now 2 for 2 since switching to the turf and is a completely different race horse.

RIDERS/TRAINERS: Leading rider Juan Hernandez won one here on Sunday and now has 42 wins for the meet. Frankie Dettori is second with 18 wins while Flavien Prat won two on Sunday, both stakes, and now is in third with 17. Only two riders in the top 15 have win percentages higher than 20, i.e. Hernandez at 25 and Tiago Pereira at 23. Both Dettori and Prat will be out of here by the second week of April, as the former will be riding in England while Prat returns to ride at Keeneland in Kentucky. Last week we announced that Victor Espinoza has a new agent with Brian Beach coming back to Southern California. Now he has picked up another a 50 plus rider in Joe Bravo, who announced this past week that effective March 10 Beach will be his agent. “Jersey Joe” has no plans of leaving and is an excellent turf rider from off the pace. This is a good move for him as Beach is an excellent agent. In the trainer standings, Phil D’Amato has been red hot lately, winning three on both Saturday and Sunday, and has finally caught Baffert for the lead at 21 victories each. Doug O’Neill is third with 19. Baffert and Jeff Mullins are the only two with win percentages above 20, the Silver Fox is at 27 while Mullins is at 22. And then finally, one of the great claiming trainers of all time on this circuit, 83 year old Bill Spawr has disbanded his stable and announced his retirement from the game. He was famous for making claims and turning them into stakes horses throughout his career. Spawr had but 12 horses left in his stable and they have been sent to other trainers. Spawr will stick around the track as an advisor, spotting horses to claim for other trainers and owners. He is a special person and will be missed on the back side.

I’m all for the vets inspecting horses prior to racing to make sure that they are fit and sound and ready to perform to their potential, but sometimes they seem to cross the line between safety and sensibility. Trainer Joe Sharp shipped Scarlet Fusion out to Santa Anita this past week to run in the Santa Anita Handicap and yet the local vets scratched the horse to what they believed was an unsound animal and unfit for racing. They didn’t like the way the horse jogged out on Friday even though he had been inspected by the trainer’s vet and was deemed ready to go. Sharp, who also gets on many of his horses, got on the horse both Friday and Saturday and said that he jogged just fine. Now it’s not cheap to ship a horse cross country these days, even if you can make the arrangements, which isn’t easy. But to ship out and not even have a chance to run just isn’t right, especially when the connections say they have a sound animal. Unless you know every horse on the grounds, they all have their unusual quirks about them, and there is no real right way or wrong way that a horse jogs. Some just take longer to work out the kinks than others.  With all the horse shortages around the country, especially of those in California, I’m not sure these vets are making the right decisions. Word gets around the race tracks and I’ll bet Mr. Sharp will think twice before he ever ships another horse into this circuit, and that may very well be the way that other trainers are thinking as well. The Ship and Win program works great, but you have to be able to run.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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