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Mar 1 News and Notes Santa Anita

Well week 9 at the Great Race Place turned out to be a non entity, as there was no racing the entire week due to heavy rainfall making it unsafe for both horse and rider.     After the dust had settled on Sunday, they did accumulate 6.5 inches of rain in Arcadia, so it looks like the decision management made was a sound one. But after more rain coming in the early part of this week, clear skies are in the forecast for Friday through Sunday, March 3rd through the 5th. And if no one hits the pick six jackpot on Friday, they will have a mandatory payout on the Rainbow pick six on Saturday, Big Cap Day. With the pool just over $214,000 going into Friday, the total pool on Saturday will be well over seven figures. Entries for both Friday and Saturday were due to be drawn on Sunday, the 26th and should be out very late Sunday evening.

BIG CAP DAY: Saturday’s 12 race program should be outstanding with four graded stakes in the offering. There were 16 nominees for the Santa Anita Handicap at a mile and a quarter on the main track for older runners and 11 will be going to the gate. This is one of the larger fields for the Big Cap that we have seen in recent years and will go as the final race on the program. Defunded, who comes off a second for Baffert in the $3 million Pegasus Handicap looms the post time favorite, but he will have plenty of challengers with the likes of stable mate Hopper, Grade 2 winners Newgrange and Stilleto Boy, and last year’s Big Cap runner up Warrant. There are three shippers in the race looking for Grade 1 black type, i.e. Warrant, Proxy, and Scarlet Fusion. The other Grade 1 on the card is the Kilroe Mile for older runners on the turf. It will go as race 11 on the card and they have 8 runners and half of them reside in the D’Amato stable. There are two speed horses in the race and both have an excellent chance of winning. Air Force Red may be quicker and looms as a big shot in wiring this field. Masteroffoxhounds won’t be far away early on and has the class to stalk and pounce. The former is also nominated in the San Simeon Sunday but I think he runs here with J.J. taking the mount. The late threats appear to be the D’Amato duo of Hong Kong Harry and Balnikhov. 11 will go to the post in the San Felipe and it is a strong field as the prep for the Santa Anita Derby on April 8. Baffert has had to unload his stable in order to accumulate Derby points so most of them are in the Tim Yakteen barn. He has five of them in this race with Practical Move being the one that has been his from the get go. The others all have a shot in here headed up by National Treasure and Hejazi. Fort Bragg and Mr Fisk will have a look. The very swift Geaux Rocket Ride gets the acid test in just his 2nd career start but won his debut by six with a 92 Beyer and has Prat in the irons. Skinner form the John Shirreffs barn will be rolling late and is not without a shot. The other stakes on the program is the Grade 2 Buena Vista at a mile on the lawn for older fillies and mares. 8 will go to the post and once again, D’Amato will have half of the field. Late running Quattroelle (Mullins), Closing Remarks (Gaines), and School Dance (D’Amato) head up this field. Two maiden races with 12 horse fields and an excellent allowance race for the second condition round out an excellent wagering card. If you like quality horse racing with large fields, don’t miss this Saturday.

On Sunday, they have three stakes lined up, two carried over from the previous week. The new one is the Grade 3 San Simeon, a downhill sprint for older runners and will feature the return of the very fast Brickyard Ride for trainer Craig Lewis. Other nominees are such outstanding sprinters as Sumter, Whatmakessammyrun, and Air Force Red, who is two for two down the hill. The other Grade 3 on Sunday is the Santa Ysabel stakes for sophomore fillies and will feature the undefeated Faiza for trainer Bob Baffert. She will be hooking the late running Justique for John Shirreffs along with Coffee in Bed. Peter Miller’s “ And Tell Me Nolies” is also nominated. The program will also have the Baffle stakes for sophomores coming down the hill, named for one of the great grass sprinters of the 70’s who just adored the hill.

DEL MAR: Santa Anita Park already has the Breeders’ Cup locked up for 2023, and then just this past week it was announced that Del Mar would be the host for the Cup in 2024, thus leaving the Fall Classic in Southern California for two consecutive years. Del Mar first hosted the B/C in 2017 and it was a rousing success, so they were awarded it again in 2021. This will be their third time and they have purposely kept the attendance under 40,000 people to accommodate everyone who is on site at the track. Del Mar, just steps from the Pacific Ocean, has it all with their location and the great San Diego weather. The track was originally opened in 1937 by Hollywood crooners Bing Crosby and Pat O’Brien and added a fall meet in 2014 with the closing of Hollywood Park.

THE RIDERS: Gone are the days when one rider has the same jockey agent for his entire career, as did the late Bill Shoemaker with his good friend Harry Silbert. Of course, “The Shoe” was a very special rider and one of the best in the history of the sport. Effective March 9, one of the best grass riders on this circuit will have his book  handled by Matt Nakatani , the son of Corey Nakatani, who won 3909 races in his career along with 119 Grade 1 stakes. That rider is 34 year old Umberto Rispoli who is departing from Tony Matos. Rispoli is currently 10th in the standings at Santa Anita, but he is accustomed to being much higher and he feels he needs to make a change. Rispoli’s production declined in 2022 after almost winning the riding title at Del Mar in the summer of 2021, only losing to Flavien Prat on the final day 50 to 49. He thus headed off to Kentucky, but he wasn’t all that successful there, and then returned to Southern California.  He is still a tremendous talent on the turf but the jockey’s room is a bit crowded with talent these days as long as Prat, Johnny Velasquez, Frankie Dettori, and Kazushi Kimura remain on the scene.  However, many of those riders will be leaving once the month of April rolls around. Another rider with a new agent is the Hall of Fame jockey Victor Espinoza, who rehired Brian Beach, who was his agent from 2013 to 2021. Beach, who is one of the best in the business, was forced to leave his job due to his wife’s health and they moved to Idaho. But she is considerably better now and Brian is back with what he does best. Espinoza won the Triple Crown in 2015 with American Pharoah for Baffert, and also won the Kentucky Derby the year before with California Chrome. He is still used considerably now with veteran trainers like John Shirreffs, Mike McCarthy, Paddy Gallagher, and Peter Eurton. I first met Brian Beach in 1994 when I claimed my first horse up at Golden Gate Fields. He was the agent for a rider named Vann Belvoir, who later became a trainer on this circuit and is currently over at Turf Paradise. Belvoir was an excellent rider but he had weight issues as he grew. In those days, Russell Baze dominated everything on the Nor Cal circuit, but Belvoir was often second to him in the standings. Belvoir was the regular rider for Timely Encore, my first horse, who went on to win 16 races for us and nearly $300,000. Not bad for a $12,500 claim.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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