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News and Notes April 10 Santa Anita

Week 17 is now in the books at Santa Anita Park and the track is coming off a strong weekend, with Santa Anita Derby day this past Saturday, that had strong handle and over 25,000 patrons in attendance. There were upsets abound on Saturday with the juiciest being a $155 winner in the Evening Jewel stakes late on the 12 race program. Both the main track and the turf course played fair over the weekend and the Santa Anita Derby produced two horses, both now trained by Tim Yakteen, who will be running next in the Run for the Roses the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. Racing returns this Friday with an 8 race card and the first “baby” race of the season in race one. For the first time this year, there are no stakes races lined up for this weekend. Clear skies and warm temps are forecast for the week and the Rainbow pick six pool is in excess of $300,000 for any single ticket winner.

STAKES HIGHLIGHTS: There were 7 stakes run Saturday at this track and five were graded along with two Cal bred stakes. We will touch on a few of them with the big one being the Derby at 9 furlongs on the main track, one of the premier preps in the country for the Kentucky Derby. 20 horses have won the Santa Anita Derby and then gone on to win the big one in Louisville one month later. Although they only had a six horse field this year, the race was long on quality and the undefeated Taiba sprung a mild upset sitting the perfect trip behind two seasoned performers under “Money Mike Smith” producing a $10 and change payout. Taiba won off by two lengths in just his second career start with only a maiden sprint win to his credit. He received a 101 Beyer figure for his effort but the water will get considerably deeper for his next start where 20 horses will be in the field. However, he does have the necessary speed to stay out of trouble and to be placed reasonably close to the pace. Smith made the right decision on Saturday into the first turn, by not going after Forbidden Kingdom and letting Messier sneak up in between horses and do the dirty work by tackling the speedster down the back side. Messier won the battle but lost the war as Taiba was loaded for the stretch run, sat the perfect trip behind the two speed horses, and rallied for a two length win. Messier broke a step slow, then was rushed up into contention by Johnny V., battled through quick fractions, but couldn’t stave off Taiba when it really counted. Nonetheless, it was his first start in two months, and he got a lot out of the race and is in a good position to move forward for his next start. Messier can still win the Kentucky Derby and his 40 points for second is enough to get him in the field. But it does look like a very wide open race with all the significant preps across the country already in. Forbidden Kingdom was done at the 3/8 pole, finished last, and is now off the Derby trail per his trainer, Dick Mandella. Yakteen did not want to run Taiba in this race as he thought it was too much to ask of him. But the owner, Amr Zedan, who just recently lost last year’s Kentucky Derby with Medina Spirit, thought his $1.7 million purchase was good enough, and he turned out to be right. Obviously, with just two races to his credit, Taiba doesn’t appear to have the seasoning to win the Derby, but seasoning doesn’t seem to be the factor it once was for this race. Remember Justify just a few years back, winning with just 3 races to his credit.

Another upset occurred in the Grade 2 Santa Anita Oaks for 3 year old fillies going a mile and a sixteenth on the main track. Desert Dawn, under Umberto Rispoli, who won three on the day, upset odds on favorite Adare Manor by a neck on the wire for a $31.20 surprise. She sat the perfect trip laying third down the back side while Ain’t Easy and Adare Manor slugged it out on the front end. She grabbed the lead at the top of the lane, appeared home free, but “Manor” dug in late to make it close. The winner, who is trained by leading trainer Phil D’Amato, now heads for Churchill for the Kentucky Oaks the first Friday in May. Adare Manor picked up 40 points for second and will be joining her for that race as well. Desert Dawn was far and away the longest price in this five horse field, and that seems to happen quite often in horse racing when small fields get together. The winning time was 1:43.50 over a fast but dull race track. Jockey Mike Smith got his second winner on the race card when he put in another good ride taking Cairo Memories wire to wire in the Grade 3 Providencia stakes at 9 furlongs on the grass for sophomore fillies. He coaxed her through moderate fractions of 24.08 and 48.31 for the half, then had plenty left to stave off the stretch runners winning off by four and a half at the wire. She paid $7.80 to win and was a top choice selection for Turfdom. “Cairo” also made our Horses to Watch list as she was returning to her favorite surface, where she is now 3 for 4 with her only loss coming in the B/C Juvenile Fillies turf, and there she was beaten less than 3 lengths at the wire. Sterling Crest was a distant second while a 22/1 shot, Gold Dragon Queen, got up for third in the six horse field.

JOCKEYS: The Southern California circuit has always had one of the strongest jocks rooms in the country, going back to the times of Willie Shoemaker, Johnny Longden, and Laffitt Pincay Jr., all Hall of Famers who became household names. But you look at what is left today and one has to wonder, where have all the good riders gone to? Prat is now gone and may or may not return next winter. He is a world class rider and has dominated this circuit. But now he’s off to bigger and better places where he thinks he can win an Eclipse Award. By staying here, he has no chance, as was proven this past year. Umberto Rispoli, who is a very good grass rider, is now gone also, as he rode his last race this past Sunday here, while winning three races on Saturday. Johnny Velasquez wrapped up his season here on Sunday as well, and is now headed back east for the remainder of the year. So what is left for Santa Anita and Del Mar? Not very much. Juan Hernandez is a very good rider, both on and off the pace, turf or dirt, but he’s no Flavien Prat. And from there, the talent level really drops off. Tyler Baze is Tyler Baze, a 10% rider year in and year out. Mike Smith is 56 years old and is just a shell of his former self. Diego Herrera is just 17 years old, is a good apprentice, but after losing the bug, will he ever get any decent mounts, probably not. Abel Cedillo is an average journeyman rider, no more and no less.  Drayden Van Dyke, Ricky Gonzalez, and Edwin Maldonado are average journeyman riders. None of them have the ability to move a horse up like a Flavien Prat. Joe Bravo is 52 years old and very one dimensional, (off the pace on the turf). I can’t remember when he ever went wire to wire to win a race on the main track. Kent Desormeaux was making a comeback up until his inner hostilities got the best of him, yet again, and is now pretty much ruled off all Stronach tracks across the country. He may never come back. Victor Espinoza is 48, but he can still ride, but has a weak agent, and seldom rides more than two horses a day. Mario Gutierrez, Jose Valdivia, and Kyle Frey are marginal at best. It’s perfect timing for a new face to come in and take over. Is Ramon Vasquez that man, probably not. He won his first race locally here on Sunday and was 4th in the standings at Oaklawn Park, not bad, but not terribly exciting either. Oaklawn doesn’t have a turf course. And to be the leading rider at Remington Park is almost like being the leading rider at Ferndale, if you get my drift. They say people are leaving California in droves, i.e. high taxes, high housing prices, and too many regulations. Sure we have great weather, but maybe that’s not enough. Maybe the top riders know something we don’t know; I hope not, but maybe the Southern California circuit is turning into a “B” circuit from an “A” circuit. Del Mar could very well change all of this come mid July, but for now, I still wonder. Where have all the top riders gone?

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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