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Santa Anita Handicapping News and Notes Week 11

•    For the second consecutive weekend we had rain at Santa Anita Park, and they are going to go for the trifecta next week with rain in the forecast for Thursday through Saturday. In spite of the sloppy/muddy conditions the main track played fair with a good assortment of runners winning on the pace, near the pace, or from well off the pace. The key is whether the horse handles the footing, and due to the lack of rain over the years, it’s difficult to find the mud larks in the past performances. One can go on breeding and the Tomlinson number, but that’s a gamble at best. The key is if they performed well over an off track in the past, they probably will again, regardless of their current form. The races will probably be off the turf most of next week and maybe all of it. The pick six has a carryover into Thursday of $50,169.

•    Last Saturday produced an All Star card on Big Cap Day and the players didn’t disappoint. The rain held off until about the 7th race so many of the key stakes were run on a firm course and a fast track. There were 3 Grade 1’s on the card but the best race was the Grade 2, the San Felipe for three year olds on the main track at a mile and a sixteenth. Bolt d’Oro, off since the B/C, squared off against Baffert’s best hope for the first Saturday in May, McKinzie, and they put on a show. By the ¼ pole it became a two horse race and at the top of the lane, the “Bolt” came over not once but twice and bumped McKinzie. Both horses were tired at the sixteenth pole and McKinzie started lugging out, bumping the Bolt and causing interference. In the NFL they call this offsetting penalties and they re-play the down with neither at fault. Not so in horse racing. After 11 minutes they DQed McKinzie, who had won by a neck, giving Bolt the victory. Baffert was furious as the stews said they couldn’t get a good look at the bumping at the top of the lane, but got a very good look at the winner coming out the last 100 yards. Now the stews see the same replays I see, and it was pretty clear about the bumping at the top of the lane. After all is said and done, I think the stews made the right call. However, in Baffert’s defense, his horse did get bumped twice at the top of the lane, plus Bolt had the entire length of the stretch to get by McKinzie, and couldn’t do it. It does set up a unique battle between the two of them in 4 weeks for the Santa Anita Derby, providing Baffert doesn’t ship his horse out of town to get back at the stews. The Bolt looked very tired in the winners circle and the “bounce” factor certainly comes into play here. He hadn’t raced in 4 months and this race will take a lot out of him, even though his trainer said he didn’t have him fully cranked. In my book, the Bolt is a bet against on April 7.

•      By the time they ran the Big Cap, the 10th race on the card, it was raining pretty good. The track was rated sloppy and only 7 went to the post. Baffert scratched Hoppertunity due to the track conditions, and he was left with only Mubtaahij, who set sail early under Mike Smith to set the pace for the 10 furlong event. Accelerate sat second just off his flank and stayed out of trouble the entire race. Espinoza asked Accelerate for run at the ¼ pole and he did just that, as he accelerated quickly and went on to win by five rather easily. Mubtaahij held on for 2nd and it was 7 lengths back to the third horse. The winner paid $7.00, just like his morning line of 5/2, and though this was a pretty weak Grade 1, it felt good for trainer John Sadler to finally win this race. The winner’s bankroll went over $1.2 million with the victory and he will be pointed to the Pacific Classic at Del Mar at the same distance in August, with a race or two in between. In the only Grade 1 on the grass, the Kilroe Mile, was ran before the rains came on a firm turf course. The one to two favorite in the race, World Approval, never ran much at all, the pace was pretty good, and the locals roared home late as Bowies Hero just did hold off Next Shares by a half length. The winner paid $18.60 and the runner up was off at 16/1 and was probably best, but Nakatani out rode Bejarano to get the money for winning trainer Phil D’Amato. Nakatani was the difference as he saved all the ground hugging the fence the entire way, found a seam just off the rail at the top of the lane, and squeezed through while Bejarano has his mount five wide turning for home. The ground lost vs. the ground saved made all the difference. Bowies Hero is now six for nine at a flat mile on the turf in his career and he is still improving. Corey Nakatani is an average rider at best on the main track, but when he gets on the turf course, there are no others in the jocks room as good as he is, and that includes leading rider Flavian Prat. Young Drayden Van Dyke won the first 4 races on Saturday’s card and that included the other Grade 1 stakes, the Triple Bend for older runners at 7 furlongs on the main track, which was also run before the rains came. He sat just off the pace with the 6/5 favorite City of Light, collared the surprising front runner Bobby Abu Dhabi turning for home, and went on to win by a length and a half in just a five horse field. The good Cal bred, Edwards Going Left, never really fired in this race , got up for third, but was 6 lengths behind the winner. Trainer Peter Miller decided to send Roy H to Dubai so he skipped this race. The winner will be pointed toward the Met Mile, a one turn race at Belmont Park this Spring. City of Light completed a nice Grade 1 double for his connections, having won the Malibu stakes on opening day December 26.

•     Baffert’s number one horse for the Derby is still McKinzie, who was disqualified from first to second on Saturday in the San Felipe, and he’s probably as good as any sophomore in the country right now. But he has this other 3 year old named Justify, who he put in a mile allowance race on Sunday to try and get a little more seasoning. He won his debut by 9 at seven furlongs 4 weeks ago and earned a 104 Beyer in the process. That’s the highest number given any 3 year old this year in the nation. The track was rated “muddy” on Sunday by race five and I thought for sure Baffert would scratch him, but he didn’t. Instead he scratched his other 3 year old in the race who had a big chance of winning the race. Two other horses had been “eased” earlier in the program due to the track condition. He has to play catch up with Justify as this horse has zero points for the Derby, but has a world of talent. Well he did what a 1 to 9 shot is supposed to do, sat patiently just off the speed, and when Smith asked him for run at the 3/8 pole, he accelerated like a turf horse with that quick turn of foot and went on to win by six, geared down the final 1/8th. So he easily passed this test, his first race around two turns. But he still has zero points for the Derby. Baffert needs to get him in a race with Derby points sometime in April, and it probably won’t be the Santa Anita Derby because he wants to run McKinzie there. His options are the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct or the Blue Grass at Keeneland, both on April 7, or the Arkansas Derby on April 14 at Oaklawn. Whatever race he chooses, he must WIN the race to have enough points for the Derby. Although no horse has ever won the Derby without racing as a two year old since 1882, it is my humble opinion that this is the best sophomore in the country. It’s just not that he dominates his races, it’s how he does it. He runs like an older horse, very professional. Interesting times.

•    They have a good card lined up for Saturday but the rains may very well do us in. Hollendorfer’s Eclipse award winning sprinter, Unique Bella, is supposed to go in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Saturday at 9 furlongs on the main track. But he developed a cough, missed a drill, and is on the fence as we write this. The Irish O’Brien stakes in honor of St. Patricks Day, is always a dynamite sprint down the hill for older fillies and mares, but they don’t run down the hill when it rains, and that means a number of scratches. Then they have the Grade 2 Santa Ana for older fillies/mares on the grass Sunday, but that race will be very iffy to stay on the grass. I remember back in the 70’s when the Mamas and the Papas sang “It never rains in California”, but that just isn’t true.

•    Jockey Evin Roman still leads in the rider standings by two over Flavian Prat. But Roman is no longer an apprentice as he lost the five pound weight allowance on Sunday. Prat will probably pass him quite easily now. Kent Desormeaux is in third but well back of the leaders, and Drayden Van Dyke moved up to 4th with his 4 winners on Saturday. Something is up with Rafael Bejarano, as he is not the rider he once was. Granted, he’s not getting the mounts with all the other competition, but even when he’s on a “live” mount, he’s not placing them in position to win the race, and that is not like him at all. Maybe he’s just in a slump like a good hitter in baseball. A rider to watch is Geovanni Franco. He won 3 on Sunday, now has 22 for the meet, and they are all long shots. He’s making the most of every opportunity he gets.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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