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Santa Anita Handicapping News and Notes (Feb 19)

•    Rain continues to play a major role this winter at Santa Anita, but it’s getting better, as Monday concluded week eight at the Great Race Place. They did manage to get back on the turf this past week and even the sprints down the hill came back to being a reality. Turf races are so very important to this track putting out a good product for good handle and wagering. They will only race three days this week with racing returning on Friday, but the forecast is no rain for those three days. In spite of the inclement weather, the main track has played fair, as had the turf course when it is in use. The 20 cent pick six has still been impossible to hit for a single ticket winner, and that goes all the way back to opening day on December 26. The jackpot has climbed to $280,342 for Friday and the Super High Five also has a carryover of $20,488 which will start in race four Friday.

•    Even with the holiday weekend, stakes action was fairly limited. On Saturday, the principle race was the Grade 2 Santa Monica for older fillies and mares at 7 furlongs on the main track. After two late scratches, only five went to the post and Marley’s Freedom was installed as the heavy 3 to 5 favorite. She did not disappoint as she ran down the early front runner Selcourt with a gutty performance. Selcourt looked like a good bet just prior to post time as she stood at 5/1 and was the lone speed in the race. Plus she won this race last year going wire to wire and beating “Marley” by 4 lengths in the process. She came out running and opened up two on the field with slow fractions of 22.48 and 45.07, but still couldn’t win the race. It wasn’t so much that she stopped running down the stretch, it was that the favorite just put her head down and went and got her. Since Marley has been transferred to the Baffert barn, she has been just about unbeatable. She has won 6 of 7 races in that time span and her only loss came in the Breeders Cup sprint when she lost by a neck. She received a 99 Beyer for her efforts on Saturday. Selcourt just isn’t as good as she was last year. And neither is Paradise Woods, who came into the race with outstanding works and never ran much at all under Rosario. She has a new trainer in John Shirreffs and he blamed her dull performance on drawing the one hole, but that post doesn’t hurt a horse that much at 7 furlongs compared to 6 furlongs. There were no stakes on Sunday and then Cal breds were in the limelight on Monday with two ungraded stakes for sophomores, the Cal Cup Derby run on the main track and the Cal Cup Oaks run on the turf. Hollendorfer’s Galilean was bet down to 1 to 9 for the Derby, which went at a mile and a sixteenth, and he won quite easily by four at the wire under Flavien Prat. This was his last start against state breds as he now will face “open” company for his next start on the Derby trail. He beat very little on Monday but when the pot is $200K, who can blame them for running and giving the colt some more experience. He is taking the same path as California Chrome did a few years ago and he went on to win the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and the Preakness. They will probably ship out of town now where they can start earning some Derby points. Galilean is not in the same league as Game Winner and Improbable, but three year olds can improve quickly in the spring time, and you never want to count out a Hollendorfer runner. His sire is named Scat Daddy, and that’s the same sire who swept the Triple Crown last year with an off spring named Justify.

•    This week they have just two stakes races and both are for older fillies/mares. On Saturday they run the Grade 2 Buena Vista and a flat mile on the infield turf course. Then on Sunday there is an ungraded stakes for Cal breds coming down the hill called the Spring Fever stakes. Vasilika, the outstanding mare for Hollendorfer, who has won 8 of 9 starts since being claimed, heads up the field for the Buena Vista, and she looks awfully tough to beat. She worked ¾ last Sunday in an easy 1:14.40 and galloped out strong. She seems to be as sharp as ever. The hard trying Zaffinah, who has never missed a check in 12 starts since coming over from Europe, may be the biggest threat. S Y Sky, Show It N Moe It, and Barbara Beatrice are the principles for the Spring Fever.

•    Hot riding Joel Rosario won two on Monday and has taken over the riding lead from Flavien Prat after 8 weeks in the books, 39 to 36. Then it’s a long way back to third place to Heriberto Figueroa, the bug boy who has 21 victories. The heady veteran Mike Smith, continues to pick his spots and leads all riders in the top 20 with a win percentage of 31. It was nice to see Victor Espinoza back at the races as he had one mount in the first race Monday and was greeted warmly by the fans in attendance. He went off as the 4/5 favorite, but the fairy tale wasn’t meant to be as he finished second to a long shot who stole the race on the front end. Victor was coming back from a horrible injury in a training accident where he suffered multiple injuries to his neck and back vertebrae.

•    Doug O’Neill, the racing secretary’s best friend, continues to lead the trainer standings by three over Peter Miller. O’Neill has saddled 44 more horses so far in the meet than Miller. John Sadler sits in third and is having an outstanding meet winning at a 26% clip in the process. The only trainer in the top 20 with a higher win percentage is the veteran Bill Spawr, who is winning at a 35% clip. O’Neill has 22 victories, Miller 19, and Sadler 16. Richie Baltas won 2 on Monday and is next in line with 15.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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