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Santa Anita Handicapping News and Notes Week 20

•    Week five of the spring/summer meet at Santa Anita was concluded on Sunday under cooler temps and even some cloudy skies with some light drizzle over the weekend. But the track remained fast and the turf remained firm and both surfaces played fair over the weekend. The placement of the turf rails are becoming a non factor in handicapping at this track, as horses can win on the lead or come from well off the pace regardless if the rails are in or out 30 feet. Naturally they have to move them each day to sustain the course, which gets as much as four turf races per day, but sometimes the rails are even moved within the race card. It used to be when the rails were 20 or 30 feet out, the advantage went to horses on the lead, but that theory just doesn’t hold water anymore. Racing resumes this Thursday with a large c/o in the single ticket jackpot of the pick six. That wager paid out at over $200K  on Sunday, but there was still more than one winner, so the jackpot has climbed to $479,931.

•    They ran two stakes on Saturday and one was won by the favorite at 6 to 5 while a Baffert long shot won the other and paid $30. On a track that’s still playing dead, Kanthaka took the Grade 3 Laz Barrera for three year olds with a clever ride by Prat skimming through on the rail to just get up over a 9/1 shot, Beautiful Shot.  He is now 3 for 3 at 7 furlongs and this was his second graded stakes win. He has not been able to win past 7 furlongs and does seem best as a late running sprinter. Beautiful Shot was also cutting back from route races and may have been best here as he didn’t get the rail run that the favorite did. He made our Horses to Watch list for the week. Then later in the program, Martin Garcia gave a heads up ride on Emboldened for Baffert by coming off the pace in a race loaded with early zip, also at 7 furlongs. This was called the Angels Flight stakes, and though it wasn’t graded, the competition was that of at least a Grade 3. Moonshine Memories was making her comeback in this race and went off as the favorite, as she was the favorite in the B/C Juvenile last fall for two year old fillies. She ran well to get second and will only move up off of this race. When was the last time you saw a Baffert horse pay $30?  I cannot remember when. She had shown early speed in her two previous starts but came from well back on Saturday to win off by two.

•    Cal breds take center stage at the Great Race Place this weekend with two $100,000 races. Older fillies and mares go postward on Saturday at a flat mile on the turf in the Fran’s Valentine stakes. Enola Gray, who got away very poorly in her comeback race four weeks ago, heads up that field along with such runners as Barbara Beatrice, Cheekaboo, Moonless Sky, and Shy Carmelita. Then on Sunday, older colts and geldings compete in the Crystal Water stakes, also at a flat mile on the turf, named for the brilliant Cal bred runner who won lots of stakes events in the seventies in Southern California. Multiple graded stakes winner Ashleylussugar heads that field along with Rye, who is dropping out of graded stakes, Anatolian Heat, Accountability, Fly to Mars, Camino Del Pariso, and Ward ‘n Jerry. They should have close to a full field for the Crystal Water.

•    Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens, who is 55 years young, couldn’t take it any longer and is returning to ride on this circuit starting this Thursday. He left for Oaklawn Park the first week of January and continued riding in the Midwest through this past week. Tony Matos, who also represents Evin Roman, will be his agent. Stevens did well at Oaklawn winning 25 races and purses of $1.7 million. He will find plenty of competition for mounts here as this circuit is as strong as it’s ever been for the riders. Stevens has over 5000 career victories and was voted the Eclipse award as the nation’s outstanding rider in 1998.

•    The field is shaping up for the Preakness stakes this Saturday and it seems that only 7 or 8 horses will challenge Justify, who was so impressive in winning at Churchill Downs. Justify remains undefeated in four races and came out of the Derby in such great shape, it’s hard to imagine him losing this race. Very few horses can go with him early and very few can run with him late. He’s also bigger than his competition as he weighs in at 1280 pounds, very large for a 3 year old that is still growing. That becomes a factor when you ask a horse to come back from such a grueling race in two weeks. In fact, Justify has had to cram all four races into a very small window of time just to qualify for the Triple Crown. It just goes to show that he is one of the special ones that come along every once in awhile. Bolt d’Oro was pondering in running up against Justify one more time, but wisely decided to wait for the Met Mile June 9th on the Belmont stakes under card. He’ll have to face older horses there but a one turn mile is more in his roundhouse. But Chad Brown, who ran second with Good Magic in the Derby, wants another shot at Justify. He knows his horse can’t get a mile and a half in the Belmont, so he’s decided to run Saturday. That just means that Justify will be 4 to 5 instead of 2 to 5 at the windows. Audible is going to wait for the Belmont for Pletcher and the rest of the field is made up of minor stakes winners and Derby also rans. Still, it’s a horse race, and anything can happen in a horse race.

•    Last week we knocked the stewards at Santa Anita for not taking down a horse that clearly cost another horse the win, by coming over 4 paths in the stretch, forcing the runner up to check briefly and alter her course. The horse that was not taken down was ridden by Mike Smith who had won the Kentucky Derby the previous day. The horse that finished second, Helen Hillary lost by just a half length but the stews, in a 2 to 1 vote, said she wouldn’t have won anyways. This past week, those same stewards gave Mike Smith a four day suspension for not trying to keep his horse running straight in the stretch. Now if that isn’t a further indictment for making the incorrect call, I don’t know what is. The stewards on this circuit are the worst in the country as they consistently make incorrect calls on horses that stay up or come down, and they answer to nobody. In other sports, umpires and referees are reviewed on a yearly basis, and if they are not performing at a high level, they are replaced. Not so in horse racing. They just muddle along and continue to collect their fat paychecks.

•    After five weeks of the spring/summer meet at Santa Anita, favorites are winning at a 38% clip, well above the average. It’s even worse on the main track, as for dirt races only, it’s 43%. No wonder the single ticket jackpot of the pick six continues to climb. This will all change dramatically when Del Mar opens their doors for their seven week summer meet on July 18. Longshots will rule for the first 3 to 4 weeks as they do every summer.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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