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Santa Anita News and Notes (5/19/2020)

•    Well, they made it. After 7 weeks of down time at Santa Anita, they finally got the green light to return to racing this past Thursday and they opened Friday with a very strong card. The horses were ready, the jockeys were ready, the trainers were ready, and most importantly, the fans were ready. They wagered over $11 million through advance deposit wagering (no on track fans allowed) on Friday, which was an increase of 182% over the previous Friday of racing back in March. Then on Saturday, they went over $14 million, the same amount as Churchill Downs had, which was an increase of 132% over the previous Saturday in March. Even with the track closed to the public and all simulcast sites still closed, the fans were hungry for some action. And Santa Anita did not disappoint. They had plenty of full fields on all three days this past week and the best is yet to come. They enter into a four day race week starting this Friday and both Saturday and Monday have some outstanding stakes races with large fields. They say every cloud has a silver lining, and though the 7 weeks of no racing created hardships for many, the time away from racing is good for the horses and the fan base. Horses are not machines and they need their share of down time, while the racing public can always use the time to refurbish their bankrolls and get away from pouring over past performances. And though we can’t be at the track, it is still great to see “live” racing on our television sets, computers, or i-phones. There are no winners circle pictures to see and there are no owners allowed at the track. The winner jogs back to the finish line, stops for a three second photo with the San Gabriel mountains in the back ground, then disappears with the jockey through the tunnel and back to the paddock area. The jockey weighs in there, the groom takes the horse back to the barn area, or the receiving barn for testing, and another race is in the books. There’s nothing like a day at the track, even a bad day wagering is still a good day. But if we can’t be there because of the deadly virus, this is the next best thing.                                                          
•    The main track and the turf course both looked in really good shape. The times on the main track were about normal for Santa Anita. Good sprinters could get six furlongs in about 1:10 and change while stakes sprinters could break the 1:10 mark. On Friday and Saturday, the outside lanes were clearly best and most of the races were won by rally wide closers. Having a post position on the outside sprinting was a clear advantage. On Sunday the main track played fair. The turf course played fair all three days and front runners certainly won their share. The course looked lush and green and not all worn out like those courses at Tampa and Gulfstream. Racing resumes this Friday with a pick six c/o of $224,102 in the single ticket jackpot and they have a 9 race card with a first post of 12:30. Jockey Flavien Prat won six races on the Sunday card, a feat that has only been accomplished a few times in the history of Santa Anita, which opened way back in 1934. The great Laffitt Pincay Jr. holds the all time record of 7 wins back in 1987. The last rider to win six at this track was Rafael Bejarano back in 2006.                                                        
•    The Whittingham stakes, a Grade 2 for older runners at a mile and a quarter on the turf course, heads up the stakes program this Saturday. Trainer Richard Mandella, a Hall of Famer in his own right, and the only trainer to win 4 Breeders Cup races in a single day, will have the favorite in the race with a horse named United. He shipped to Dubai two months ago to run in a $6 million race, but due to the corona virus, the race never happened. Mandella was a huge fan of Charlie Whittingham, for whom the race is named, and nobody dominated stakes races in California for three decades like Whittingham. He would often saddle three horses in a stakes and it was quite common for him to run first, second, and third. If you ever have the chance to read the book called Whittingham, written by Jay Hovdey, please get it and read it. You will never want to put the book down until the last page. Also on Saturday is the Daytona stakes, a Grade 3 at five and a half furlongs on the turf for older runners.                                                                 
•     There are no stakes races on Sunday but Monday’s card will be outstanding. The Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile will have at least 12 runners and local favorite River Boyne heads up the field. Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse is sending War of Will out for the race, the one that won the Preakness stakes last year and is proven on the turf, and top turf trainer Chad Brown will also have two entries in the race. Other locals who will be running are Blitzkrieg, Majestic Eagle, Neptune’s Storm, Next Shares, True Valour, and Voodoo Song amongst others. Chad Brown will also have two entries in the Grade 1 Gamely stakes, a race for older fillies and mares at 9 furlongs on the lawn. Lady Prancealot, who won the Grade 1 American Oaks last December, heads up that field. The Grade 2 Monrovia, at five and a half on the turf for older fillies and mares, rounds out the stakes for Monday. This race had always been run at six and a half down the hill, and though they have stopped using the hill due to some accidents, there is talk about using the hill again for the fall season.              
•    The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby has been re-scheduled for Saturday June sixth, and the probable favorite for that race was on the main track for a drill on Sunday for Bob Baffert. Authentic, who is one of three sophomores for Baffert that is undefeated, sizzled six furlongs in 1:11 flat and galloped out 7 furlongs in 1:24.60 as a tune up for that race. Drayden Van Dyke was up for the workout and also has the mount for the Derby. John Shirreff’s outstanding sophomore Honor A.P. is also targeting the Derby. The June 6 race card will have seven stakes that day and will be the highlight of the meet. Along with Nadal, Charlatan, and Authentic, Baffert has three outstanding candidates for the Kentucky Derby, the first Saturday in Septemeber. All three are undefeated and as good as they are, there’s a rumor going around the back side that he has an unraced three year old that may be even better. His name is Cezanne and he hasn’t even been to the post yet. Watch for him in the entries in the near future.                                                
•    And finally, they announced over the weekend that the Preakness stakes will now be run on October 3 at Pimlico, four weeks after the Kentucky Derby. Since 1931, there has always been just two weeks of spacing between the Derby and the Preakness, but 2020 is no average year. Five weeks after the Preakness, they will have the Breeders Cup at Keeneland. So where does that leave the Belmont stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Crown? It looks like the Belmont will probably be run during the summer, but not at a mile and a half. Governor Cuomo just gave the go ahead this past weekend for racing to return to the state of New York, and the season will start with Belmont Park. It certainly is a crazy year, but at least racing is back and that’s a good thing.           

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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