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Santa Anita News and Notes

Santa Anita Park, one of the prettiest racing venues in this country, kicks off their five week fall meet on Friday, October 1st, with an 8 race card and a 1 PM first post. Four of the eight races will be stakes and prep races leading up to the Breeders Cup at Del Mar on Nov. 5/6. The Grade 2 Eddie D stakes will be for turf sprinters and for the first time since the spring of 2019, they will be coming down the hill with that unique right hand turn. The race is named in honor of Eddie Delahoussaye, one of the premier riders of his era and a Hall of Famer. In the past, six and a half down the hill would favor milers who had speed and were shortening up, and though this is a prep for the B/C sprint, that race will only be at five furlongs on the turf at Del Mar, and that race favored early speed all summer long. Other stakes on opening day will be the Grade 1 American Pharoah, for two year olds at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track, the Chandelier stakes, a Grade 2 for two year old fillies at the same distance on the main track, and the Speakeasy stakes for juveniles at 5/8 on the turf. Management has stated they will use the hill races on a limited basis throughout the meet, with at least four stakes and a few allowance races. With the addition of the new turf chute installed over a year ago, they can now run turf sprints at five furlongs, five and a half furlongs, six furlongs, and six and a half furlongs, both from the chute and once again down the hill. The public loves the sprints down the hill as does this handicapper.

On Saturday, October 2nd, there will be two Grade 1 races and two Grade 2 races. The Grade 1 Awesome Again stakes is shaping up to be a dandy. With Baffert pulling Medina Spirit out of the Pennsylvania Derby, he is pointing to this race with the Kentucky Derby winner. John Sadler will also have the Pacific Classic winner Tripoli in this race, Richie Baltas will have the Big Cap winner Idol in this race, and John Shirreffs is also pointing multiple Grade 2 winner Express Train for this race. Throw in Tizamagician and Laurel River, along with a few others, and you have one heck of a horse race. They are all prepping for the B/C Classic on Nov. 6 at Del Mar. Grade 2 winner Ginobili will not be in this race as he will train up to the B/C dirt mile. The other Grade 1 on Saturday will be the Rodeo Drive stakes at a mile and a quarter on the turf for fillies and mares 3 and up. The two Grade 2’s will be the City of Hope stakes at a mile on the turf and the Sprint Championship at ¾ on the main track. Peter Miller may have the two favorites in these races with Mo Forza heading up the Mile race and C Z Rocket heading up the Sprint. And then on Sunday, October 3, the track will have five stakes races headed up by the Grade 2 Zenyatta stakes at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track for fillies and mares three and up. Samurai Charm, who has won five in a row for Peter Miller will get the acid test in the Zenyatta. Other races on Sunday will be a pair of juvenile stakes at a mile on the turf, the Surfer Girl for fillies, and the Zuma Beach for colts, as well as the Grade 3 Chillingworth stakes and the turf sprint, the Unzip Me stakes. The same Ship and Win program that Del Mar had will be in place for the Anita fall meet. Trainer Mike Maker will have 15 to 20 head here for the meet as will many other trainers who are planning to be in the Breeders Cup five weeks down the road.

As good as the racing is going to be in October at Santa Anita, they are not going to be able to top what Del Mar has to offer in the month of November. First of all, they start off with a five day race week opening on Wednesday Nov. 3 and they will have stakes races every day that week. Of course the Breeders Cup will have 14 races spread out over two days on the 5th and the 6th with purses just over $31 million. Overall, Del Mar will have 18 stakes other than the B/C races and are saving their best for last on closing weekend Nov. 27/28. Then they will have the Hollywood Derby, a Grade 1 for sophomores at 9 furlongs on the grass with a purse of $400,000 along with the Grade 1 Matriarch stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile on the turf with the same purse. Throw in the fact that all overnight purses will increase by 20% over last year and the “Bing Crosby” fall meet should be their best ever. All of this comes about due to their success with the Ship and Win program which saw 180 new horses come in from out of state and race during the 8 week summer meet. Those 180 horses made a total of 272 starts during that meet. With just 8 races carded on weekdays and 9 races on weekends, they should have plenty of full fields. And full fields means more handle and better opportunities for pay outs. First post at Del Mar will be 12:30 each day with the exception of Thanksgiving when they will have a 11 AM first post. The Breeders Cup programs will also start early with an 11:55 AM start on Friday, Nov. 5 and 10:15 AM for Saturday, Nov. 6. On those two days our selection sheets will be out the night before for our east coast clients. All in all, the fall meets at both Santa Anita and Del Mar should be outstanding in 2021.

OPINION: The Bob Baffert Saga Continues. First of all I must say, I’m never been in Baffert’s corner as a conditioner of thoroughbred race horses. His style is to train them hard and fast and if they hold up, fine. If not, they are discarded into the scrap heap and he moves onto the next one. And as long as the clients keep coming back for more, Bob continues onward with his style of training. It is hard to argue with his success in Triple Crown races and that’s why the clients continue to line up at his doorstep. But when you look at what he starts with each year and then what’s left still standing by mid-summer, any number of trainers on the circuit could achieve those results. Yet, when I read about Churchill Downs not giving Baffert credit for qualifying points for the Derby, and then the Breeders Cup committee discussing whether he will be allowed to enter at Del Mar this year, I think that is way off base. First of all to this day, Baffert hasn’t been found guilty of anything. They haven’t even made it official about disqualifying Medina Spirit from the Kentucky Derby, and that was way back in May. Yes, he has had five violations in the last 12 months, but none of those are Class 1 or Class 2 with an “A” penalty. Betamethasone and Dextromethoropan are Class 4 violations. One thing that Baffert isn’t is a “cheater.” He doesn’t drug horses to win races like the New York duo of Servis/Navarro. Is he negligent, absolutely, and there should be some sort of penalty for negligence when it happens repeatedly. In fact two of his five violations happened in Arkansas and both were overturned by the State Racing Commission. Both horses involved, Charlatan and Gamine were reinstated with their victories and Baffert’s 15 day suspension was overturned. Another violation came in July 2020 with Merneith at Del Mar and it was with a Class 4 drug overage. It resulted in a disqualification and a $2500 fine. When you have world class runners like Gamine, Charlatan, and Medina Spirit, they don’t need any help in beating their opposition. Just lead them over, get them in the gate, and they will do the rest. The bottom line is this. In America one is innocent until proven guilty and Baffert still hasn’t been found guilty of anything in a court of law. Churchill Downs thinks they can act like God to protect their precious race the first Saturday in May and what have they done lately for the industry. Yes, they are taking racing away from Chicago by selling off Arlington Park to the highest bidder and then when the Derby does come around, they make it very difficult for various markets to have the signal, i.e. Las Vegas, etc. etc. And the Breeders Cup isn’t much better. Baffert’s five failed tests in the last year does not violate any of the B/C Convicted Trainer Rules that disqualify a trainer from participation. They shouldn’t even be looking into the matter. What’s right is right and what’s fair is fair. This time I’m behind the “Silver Fox” 100 per cent.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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