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Santa anita News and Notes (Dec 27)

•    Santa Anita Park, which opened their doors on Christmas day way back in 1934, started their 84th season of winter racing this past Saturday under clear skies and temps approaching 70 degrees. However, this time the doors did not open for spectators, as they usually have somewhere between 30-40,000 fans cram through the gates at the Great Race Place. Nonetheless, fans stayed home and watched from their computers, i-phones, or television sets, and the track still put on an outstanding card. Through mostly advance deposit wagering, the track had the largest pari-mutuel handle on opening day of any day in their history. The wagering public stayed home and sent $23,003,159 through their computers and/or phone lines and smashed the previous high of $20,491,016, that was established back in 2018, when they had 41,000 plus in on track attendance. It just goes to show, if you put a good product on the track, the fans will open up their wallets. On Saturday, the main track played fair with regards to pace, but the outside lanes were clearly the best. On Sunday the track played fair. The turf course favored early speed on Saturday but played fair on Sunday. The turf course is very firm and the times were exceptionally fast at all distances. In fact, Ebeko broke down on the turf Sunday in the Eddie Logan stakes, when he fractured his left front cannon bone, went crashing to the turf with Rosario, and had to be euthanized. He was running a distant last in the race and you could tell right from the start that the colt was not right, as he was totally void of any speed and fell 15 lengths off the pace quite quickly. He was a Turfdom Best Bet on the day. Rosario bounced up promptly and only missed one race. Rain was expected all over Southern California early this week, so that should soften up the course to some degree. This was the second fatality for the track this month as a two year old filly went down on Dec. 16 while in early morning training. This was the 16th fatality at this track in 2020, which is far better than the 37 that were put down in 2019. However, even one is too many. But they are on the right track at Santa Anita and are taking every precaution possible for both man and animal. Santa Anita will race four days this week, Thursday through Sunday, and will have at least one stakes race each day. There will be a 9 race card on Thursday with a first post of 12:30 and a pick six c/o of $167,262 in the single ticket jackpot.

•    STAKES RECAP: They had six stakes on opening day and five of them were graded. The signature race each year is the Grade 1 Malibu at 7 furlongs on the main track for sophomores. Only six signed on for the race while many were probably scared away by two outstanding runners, i.e. Nashville and Charlatan, both undefeated in three trips to the post. Nashville went off favored at 6/5 for trainer Steve Asmussen while Baffert’s Charlatan was close behind at 8/5. The former went right to the front with quick fractions of 21.81 and 43.95, but Mike Smith had Charlatan always in his sights. He collared the front runner at the ¼ pole, eased by the speedster quite easily, and went on to a four length win in impressive fashion. Express Train rallied from last to finish second while Nashville faded to fourth and failed the “acid” test against quality colts. The winner will probably stretch out in his next start and Baffert may point him to the Pegasus Cup at Gulfstream in late January with its $3 million purse. With the retirement of so many good handicap horses around the country, i.e. Authentic, Improbable, Tom’s D’etat, Maximum Security, McKinzie, etc., Charlatan might very well be the one to beat in that race. He has won all four of his races by a total of 20 lengths. There were two other Grade ones on the card, both of them for sophomores. The American Oaks is for fillies at 10 furlongs on the turf and drew a strong field. Trainer Chad Brown sent two in for the race, one a front runner and the other a closer. Prat was on the front runner, Duopoly, and he sent her right to the front coming down the hill, and she loped along with fairly easy fractions. Off at 6/1, you could tell by the half mile pole she was the winner, as Prat had the easiest of leads and nobody was contesting the filly at any point in the race. Prat let out a notch at the top of the stretch and that was that. She coasted home to her first Grade 1 win and 4th victory in six trips to the post. Going to Vegas ran a good second at 14/1 and paid $14.00 to place but was really no threat to the winner. Sharing was sent off as the 8/5 favorite and had no excuses and was very vulnerable at 10 furlongs. She finished third. In a day of many upsets, Fairy Maiden took down the other Grade 1, the La Brea for three year old fillies at 7/8 on the main track. Off at 20/1, she rallied from well back in the race under Ricky Gonzalez, who got his first ever Grade 1 win, and won by two lengths over Golden Principal, who was one of four Baffert runners in the race. The fractions were quick in the race, 21.88 and 44.59 for the half and set it up for the late runners. Merneith finished third at 7/2 and was just in front of the favorite, Finite, who may have not handled the track. The winner shipped in from Kentucky for Eoin Harty and is now four for eight in her career with earnings of $321,000.

•    The other two graded stakes on Saturday were the San Antonio for older runners and the Mathis Brothers Mile, both Grade 2’s. There were two late scratches in the San Antonio with Sharp Samurai being the most significant. Mucho Gusto, who won the Pegasus Cup last January, was sent off as the one to two favorite and never hit the board. Take the One O One set the early pace from the rail and carved out fractions of 23.83 and 47.81 for the half, with Mucho Gusto and Idol just off the pace. They were three abreast at the quarter pole in this mile and a sixteenth affair and Kiss Today Goodbye was just unwinding from far back. The latter got up on the outside for the $33.60 upset under Mike Smith for his second stakes score on the afternoon. However, Idol got beat just a half length at the wire and galloped out by far the best. He’s the one to take out of this race and will be a big threat in the Big Cap the first Saturday in March, should Baltas run him there. Mucho Gusto was 4th and was dead tired after the race per Baffert, and that’s unusual, because Baffert always has his runners fit coming off a layoff. In the Mathis Brothers Mile, Smooth Like Strait was sent off as the 4 to 5 favorite and didn’t disappoint his backers as he won quite easily tracking the pace and pulling away in the lane. The margin was only ¾ of a length at the wire over a very game Storm the Court, but the win was easier than that. Whisper Not was third in the race under Rosario, and he had somewhat of a rough trip, but also caused many of his own problems. The winner will try Grade 1 runners later in the meet like the Kilroe Mile and/or the Shoemaker Mile. He doesn’t have that quick turn of foot like you want to see in turf horses, as he’s more of a grinder, but he still has excellent tactical speed and is a solid performer for trainer Mike McCarthy, who is loaded with good runners for this meet.

•    There are five stakes this week, with four of them graded and one each day. On Thursday, 8 two year old fillies go to post in the Blue Norther, an ungraded stakes at 8 furlongs on the turf. Javanica, Quattroelle, Carpe Fortuna, and Pizzazz should take down most of the wagering. On Friday, 11  older horses go to post at six and a half on the turf in the Grade 2 Joe Hernandez stakes honoring the first ever track announcer at Santa Anita. Texas Wedge, True Valour, Blitzkreig, and Wildman Jack are the main contenders. Blitzkreig should love the new six and a half turf chute at this track. Then on Saturday they have the Grade 2 San Gabriel stakes for older runners at 9 furlongs on the turf and the Grade 3 Sham stakes, which is the first stakes of the new year for sophomores who want to be on the Derby trail. Baffert may send the talented Life is Good in that one while John Shirreffs plans on running two in Parnelli and Waspirant. Baffert will probably enter Medina Spirit as well who was a recent maiden winner. Then on Sunday, older fillies and mares are in the limelight with the Grade 2 La Canada at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and the Grade 3 Las Cienegas at six furlongs on the new turf course. So there is plenty of quality racing coming this week at the Great Race Place.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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