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Santa Anita News and Notes for March 19

•    Do they really have a deal between ownership and the horsemen to start racing back up on March 29? Is the track really in good enough shape to stop the fatalities that are coming at an alarming rate this meet? Is there really going to be a ban on race day Lasix at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields?  Well, at this point in time, the answer to all three questions is YES, but don’t hold your breath, because the way things have progressed the last three weeks, nothing is guaranteed for very long. After owner Belinda Stronach wrote a riveting letter back on March 14 stating that Lasix would no longer be used at either track effective immediately, the you know what really hit the fan. Without ever consulting the two main horseman’s groups, the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Thoroughbred Trainers, she literally took the bull by the horns and stated that several changes would take place immediately or there would be no racing in California. However, after the dust had settled and cooler heads prevailed, both sides came to an agreement in principle where each side gave a little and reached a compromise that both parties can live with for the near future at least. If only our Congress was this good. Only because state regulations require a 10 day approval process, has the date been pushed out to March 29. Effective with that date all horses running in the state will have the Lasix administered to them cut in half, from 10cc’s to 5. For horses that are “bleeders” that may not be good enough, but I would say that about 70% of the stock on the grounds at both tracks probably don’t need any Lasix at all. Most trainers just use the medication because they want to be on a level playing field with their competition and want to be protected just in case the horse does bleed. Both groups did agree starting with two year olds that hit the grounds in 2020, Lasix would not be used in any amount. The two other tracks in the state, Del Mar and Los Alamitos, who are not owned by the Stronach group, said they would continue to run with Lasix for the full amount of 10cc’s. None of the Lasix issues really has anything to do with the 22 fatalities at the track this year. Lasix does not break down horses. It just allows them to run to their potential without hemorrhaging. It is sort of a shame that Golden Gate Fields has to pay the penalty for Santa Anita’s fatalities. Their synthetic Tapeta surface makes it one of the safest tracks in the country, and they run more cheaper horses than any major track. If any horse population would require Lasix more than another, it would be Golden Gate. There is no question that the thoroughbred breed is weaker today than yester year, but the tracks and the State of California have no one to blame but themselves. They are the ones that wanted year round racing in the state back in 1970, all for the greed of the dollar bill. And they are the ones that got the legislature passed so that Lasix and “Bute” were legal to be administered on race day. Although there is no real proof to this, 49 years of these drugs being in a horse’s system has weakened the thoroughbred through the breeding process. And when the rains come, and the tracks are sealed really tight, today’s thoroughbred just can’t handle the constant pounding in their joints and ligaments. Instead of turning the horse out for 3 or 4 months, they just cortisone the knees and ankles, and it’s back to the entry box. And it’s just not California, it is happening in every race state in the country. Horses need a rest and prior to 1970, they got it. Once the L.A. County Fair ended in late September, there was no racing until Santa Anita opened on December 26, a nice 3 month break, not only for the horse, but for the horse player as well. When 95% of the players lose money at the track, they need to re-build their bankrolls as well. What did every horse player want for Christmas? To be at Santa Anita on December 26, because they have been out of action for three months. The good old days were actually good in many ways.

•    If and when racing does start up on March 29, there are a number of other changes that will take place. The use of the whip by jockeys can only be used as a corrective safety measure, meaning you will see the riders hand riding in the stretch, you know like Desormeaux does all the time anyways. The whip used today is much easier on the horse than it was five years ago, but it’s the perception to groups like the PETA people they are trying to please. And that’s barking up the wrong tree, because Peta doesn’t care about safe racing, they want to eliminate it completely across the country. That is their only goal. Other changes include transparency of vet records (probably a good thing), limitations on anti inflammatory medications, cortisone injections, and shock wave therapy. Trainers are required to notify the racing office 48 hours in advance before being able to work a horse, so they can check out their records to see if this one may be an “at risk” type. Also increasing the time that a horse must be on the premises prior to a race. All of these things are good for the horse and in the long run, good for the industry, because right now the perception by people who have nothing to do with racing is not good. And in a liberal state like California, you’re on thin ice once the public gets down on you. It only takes 600,000 signatures for a measure to reach the ballot box in this state. That may seem like a lot, but when you consider the state has a population of 19 million, it’s only 3 %. And you don’t want a measure to stop horse racing in this state to ever reach the ballot. The bottom line is that the consensus by the horsemen is that the track is safe. The workout times are slow in the mornings because the track is a bit deeper than usual, but that’s OK as long as the surface is safe.

•    With the re-opening card now set for March 29, the stakes schedule has been scrambled once again. On that Friday, the feature will be the Grade 2 San Luis Rey stakes. Then on Saturday, the 30th, they will run five stakes, i.e. the Grade 1 Beholder Mile, the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile, the Grade 2 Santa Ana stakes, the Grade 2 San Carlos stakes, and the Grade 3 San Simeon stakes down the hill. Sunday will highlight three ungraded stakes, the Santana Mile, the Sensational Star, and the Irish O’Brien down the hill. With no racing for 26 days, the horse inventory is loaded. The following Saturday, April 6th will feature three Grade 1 stakes, the Santa Anita Derby, the Santa Anita Oaks, and the Big Cap, delayed from March 9th. In those two weeks of racing, all of the stars will be on display.

•    With all the negativity in racing, it was good to see some California horses strut their stuff in Arkansas this past Saturday. Trainer Bob Baffert sent two of his stars on the Derby trail to Oaklawn for the Rebel stakes and the racing secretary was kind enough to split the race into two divisions. Though neither Baffert runner won either of the two divisions, they both ran well, Improbable losing by just a neck and then Game Winner losing by a lip right on the wire. Both were coming off long layoffs and no doubt needed the race. In the first division, Improbable had to come out of post 9 and the first turn comes up awfully quick at Oaklawn. He got caught 4 wide there and then never could get over until deep stretch. The winner saved all the ground coming out of post 2 and rallied late to wear down Improbable. They will both meet in 3 weeks for the Arkansas Derby and I would be very surprised if the positions weren’t switched at the wire. Improbable has a bunch of talent and we haven’t seen his best race just yet. Baffert is very good at getting his stock ready for top performances on the biggest stage and if this one stays healthy, he will take a lot of beating the first Saturday in May. Game Winner also suffered his first defeat on Saturday, this time losing by the shortest of noses to another California shipper, the up and coming Omaha Beach for trainer Richard Mandella. He broke a step slow under Rosario and had to rally from mid pack down the back side. He was under a ride from the 3/8 pole all the way to the wire but the winner found another gear late and Rosario just couldn’t get by. His layoff was 4.5 months so you know he needed the outing. It was 8 lengths back to the third horse and it was a stirring stretch duel. Omaha Beach was cut out to be a good one and they will both probably meet again on April 6th, this time in the Santa Anita Derby. Game Winner reminds me a lot of Accelerate, who just missed being the Horse of the Year for 2018 and is now retired. He usually breaks a bit slow and then has to be ridden quite hard throughout the race, but he does respond to those types of tactics. He’s a “grinder” so to speak. Both the Arkansas Derby and the Santa Anita Derby leave a lot to look forward to in the next few weeks.

•    Jockey Tyler Baze is pulling up roots and moving to ride at Oaklawn Park at least until mid May. He is currently 7th in the rider standings at Santa Anita but not winning as much as he did in 2018. Of course Rosario has a lot to do with that as he and Flavian Prat are getting most of the choice mounts. But Rosario is also gone and will not return to Santa Anita this year. He will ride in Florida until Keeneland opens in mid April. Baze is 36 years old and his book will be handled by Joe Santos in Arkansas.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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