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Santa Anita News and Notes (Jan 26)

Week five at Santa Anita was completed this past Sunday without any of the rain that was predicted throughout the week. All three race days were dry although there was overnight rain on Saturday that led to a “good” racing surface on the main track for Sunday. The turf course remained firm. The main track favored early speed for most of the week while the turf course favored off the pace runners for much of the week, regardless of where the turf rails were placed. However, the Great Race Place may not be so lucky with the precipitation this week, as heavy rains are expected to hit the area both Thursday and Friday. In fact, they may not even race on Friday, unless all parties are confident that they have a “safe” race track. Entries for Friday were supposed to be drawn on Sunday, but they put that off until Tuesday to get a better handle on the weather. The new policy put in place this past December states that the track super must put in writing to the California Horse Racing Board that the surface is safe for racing and that all four parties are in agreement with the decision. Those being the track General Manager, the Board’s safety stewards, a rep from the Jockey’s Guild, and the regular board of stewards. After all the breakdowns two years ago at Santa Anita, the emphasis is safety first in 2021. When racing does resume, either Friday or Saturday, the Rainbow pick six pool will be $710,207.

STAKES RECAP: They had just two stakes over the weekend and both were sprints and both produced double digit payoffs. On Saturday they ran the Grade 3 Palos Verdes stakes on the main track at six furlongs. Trainer Doug O’Neill, who won three on Friday and two on Saturday, got the money in authoritative fashion with Wildman Jack, who tracked the early pace setter, Captain Scotty, then pulled away in the drive to win by four in the quick time of 1:08.98. Shashashakemeup rallied to get second as did Pyron to get third, but neither were really a factor in the race, as the winner just romped and paid $13.20 on the front end. The winning rider was Abel Cedillo, who got the hat track on the day after winning four on Friday. Wildman Jack had been racing primarily on the turf, but threw a shoe in his last race and Cedillo stated that’s why he stopped so badly in his previous start. All four shoes stayed on Saturday. Then on Sunday, 8 went to the post in the Clockers Corner stakes, a non graded affair for older runners at six furlongs on the grass. Mr Vargas was the morning line favorite and set the pace through fractions of 21.76 and 44.65, but he is just a shell of his former self and he retreated in earnest at the top of the lane. The fractions were quick enough to set it up for the late runners and Gregorian Chant responded accordingly, coming from dead last and winning going away by two at 10/1 under leading rider Juan Hernandez. His stable mate, Strike Me Down, also rallied from well back and completed a Phil D’Amato exacta. The winner was actually coming out of a mile and a half race. You don’t see that type of a turn back very often and actually be successful. Gregorian Chant had never run this short of a race in his entire career and D’Amato said they will probably leave him in sprints in the future.

This Saturday could be an excellent day of racing at Santa Anita if the weather cooperates, and that’s a big IF. They have three graded stakes on tap with the Robert Lewis stakes for three year olds being the most important, as it is a prep toward the Santa Anita Derby. Baffert’s Spielberg, who won the Los Alamitos Futurity heads up the field and he worked Friday morning with Medina Spirit, who may also be in the this race. They both traveled 5/8 in 1:01.20 and the latter just ran a very good second to Life is Good in the Sham stakes and he is currently the 7/1 favorite in the futures pool for the Kentucky Derby. If “Medina” doesn’t go this Saturday, Baffert said he will ship him to Oaklawn for the Southwest stakes in February. Doug O’Neill has two for the Robert Lewis, Hot Rod Charlie and Wipe the Slate, and both are just as good as Spielberg, if not better. The former was second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at 94/1 while the latter was second to Life is Good in his debut, then won rather easily in start #2. He worked six furlongs this past Friday in a rapid 1:12.60. Mike McCarthy has Rombauer cranked up and he will probably enter as well. The Grade 2 San Pasqual at 9 furlongs on the main track is also on tap for Saturday, and Idol, who ran so well in the San Antonio on opening day and made our HTW list, will surface in this race. The San Pasqual is the final prep for the Big Cap on March 6th. Idol worked an easy 5/8 in 1:01.20 on Friday for trainer Richie Baltas. Also scheduled for Saturday is the Grade 2 San Marcos at 10 furlongs on the turf for older runners. Baltas has two entered for this race with the old veteran Oscar Dominguez and Masteroffoxhounds, who is coming off an allowance win at Del Mar on Nov. 28. The latter had an eye popping work this past weekend. Then on Sunday, they will run the Baffle stakes, a non graded affair for sophomores at six and a half on the turf. Baffle was a tremendous sprinter back in the seventies who just adored coming down the hill in those turf sprints. Of course all of this is based on the weather. When they say there is a 70% chance of rain in Southern California, it’s actually more like 30%, and it never seems to come off quite as expected. So even though they say it will be pretty heavy at times this Thursday and Friday, we’ll have to wait and see.

When you name your race horse “The Great One”, it’s pretty hard to live up to that name. Nonetheless, trainer Doug O’Neill has a three year old colt with that name and he broke his maiden at two turns on Saturday by 14 lengths in a visually impressive performance. In addition to that, he just lost by a nose in a Grade 2 stakes at Los Alamitos to Spielberg in his previous start while still a maiden. No, he wasn’t named for the entertainer Jackie Gleason, who often called himself The Great One. He was actually named for the hockey player Wayne Gretzky, who really was a great one and may be the best player to ever play the game. So, it’s only appropriate that one of the owners of this horse is a professional hockey player named Erik Johnson, who plays for the Colorado Avalanche team. The Great One only beat three horses on Saturday, but two of them are quite good. Affable is very well thought of by Mark Glatt and Fenway is an Into Mischief colt who was making his debut for Baffert. And when you win by 14 and you are up near a fast pace (22.91 and 45.76), and you actually have “gears”, then you may be any kind. The winner is a Louisiana bred with all kinds of options going forward on the Derby trail. And don’t forget, O’Neill has already won two Kentucky Derbys in Nyquist and I’ll Have Another. And the sire of The Great One, is none other than Nyquist.

In an amazing statistic, Santa Anita has not had a fatality on their main track when racing in the afternoon in 13 months. And when you consider that this track races 8 months out of the year and trains all year round, that is remarkable. That streak came to an end on Saturday when a 3 year old filly named Scat’s Choice broke down on the back stretch and had to be euthanized. Scat’s Choice was racing in California for the first time having competed in Ohio and West Virginia in recent races. 50 year old Kent Desormeaux was in the irons and he went down and didn’t get up very quickly. He suffered two broken ribs and will be out until mid February. Now Santa Anita has had other fatalities, as one went down on the turf course and one had a heart attack, and there have been others that have broke down in training in the mornings. But overall, their record has been so good  compared to that dreadful season in 2019, where everything that could have gone wrong, actually did. You really have to take your hat off to the Stronach Group and what they have done for the safety of this race track. No other track in the country can match their record or even come close, except for Del Mar, and they only race there 3 months out of the year. I think they really do want to keep racing here in Arcadia for a long, long time.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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