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Santa Anita News and Notes June 25

•    The calendar finally turned to June 23 and mercifully brought the Santa Anita racing season to a close this past Sunday. Going all the way back to Christmas Day in 1934, when they first opened their doors, they never had a season like this, where racing was suspended three weeks back in March due to unsafe track conditions, and then three different times they were asked to stop racing by state government officials, of which they never did. That resulted in one more death this past Saturday when a horse had to be euthanized due to a training incident which brought the total to 30 for the meet. Unfortunately that horse was trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, and because he had 4 of the 30 for the meet, the Stronach Group, which operates Santa Anita, felt they had to take some action. They promptly told the Hall of Fame trainer he had 72 hours to vacate all of his horses from both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields and that he could not race or train any more at either location. This was no small task as he had 46 horses on the grounds at Santa Anita and at least 60 more at GGF. Fortunately for the Dorf, Los Alamitos owner Ed Allred welcomed him with open arms and said that he could bring his horses to Los Al and race and train there. The Northern California Fairs said the same thing and all of his GGF horses are being relocated to Pleasanton. Then NYRA said he could bring any or all of his horses to New York and he was free to train/race at Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct. The message became pretty clear that Hollendorfer was being the “scapegoat” for all of Santa Anita’s issues. Due to public pressure, they felt they had to take some action and the Dorf was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Does Hollendorfer train and race “sore” horses, YES he does, and in this particular case, he should have been much more careful with his stock at this location. He shouldn’t be running a 9 year old in $10,000 claiming races who has been on and off the vet’s list the last three months due to unsoundness. But if they ban Hollendorfer for running sore horses, they would have to ban 75% of all the other trainers on the grounds as well, because most of them all have sore horses. It’s the nature of the game. The Stronach Group created all of their own problems starting way back in December, and not once have they accepted responsibility for their actions. First, they fired their track superintendent because they wanted to save a big salary, and they thought his assistant could handle the job. Secondly, they threatened the trainers with loss of stall space if they didn’t enter horses for entries to be at a maximum, creating  better handle. Then they operated an unsafe racing surface for all of January and February where 80% of the fatalities occurred. Yes, they had lots of rain this year, but it rains every year in Arcadia in January and February, and it always will. Once they let Dennis Moore go, they didn’t have the talent to properly seal their racing surface week after week. The horses were training and racing on concrete, not dirt. And what did the Stronach Group have to say about that? They blamed the trainers for using Lasix and other medications, they blamed the jockeys for using the whip excessively, and they blamed the vets for cortisoning every ankle and knee as dictated by the trainers. But not once did they accept any responsibility for the carnage, which they brought about themselves. And the California Horse Racing Board isn’t much better. When trainer Mike Pender knowingly entered a horse which was crippled, and told by his vet not to race, he entered the horse anyways, hoping that it would be claimed, and the Board suspended him for 30 days. He should have been given a “lifetime” ban. And when asked by the Board if he would do anything different next time. He promptly answered, NO he wouldn’t.

To wrap it all up, California racing, and much of racing across the country, is at a crossroads. What’s happening at Santa Anita is not much different than any track in the country. I’m certainly not defending a trainer like Hollendorfer who has run “sore” horses for 40 years in California and will continue to do so. He’s 73 years old and he’s not changing. He’s as wrong as wrong can be. But so is the Stronach Group for conducting racing in this manner. They should just sell all their tracks and get out of the business. If you can’t step up to the plate and admit your own mistakes, you’ll never correct the problems.

•    The meet ended Sunday with plenty of longshots winning the last three races. The late pick five paid $14,166 for a 50 cent ticket and the pick six paid out at $70,470 for a 20 cent ticket. They had two graded stakes on Sunday and the signature event was the mile and three quarters San Juan Capistrano, where Acclimate went wire to wire for a $21.00 surprise. It was a top choice selection for Turfdom and though the fractions were extremely fast for this distance, it was a perfect ride by Martin Garcia, to nurse him along and still have enough left in the lane. His margin was decreasing fast the final sixteenth but he had enough left to hold off the hard charging Oscar Dominguez by ¾ of a length. They started the race up at the top of the hill, and they hadn’t used this part of the turf course since early March, where they had had a spill at that time, resulting in a fatality for Arms Runner. The other Grade 3 on the card was the American stakes and Majestic Eagle was a surprise winner paying $20 in just a six horse field. The race lost plenty of its glamour when morning line favorite River Boyne was a late scratch in the morning. It was a blanket finish with just a neck separating the first 3 finishers at the wire. Sharp Samurai, a Turfdom Best Bet, ended up the 1 to 2 favorite and ran third beaten a neck for all of it. But he had every chance to win this race coming down the lane and just didn’t kick it in. Jockey Flavien Prat failed to win a race on Sunday but still easily won the riding title by six over Joe Talamo, who had a very strong meet. Talamo has broken into the Baffert barn, and that has been a big plus for the likeable rider. Doug O’Neill won the training title by two over Mark Glatt, who was coming on fast the final two weeks. O’Neill saddled 30 more horses than any other trainer on the grounds but still finished with a good 20% win rate. That would be equivalent to a hitter hitting .300 in the majors.

•     Bob Baffert worked three of his “stars” over the weekend and all three are leaving the state for East Coast stakes engagements in the very near future. McKinzie worked a half on Sunday and will race in the $1 million Whitney stakes at Saratoga on August 3rd. His two sophomores, Mucho Gusto and Game Winner, are both heading east, the former to the Haskell at Monmouth on July 20 and the latter to the Travers at Saratoga on August 24. Omaha Beach is back at Santa Anita and back in training for Richard Mandella. If all goes well, he is ticketed for the Travers at Saratoga as well.

•    Los Alamitos opens this Saturday for 12 days of racing in Orange County and then Del Mar opens July 17 for 36 days of racing through Labor Day. We will be off to re-energize our handicapping until Del Mar opens and we will have our Horses to Watch list and News and Notes at that time. Both tracks will continue with the safety review panels that Santa Anita started the final two weeks of their meet. However, they will have different people on the panel and those people have yet to be identified. Overall, these panels are good for racing, but I know plenty of owners who are really mad when their horses get scratched and nobody has physically seen the horse or even talked to the trainer.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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