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Santa Anita News and Notes June 23

•    The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita Park, did a whale of a job getting racing back on the scene in Southern California after being shut down for 7 weeks due to Covid19. Belinda Stronach and her group of managers take a lot of flak from many throughout the industry, but they worked awfully hard in getting racing back for the owners, trainers, jockeys, and all the fans that support this game. The virus is not going away any time in the near future, yet they have been able to conduct the sport in a very safe manner, not only for the humans, but for the horses as well. With all the issues they had with the main track in 2019, not a single horse was euthanized from afternoon racing on the main track in 2020. Yes, they have had fatalities. Four have gone down on the turf course and there have been as many as 14 from training in the mornings, but many of these have been freakish in nature. Overall, in comparison to 2019, it has been a remarkable turnaround. And through all of this, I doubt that the Stronach Group made a single penny in profit from Santa Anita this year. They ended up their season with two good 12 race cards for the final weekend and they were able to get the pick six pool to almost $7 million on Sunday. The winning payout was $12,304 for each winning 20 cent wager. Flavien Prat, who it seemed was riding in almost every race the last two weeks, easily won the riding title by 29 victories over Abel Cedillo. However, the training title went down to the final day as Peter Miller outlasted Bob Baffert 35 to 33. Miller is always tough at Del Mar, as his home is in Encinitas, but it’s very difficult to win a title at Santa Anita, when most of your horses are training down at San Luis Rey Downs. Richie Baltas had a good meet with 30 victories and ended up third. Racing moves on to Los Alamitos for two weeks starting this Friday and then Del Mar opens for 8 weeks on July 10. We will be off until Del Mar opens on that day with our selections.

•     They had seven stakes over the weekend at Santa Anita, but the marquee events took place on the other side of the country at Belmont Park on Long Island. It was Belmont Stakes day at the “Big Sandy” and though they didn’t have 100,000 people in the grandstands, they still put on a good card, though many of the prices were “chalky” throughout the day. Instead of being the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont was the first leg and the 4/5 post time favorite, Tiz the Law, didn’t disappoint his backers. He broke well as he usually does, sat third down the back side, then pretty much went to the lead on his own at the top of the lane, and went on to win by four in very easy style. Now for a Triple Crown race, the field was fairly weak. His closest competitors were horses that have just won the first allowance condition or overnight stakes races. In fact, 4 to 5 was a very good price for a horse that was such a stand out in the race. The winning time was solid for 9 furlongs in 1:46.53 and he earned a Beyer number of 100 for the race. But keep in mind, this was a one turn race, as Belmont is a mile and a half in circumference. Dr. Post ran well to get second as did Max Player who ran third, but they were no factors in the race. So now it’s onto the Travers stakes at Saratoga on August 8th for Tiz the Law, and that race will be at two turns, and at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. I think his competition will be tougher there, but make no mistake, Tiz the Law is the real deal. He hadn’t raced since late March until this past Saturday, and he has the perfect style to win the Kentucky Derby. In fact, Honor A.P., who won the Santa Anita Derby, has just about the same style, and right now, they are the best two sophomores in the country in my opinion. If both can stay healthy, they will meet in the first Saturday in September in Louisville. The latter will prep at Del Mar in the Shared Belief stakes. Both are trained by senior citizens as Barclay Tagg is 82 and has won the Derby before with Funny Cide. John Shirreffs I believe is 77, and also won the Derby before with Giacomo, at 50/1 with Mike Smith, who is also the regular rider for Honor A.P. But the game can change quickly in thoroughbred racing, just ask top trainer Bob Baffert, who 7 weeks ago had 3 unbeaten sophomores and was loaded for all the Derby prep races, including the Belmont. Nadal, who was so brilliant in winning the Arkansas Derby, has been retired due to an injury. Charlatan, who has explosive early speed, is out with a minor injury that will cause him to miss the Derby, while Authentic got whipped by Honor A.P. in the Santa Anita Derby, and though he had a rough trip, he may have been exposed to some distance limitations. Baffert will run him next in the Haskell at Monmouth Park on July 18 and we’ll find out a bit more about his portfolio. But when you’re Baffert, the holster is always loaded, and on Saturday he ran an undefeated filly in the Grade 1 Acorn stakes at Belmont and totally dominated a pretty good field. The three year old filly named Gamine won off by 19 lengths in just her third career start to remain undefeated under John Velasquez. She ran a mile in 1:32.55 and shattered the stakes record by five lengths in the process. She went fast early with sprinter like fractions of 22.48, 45.28, and 1:09.33 for ¾ and just kept right on going. Is she a prospect to take on the boys in the Derby? The answer to that question is a NO from Baffert, as he will target the Kentucky Oaks with her, one day prior to the Derby.

•      We’ll briefly touch on the four graded stakes at Santa Anita over the weekend as most of these runners will be running down at Del Mar in July and August. On Saturday, they ran the Grade 3 Laz Barrera stakes for 3 year olds at six and a half on the main track. This race is named for the  conditioner who saddled the great Affirmed to many outstanding stakes wins in the 70s, including the 1978 Triple Crown. Mark Glatt’s Collusion Illusion got the money as the 2/5 choice but at the top of the lane, Baffert’s Ragtime Blues looked like he was home free and would be hard to catch. But Prat laid the hammer down late and at the 1/16 pole the Baffert runner had no response. “Collusion” won off by three and is a serious sophomore sprinter. He earned a 91 Beyer figure for the race and will ship east for his next start in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkins at 7/8 on the main at Saratoga on August 1st. He will be hard to beat as he still gets to race within his own age group this late in the year. The other Grade 3 on the program was the Wilshire stakes for older fillies and mares at a mile on the turf. On paper, this looked like a two horse race between Toinette, who was coming off a layoff, and Keeper Of the Stars, who was coming off a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 win in succession. But with a couple of late scratches and no speed in the race, the race changed completely. Prat didn’t want to be on the lead with Toinette and he gladly gave up the lead on the back side to another runner who got tired of the slow pace. Now Toinette had something to chase and easily won the race while Keeper Of the Stars offered nothing as the co-favorite. Neil Drysdale trained the winner, and as he was winning this Grade 3 in California, his top sprinting mare Oleksandra was winning the Grade 1 Jaipur at Belmont, while beating the boys with a powerful late finish with Rosario up. Toinette has never won a Grade 1 and she will try and change that with a trip to Saratoga and the Jenny Wiley stakes for her next start. The water there will be much deeper. On Sunday they also had two Grade 3 races, the American stakes for older runners at a mile on the turf and the once famous San Juan Capistrano at a mile and three quarters on the turf that actually starts back on the top of the hill. The American came up very strong for a race worth just $100K as there were a number of Grade 1 winners in the lineup. With a solid work under his belt and somewhat of a weak pace scenario, Blitzkrieg made every pole a winning one and wired the field at 7/1. Bowies Hero, coming off a layoff and prepping for bigger stuff down the road, ran well to get second and was the only runner closing in the stretch. The winner ran the mile in 1:33.46 and was a deserving winner, shaking off Bolo early under a fine ride by Victor Espinoza, who was up on this horse for the very first time. The winner was claimed for just $25,000 back in January of 2019 and in 11 starts since, has won $388,097 for trainer Doug O’Neill and his connections. Not a bad transaction. Although Jockey Flavien Prat has been winning races left and right lately, he didn’t give the favorite, Ward ‘n Jerry, a very good ride in the San Juan, as he moved him into the lead on the back side, and probably thought he had much more horse than he really did. It turned out to be very premature and the favorite had nothing to offer in the lane. Red King for Phil D’Amato, who was a close third in this race the previous year, was loaded turning for home under Rispoli, and went on to win by two and a half and paid $9.80. The only mare in the race, Siberian Iris, closed well to get second at 7/1, while Ward ‘n Jerry finished a well beaten third at 3 to 5.

•    At this time last year, jockey Abel Cedillo left Golden Gate Fields and wanted to try his luck on the Southern California circuit. It turned out to be a good move as he fit right in and started winning races in bunches and now is one of the top riders here. Well now jockey Juan Hernandez is doing the same thing after totally dominating the jockey colony at GGF by winning 135 races at the just concluded winter/spring meet. Catalino Martinez was a distant second with 58 wins. Even the Hall of Famer Russell Baze never won a riding title by 77 victories. The veteran Craig O’Bryan will handle his book and he will start riding at Los Al for two weeks as a tune up. Don’t be surprised if this 28 year old from Mexico City starts winning races right away at Del Mar. With riders like Tyler Baze, Rafael Bejarano, Martin Garcia, and Kent Desormeaux all leaving the friendly confines of Southern California for greener pastures back east, there is literally no one left to challenge Flavien Prat anymore. Joel Rosario is the only one that can do it and he only rides out here the first three and a half months each year.

•    And speaking of Del Mar, not only will they open without any spectators on July 10, Trevor Denman will not be announcing the races, and that has not happened since 1984. Trevor lives in Minnesota on a farm, and with all that’s going on with the Corona Virus, he feels it’s best to just stay home, and who can blame him. Larry Collmus, who has called the races at Saratoga the last five summers, has agreed to come in and pinch hit. This is like getting a .330 hitter coming off the bench. Collmus will miss the last week of the Del Mar meet because he has an arrangement with NBC Sports to call some small race back in Kentucky on September 5.

•    And finally (yes I know I’m getting windy today), Monmouth Park will open in July and have what’s called, “fixed odds wagering”. Boy, could I have used that on this past Sunday at Santa Anita. Fixed odds means just what it sounds like, one can bet a horse prior to post and get the odds on that horse at the time you make the wager. I played one of my Best Bets Sunday in the first race and made a win wager at two minutes to post. The runner was named Big Runnuer and was 9/2 when I got my wager down. He was a play for me at 3/1 or better, with Sparky Ville at odds on in the race. Big Runnuer was still 7/2 when he loaded in the gate with a little late action, still OK. The race started and though he broke a step slow, he rushed up on the inside and by the 3/8 pole and taken control of the race. The board flashed 8/5 on Big Runnuer into the far turn. He went on to win by two at the wire but the point is, he was a good bet at 7/2 or 9/2, but a very poor wager at 8/5. California needs to do two things for me before this year is out. 1. Adopt fixed odds wagering like they will have at Monmouth and is very successful in Australia and 2. Legalize sports wagering in the state which is on the November ballot. No matter how many bad habits I have, I know this will extend my life on earth for at least an additional 10 years.

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