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Santa Anita News and Notes (Sept 30)

•    I normally don’t put too much stock in a track bias, because in Southern California, unless it’s raining a great deal, which doesn’t happen often, the bias on the main track just doesn’t stick around very long. However, when you see one on the turf, you had better pay attention, and that’s exactly what has happened on this turf course at Santa Anita. Early speed is absolutely dominating. All five races on Saturday were won by early speed, either sitting first or second, and very close to the lead, either long or short. It is just about impossible to come from anywhere back in the pack and win a race, or even hit the board for that matter. Then the first 3 races on Sunday were won in the same manner and Cali Caliente, a Turfdom Best Bet, wired the fifth race at a flat mile and paid $15.60.  The bias came to a complete halt in race 9 where the 6/5 favorite rallied from far back in a sprint and just did get up in the final strides, but she was much the best and had a lot of early traffic trouble at the half mile pole. On the final race of the day, the favorite won once again at a mile on the turf, and came from off the pace early while making her move at the 3/8 pole. But nonetheless, early speed was extremely strong on the turf course all three days and you just don’t see that happen very often on this circuit. The main track played fair all three days this past week. Racing resumes this Friday with a carryover in the pick six single ticket jackpot where the total has climbed to $128,194.

•   They had a bunch of graded stakes in the first three days of the meet and we will touch on all of them. The big one was the Grade 1 Awesome Again, named for the B/C Classic winner of 1998, and Baffert had the two principles in Maximum Security and Improbable. The former went off as the 3 to 5 wagering choice in a field of five covering 9 furlongs on the main track. He should have had the best trip as he had the best post, but his rider never did really get him in the clear and he got jostled around quite a bit on the back side when racing between horses, 3 lengths off the lead. Van Dyke kept Improbable well off the leaders and he was loaded turning for home and went on to win by four and half. “Security” did rally to get second but all in all it wasn’t a very good race for him. Of course when you look at his past performances, you can’t find a bad race, so maybe he was overdue. They will both head for the Breeders Cup now in Keeneland and Improbable has to be the favorite. He beat the best back east in the Whitney and has now won three Grade ones in a row. He has finally developed into the horse they thought they had as a sophomore, as he was the 4/1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby in 2019. Improbable received a 108 Beyer figure for the race.

•   In the Grade 1 American Pharoah for two year olds at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track, Peter Miller and Flavien Prat teamed up for one of the rare upsets on the day with Get Her Number, who paid $18.20 and won by ¾ of a length over the fast closing Rombauer, who was off at 11/1 under Mike Smith. The winner was up on the pace all the way and held together well in the drive, but the time was slow and his Beyer number of 84 won’t sit all that well with the other B/C contenders for his next race. Rombauer came from well off the pace to get second and I thought he ran the most impressive race in the field. Baffert had the even money favorite in the race, Spielburg, and he finished a distant third without any excuses. He remains a maiden. It was Prat’s idea to run the winner on the dirt after two turf races.

•    Earlier on the card Saturday they ran the Grade 2 Chandelier for juvenile fillies at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track and the winner, Princess Noor, remained unbeaten in 3 starts as she easily handled this field to win off by 8 lengths, even though her trip was not ideal. Breaking from the rail, she had a rough trip into and out of the clubhouse turn, but once Victor Espinoza got her in the clear, she demolished her rivals. The Beyer number only came back at 78 and though there wasn’t much behind her, the way she did it was impressive. I think she’s the one to beat back at Keeneland and may even offer some wagering value off this low Beyer number. Also on Saturday was the Grade 2 John Henry Turf Championship at 9 furlongs on the grass for older runners and there was no surprise here as United, the heavy 3 to 5 choice wired the field. There was no speed in the field so Prat took the chalk right to the front and that was that. This horse never, and I mean never runs a bad race. He usually makes it close at the wire but he is all race horse. He lost by a neck at 50/1 in last year’s Breeders Cup and the horse that beat him was named Horse of the Year in the U.S. He’ll take a lot of beating once again in the Cup and Prat fits him like a glove. Mandella is the trainer and his Beyer number came back at 103. United has won four of five starts this year, all Grade Twos.

•   The other Grade 1 Saturday was called the Rodeo Drive and it was for older fillies and mares at 10 furlongs on the turf. Once again there was no speed signed on in the race so Juan Hernandez took the Cal bred Mucho Unusual right to the lead and wired the field at 3/1. It was the rider’s first ever Grade 1 victory. This was another Win and Your In for the B/C with all expenses paid for the trip back to Kentucky in November. Maxim Rate ran well to be second and even Lady Prancealot ran well to be third, but with the speed bias on the turf course, the NO PASSING signs are up at the 1/8 pole. It is nice to see trainer Tim Yakteen and Hernandez win a Grade 1 as Baffert and Miller have plenty of them. “Mucho” is a nice filly but she has very little chance in the Cup. Her Beyer number came back at 94.

•   Three other stakes should be mentioned and may have some Breeders Cup influence. On Friday, they ran the Grade 2 Eddie D stakes at five and a half on the turf for older runners. Named for the Hall of Fame rider Eddie Delahoussaye, who put up so many terrific rides right here on this circuit, the winner of this race this year was very impressive. Big Runnuer, who was making just his third start this year, zipped right to the front and never looked back, winning by an easy length and he came within .15 of a second of tying the track record. He was 5/2 when they loaded in the gate and 3/2 when they crossed the wire. He is trained by Victor Garcia and owned by his father. This horse is actually better when he can stalk the pace, but he is so sharp right now, he went right to the lead out of the seven hole, even though there was a ton of speed down on the inside of him. Not sure where they will go with him next but if he goes to Keeneland, he is capable of winning that sprint and he will pay a price. Then on Sunday, they had two Win and Your In stakes for the Cup and Harvest Moon posted a mild upset of the odds on favorite Fighting Mad in the Grade 2 Zenyatta stakes on the main track. The lone sophomore in the field, she was getting 8 pounds from the winner and she won this race due to an excellent ride by Prat, who never let the favorite get more than a length in front of her. This was her fourth win in a row and an improving three year old can never be taken lightly at this time of the year. She will go in the Distaff in Keeneland and will be facing much tougher, but I wouldn’t count her out. Hard Not to Love ran on well to get second but was really no factor in the race. Then in the Grade 2 Sprint Championship at ¾ on the main, Flagstaff and C Z Rocket put on a stirring stretch duel and the latter got the nod right on the wire as the 7/5 favorite. Flagstaff broke slowly and had to be rushed up to make the lead and that was the difference in the race as he lost by only a nose. C Z Rocket on the other hand broke sharply and had a perfect stalking trip from the outside and won his fifth race in a row since being claimed by Peter Miller for $40,000 back east. “Rocket” will now head east for the Cup and though he will be a contender, I think he will be up against it with the east coast sprinters. Collusion Illusion ran third and went off as the second choice in the wagering, but just couldn’t stay up with the top two, as they kept on running right to the wire.

•   The Preakness Stakes: Looks like 11 will go this Saturday in the 145th running of the Preakness at Pimlico. The weather should be clear and the track will be fast with temps in the mid sixties. Authentic drew post 9 and should be in good shape to make the lead or stalk very closely if someone else wants to go. He was made the 9/5 favorite today and I personally think he could “bounce” off his strong Derby run four weeks ago. He looks vulnerable to me. Art Collector is the second choice at 5/2 and drew post 3. The only filly in the race is Swiss Skydiver and she is a good one. She drew post 4 with Robby Albarado set to ride. She is at 6/1 and offers good value. She has had a tough campaign all year long yet keeps firing bullets and has faced the boys before with a good second. She is hickory. Authentic worked a quick half mile today at Churchill in 47.60, fastest of 37 at the distance. She will ship to Baltimore on Tuesday along with Thousand Words, who was also listed at 6/1 for Baffert. The Preakness is race 11 on a 12 race program and post time will be about 5:30 PM EST.

By Rod Young (Turfdom)

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