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Turfdom News and Notes for April 21, 2020

•    Santa Anita Park remained closed for the fourth consecutive week, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Officials from Santa Anita and the Thoroughbred Owners of California were to meet with reps from the L.A. County Dept. of Health this past Saturday, but that was moved up two days at the bequest of Kathryn Barger, the supervisor for the County. Thursday’s meeting was to circumvent possible pressure from the animal activist groups, aka PETA, who have lobbied heavily for the closing of Santa Anita. This action showed that the County really wants to work with track officials in restarting racing at the Great Race Place. On behalf of Belinda Stronach, there was a 12 page proposal made to the county, with a number of changes and a real plan put in place by David Seftel, who is on Stanford’s University Covid 19 task force. He also happens to be the medical director at Golden Gate Fields. The protocol will now include that ALL jockeys will have to move inside to the Santa Anita community on a permanent basis. This will also include grooms and assistant starters who work as part of the gate crew. A third party L.A. County health supervisor will also be put in place to monitor all proceedings and will be paid for by the Stronach Group. Track officials expect an announcement early this week on when racing can resume, and they are all cautiously optimistic that racing will be able to resume in the month of May. The plant would continue to operate without the fan base on site. The County of Los Angeles has extended the shelter in place date out to May 15. Considering the state has 40 million people, California has done quite well in comparison to other states with keeping the virus at a minimum, but even so, this is the county that has had the largest concentration of people obtaining the virus. Stay tuned.                                                        

•    SELECTIONS: Until Santa Anita does resume racing, we will continue onward with our selections from Oaklawn, Tampa Bay, and Gulfstream. The southeast continues to get a lot of rain and it seems just as difficult to try and predict the weather as it does the outcome of a horse race. We avoided Oaklawn Sunday due to the rain, yet they still took all of the turf races off the sod at Tampa, even though they had no precipitation. Gulfstream did run on the turf Sunday, but they did take race one off the turf. The rainbow pick six had to be the main reason they left the rest of the races on, as they had rain there on Saturday. Oaklawn’s meet will end on May 2nd and they will have a blockbuster card on that day highlighted by the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. Tampa Bay will have their season end the following day, May 3rd. Gulfstream will continue to race through May and June. The small track in Nebraska, Fonner Park, which is scheduled to close on April 29, may pick up part of the slack. They are considering extending their meet through the month of May. Most racing fans hadn’t even heard of this track, me included, until the Coronavirus came around, but they are producing record handles these days and some full fields with so many tracks shut down around the country.
•    The only stakes races this past weekend were at Oaklawn and both were dandies. Whitmore, the veteran classy sprinter, got the money in the Grade 3 Count Fleet under Joe Talamo. He won by a length and even though he was the favorite, he paid a decent $8.20 on the front end. Whitmore won this race for the third time in the last four years, and the only time he lost, he was second last year to the great Mitole, the Breeders Cup sprint champion. However, he may not have been best. Flagstaff, the California invader may have been best. He was our Best Bet of the day and he lost all chance at the start by breaking very slowly under Rosario, something he has never done in the past. Flagstaff was 18 lengths back of the leaders at the 3/8 pole, yet put in a charge out in the middle of the track down the lane to wind up second, beaten a length. It’s never an easy game. The Grade 1 Apple Blossom had a Breeders Cup field with 14 runners, many of them Grade 1 winners. Rosario almost stole this race by taking Ollie’s Candy right to the lead from the rail slot, outdueling the very fast Serengeti Empress into defeat, then just narrowly losing right on the wire to the other California invader, Ce Ce. It was only a head on the wire and the two California horses resulted in a $72 exacta.
•    There are no stakes races this week at Tampa or Gulfstream for the second consecutive week, but Oaklawn has two ungraded stakes on Saturday.  California horses will be well represented once again as Bob Baffert will send out the Grade 1 winner Eight Rings to make his 2020 debut in the six furlong Bachelor stakes. This race is for three year olds only and Eight Rings blew out for this race in 59 flat, a gate drill at 5/8 over the Oaklawn track this past Friday. Martin Garcia will have the mount this Saturday. The other stakes on the program is for older fillies and mares, also going ¾ on the main for $125,000 purse in a stakes called the Carousel. Bellafina, a three time Grade 1 winner, ships in from Southern California for trainer Simon Callaghan. She blew out a half on Saturday in 47.80 over the Oaklawn surface. Entries for both races will be drawn this Wednesday. Other stars on the work tab were Venetian Harbor, who may go favored in the Grade 3 Fantasy stakes on May 1st. She’s coming off a 9 length win in the Grade 2 Las Virgenes at Santa Anita, just before they closed down. Others gearing up for the Fantasy are two year old champion British Idiom, Donna Veloce, another Southern California filly, Shedaresthedevil and Lazy Daisy, who won the Grade 2 Pocahontas. The big race will be the Arkansas Derby on closing day, May 2nd. Baffert worked a couple of his big guns at Santa Anita over the weekend before shipping to Oaklawn. The undefeated Charlatan went ¾ in 1:12.20 while the undefeated Nadal, also in the Baffert barn went 5/8 in 59.80. Juvenile champion Storm the Court also went 5/8 in 1:00.60 and is considering the race for trainer Peter Eurton. Others who will be in the Derby are King Guillermo, Governeur Morris, and Wells Bayou, all who worked over the weekend. One who won’t make the trip is the talented Honor A.P. for trainer John Shirreffs. He wants to stay home and hopes that the track will re-open and run the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and avoid the shipping, at least for now.       

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