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Newsletter: Racing! What’s California racing without angst?

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we delve into the threat to close Golden Gate Fields.

Stronach racing boss Tim Ritvo opened a few eyes on Wednesday when he indicated that closing Golden Gate Fields was on the table if he doesn’t get some changes in Northern California. Is this saber rattling or a legitimate threat? Too early to tell.

As someone who has spent a lot of time as an editor responsible for covering labor negotiations, I can tell you there’s one major rule of thumb: They generally don’t get settled until they absolutely have to get settled. So, we’ve got some time.

This newsletter is not going to follow every nuance and incremental detail as this moves forward. The place to look for this is Jeremy Balan’s coverage in the Bloodhorse. He’s great at getting all sides to a story. But, as this goes forward, we’ll check in as big things happen.

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Still, it’s worth laying out what’s going on in, hopefully, in the simplest of terms.

In short, Ritvo says there needs to be major changes to the brick-and-mortar off-track infrastructure in Northern California (NOTWINC). These benefit the fairs and were instituted long before the rise of ADWs (TVG, Xpressbet, Twinspires, NYRA bets etc.). I’m thinking everyone agrees the model needs some updating. Ritvo says Golden Gate is essentially “subsidizing” the fair circuit.

Golden Gate, in order to be granted a racing license, has to agree to meet some obligations to NOTWINC. Its next racing meeting is Aug. 22 to Oct. 2. So, this isn’t quite at the crisis point. The next California Horse Racing Board meeting is Thursday, but let’s be honest, they could always schedule another one if they need to.

The racing fair circuit, which at one point was robust but has dwindled, has some political clout and believes that Stronach is trying to put them out of business. Stronach wants year-around racing at Golden Gate and has a turf course that can serve many more horses, while the fair circuit doesn’t. Ritvo says he is not opposed to trainers stabling at Golden Gate and shipping to the fair circuit with no penalty.

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Ritvo accused Rick Baedeker, executive director of the CHRB, of soliciting the fairs to see if they could fill the dates, should Golden Gate not run. Baedeker denied this but did say he has contacted them, just in case. Not sure I see the difference.

OK, let’s make this even simpler. Ritvo wants to maximize dollars, much as he did in Florida and Maryland, where there are way fewer regulatory agencies. Ritvo’s ultimate goal is likely year-around racing at Golden Gate. The fairs and Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) do not agree with Ritvo’s stance.

It seems to me that Northern California racing can not survive if Golden Gate goes away. And, if that happens, Southern California would also be greatly affected.

It’s also possible that Golden Gate would be happy with, say, a month or more of racing dates, and this hard-line stance is a way of achieving that. Who knows? Well, somebody knows, but not me.

So, there you have it. I’ve tried not to pick sides, and it’s unclear who will blink first.

It would be great to get everyone in the same room and rationally talk about the problems of racing. But that would make too much sense. So, for now, we’ll watch from afar and see what happens.

Belmont follow-up

On Thursday, I reported here that the stewards had no plans to talk to Florent Geroux about his ride on Restoring Hope in the Belmont. Well, they changed their minds and talked to him. We’ll see if he gets any days off.

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Santa Anita review

You are used to seeing the team of trainer Doug O’Neill and jockey Mario Gutierrez, usually on a Paul Reddam horse. But O’Neill, the leading trainer, used Flavien Prat, the leading jockey, to win Thursday’s feature, an allowance going 6½ furlongs going down the hillside turf course.

Go On Mary ran gate to wire to win by 3½ lengths over Goseecal, followed by Tizanillusion. Go On Mary paid $16.00, $6.20 and $4.20.

Prat didn’t want to be the front-runner, but that’s how it happened.

“That wasn’t my plan,” Prat told Mike Willman of Santa Anita. “But she broke real sharp and she was comfortable. … It worked out she ran great.”

Santa Anita preview

Friday’s card at Santa Anita is eight races, starting at 12:30 p.m. Don’t want to jinx it, but it sure looks as though it will make it to the finish line of this forever meeting without cancelling any cards. Ritvo put an emphasis on increasing field size, and he seems to have achieved that. There are three turf races on the Friday card.

The feature is the sixth, an allowance/optional claimer going 6½ furlongs down the hillside turf course for fillies and mares 3 and up. There are two five furlong races for Cal-bred 2-year-old fillies. (The first and third races.)

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The field sizes, in order, are: 8, 8, 9, 6, 10, 8, 9, 8.

Bob Ike’s SA play of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 7 No More Talk (5-1)

Restricted claimers coming down the hillside turf course and it could be a good spot for this Mike Puype-trained gelding. He was tagged out of an open $32,000 claimer last time by a barn that does well first off the claim, is drawn well outside and should be within range of what appears to be a soft pace.

Thursday’s result: Nine-year-old Muchos Besos ($8.00) showed his tenacity by holding off all competitors to the wire. Win bet collected but we missed the exacta with Gonna Fly Now.

Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of Horsebills.com (here’s a video) and the proprietor of BobIkePicks.com (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Los Alamitos weekend preview

This weekly segment is in the hands of Orlando Gutierrez, marketing and media maven at Los Al. So, the floor is yours, Orlando.

“Twenty older horses will be in action in trials to the Grade 1 $170,000 Vessels Maturity on Sunday night at Los Alamitos. The horses with the 10 fastest times will move on to the 400-yard final to be held here on Sunday, July 8. The winner will earn an invitation to the $600,000 Champion of Champions on Dec. 15.

Bill Hoburg’s BH Lisas Boy already has an invitation to the Champion of Champions after winning the Brad McKinzie Los Alamitos Winter Championship, but he’s among the horses that will compete in Sunday’s trials. He’s also among the favorites after winning the Vessels Maturity last year. He’ll enter Sunday’s trials after running second to 2016 Champion of Champions winner Zoomin For Spuds in the Moonist Handicap on March 25. BH Lisas Boy recently posted a 220-yard turn and work in 12.80 seconds on Friday, May 25.

“Zoomin For Spuds is looking for a third consecutive berth to the Champion of Champions. After winning the race in 2016, he finished a strong third in last year’s race. He’s had a strong season this year, running second in the Brad McKinzie before winning the Moonist. He’s one of the favorites to qualify to the Vessels Maturity final.

“A new name at Los Alamitos for the trials is the Marfa Lights, who has not raced since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 All American Derby last September. A half-brother to AQHA champion Moonist, the Marfa Lights was second in the $3-million All American Futurity in 2016. Trained by Mike Robbins, the Marfa Lights has been working steadily at Los Alamitos. His last work was a 12.20 second work on June 7. Nine races are on tap for Sunday night.

“Friday’s races will feature eight races starting at 7 p.m., while Saturday’s card has nine races beginning at 6:24 p.m.”

Ed Burgart’s LA play of the day

FIRST RACE: No. 2 Louder California (2-1)

Filly gets a seven-pound weight allowance with switch to Kellie McDaid, who is winning at a 24% clip. In last runner-up try, she steadied from the ¼ to the 3/16-poles when eventually gaining second versus 5 ¾-length winner Sharp Holiday, who returned to beat $5,000 claimers. Her main competitor, Bless the Cause, looms vulnerable while dropping two class levels after an 11-week layoff.

Final thought

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Any thoughts, drop me an email at johnacherwa@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter @jcherwa.

And now the stars of the show, Thursday’s results and Friday’s entries.


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