Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we count down the final days of both Los Alamitos meetings.
We’ve often joked about our annual five-day stay in Baltimore to cover the Preakness as a fun experience with the full knowledge that a strong wind could send the aging Pimlico Race Course tumbling to the ground, hopefully with me not in it.
In short, the place is a dump. It’s why it has racing only 12 days a year, and that’s only to host the Preakness.
There is no doubt that the Stronach Group (TSG), which owns the track, wants to move the Preakness to its other track, Laurel, situated between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. But the city of Baltimore has a strong and emotional attachment to the event and does not want it to leave for the far, far suburbs.
TSG has done its best to keep it an event. The infield is filled with corporate tents, all of which bring you a nice, upscale experience. And it has been able to artificially inflate attendance figures by throwing a big concert in the infield with some acts that bring in a crowd that is the antithesis of traditional race trackers. Post Malone was this year’s headliner. (Note to Belinda Stronach and Tim Ritvo: Would it be too much to ask that they time the music so it takes a break for three minutes every half hour or so when a race is being run?)
Now, I will say that the Preakness is my favorite of the three Triple Crown races to cover. The people at the track are low-key, friendly and actually try to help you. There is a single stakes barn where all the Preakness horses reside, meaning you don’t have to traipse over acres of barn area to find the people you want to talk to. And, best of all, Baltimore is not the gouge-fest that Louisville is on Kentucky Derby week. Finally, Baltimore is underrated as a restaurant town.
I hear trainer after trainer talking about how easy the track makes it for them to be there. Bob Baffert says it every year.
As Mickey Taylor, one of Seattle Slew’s owners, once said: “What the Derby thinks it is, that’s what the Preakness is.”
Now, on the other hand, the area around the track is the opposite of gentrification, whatever that word is, so it’s not like there is a gold mine of real estate value in the property.
On Thursday, the Maryland Stadium Authority issued a report calling for the demolition of the track and an immediate rebuilding of the property for a mere $424 million. And — where have we heard this before? — the plans would include mixed-use areas to include a hotel, homes and commercial businesses, townhomes and even a grocery store. Oh, none of that is included in the $424 million.
Reminds us of the new Inglewood Stadium, once referred to by AEG hired gun Tom Ridge as a “terrorist two-fer,” and all the plans made by developers for mixed use. Will we ever see it? Luckily, The Times has watchdog reporter Nathan Fenno following that story.
As for the Pimlico re-do, of the $424 million, $252.2 million will be for a new multi-use clubhouse, $120.5 million for infrastructure, $29.6 million to refurbish the infield and track and finally, $21.5 million for demolition, although you’ve got to believe that the place could demolish itself without any help.
At the last Preakness, I interviewed Stronach, the chief executive who is in the midst of litigation with her father over control of the company. I asked her questions every which way I could to try and get definitive answers to questions, but I couldn’t shake her from her generalities and bullet points. There is no question, as a former member of the Canadian parliament, she is politically sharp.
Then over in the press box, Ritvo, the chief operating officer, did a quick stand-up presser, where he said TSG was not paying to rebuild Pimlico. You have to like his candor.
The Stronach Group is willing to participate in the building of a new Pimlico, but make no mistake, it is not going to pony up big bucks. The city, state and other investors will have to do the heavy lifting.
Stronach issued this statement, and I challenge you to find a hint of specificity in it:
“The Stronach Group is investing heavily in racing and we are committed to the long-term sustainability of the thoroughbred racing industry and to the communities in which we operate in Maryland,” Stronach said. “We ask state and local leaders, working together with all segments of the racing industry, to tackle during the upcoming legislative session the important questions surrounding not only the financial requirements for a modern stadium that can host the Preakness Stakes but how to best support the needs of the thoroughbred industry as a whole, sustainable year-round horse racing and training, an enhanced guest experience and greater fan engagement in Maryland.”
See what I mean?
As Angelenos, we don’t all have the sense of history and community that exists in Baltimore. We have the two L.A. NFL teams set to play in Inglewood. We’ve got the L.A. Angels in Anaheim, and our L.A. NASCAR race is in Fontana. And we really don’t care about any of that.
So, we’ll wait, watch and see what happens to the Preakness. My prediction: It ends up at Laurel.
In case you forgot …
We tried this last year and it went well, so let’s do it again. Please send along your holiday gift suggestions for people in racing, the tracks, the stewards, the CHRB, anybody who we normally write about. It should be no more than a sentence, hopefully funny, not too mean-spirited. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org with holiday gift in the subject field. And include your real name, not some email handle that makes no sense to anybody but you. We’ll run the answers on Monday.
Los Alamitos thoroughbred review
The best race on Thursday’s card was a maiden special of fillies and mares 3 and older going six furlongs for a purse of $40,000. Now, it’s pretty late in the year for 3-year-olds to be making their first or second starts, but that’s what we had. The two favorites were trained by Bob Baffert, and the “other Baffert” was the winner. The “other Baffert” is a popular betting strategy where you don’t bet Bob’s favorite in the race but the other one.
In this case it was Withholding Info, who came flying on the outside at the end to win the five-horse race by 1¾ lengths. She went off at 2-1. The favorite, at 4-5, was A Little Unruly, who led from the start but flattened out midstretch and finished third.
It was Withholding Info’s first start after five bullet workouts. Joe Talamo, who is the second Baffert rider behind Drayden Van Dyke (except when Mike Smith wants to ride), was aboard the winner.
Withholding Info paid $5.80, $4.20 and $2.10. Ria Monk was second.
Los Alamitos thoroughbred preview
It’s the last weekday card of the year for Los Alamitos, eight races starting at 1 p.m. The feature is a $55,000 allowance race for older horses going five furlongs. The race has a couple of Peter Miller-trained Breeders’ Cup horses in it, so here’s hoping they don’t get spooked by the small crowd.
There is Richard’s Boy, a 6-year-old gelding who is winless in seven starts this year but nine for 34 lifetime. He was 14th and last in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. The cut back to five furlongs will help. He’s at 9-5 and will be ridden by Flavien Prat.
Just a tick off at 2-1 is Distinctive B, a 7-year-old gelding who was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He is one for five this year and six of 29 lifetime. He was second in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship two races back. Van Dyke rides.
Here are the field sizes, in order: 7, 7, 8, 6, 7, 10, 10, 10.
Jose Contreras LRC play of the day
THIRD RACE: No. 7 Waze Ready (4-1)
She did everything but win last time out when just missing by a neck after not breaking all that well. She showed some talent in debut when closing for a good fourth when missing third by a neck against maiden claimers. Draw a line through her turf outing two starts back and her dirt form looks good. She’s lightly raced, has room to improve, and should be tough to beat with a clean trip.
Thursday’s result: Bay Area ($8.60) went from last to first and held on during the long stretch to win.
Los Alamitos nighttime 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:
“The closing weekend at Los Alamitos will feature a trio of outstanding quarter-horse stakes races. Friday’s card will be headed by the Grade 2 Southern California Derby led by Governor’s Cup Derby winner Black Fryday, La Primera Del Ano Derby winner A Political Lady, Los Alamitos Winter Derby winner Jess My Kiss and Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes winner Missmerizing. The filly Missmerizing had the fastest qualifying time in the trials, edging A Political Lady by a nose on Nov. 30. It’s a lot to ask from Missmerizing to defeat a field that includes a trio of 2018 derby winners, but she has finished second or better in 11 of 17 career starts, often facing stakes or high-level allowance competition.
“Los Alamitos’ most important race will be on Saturday night when a great 10-horse field goes in the Grade 1, $600,000 Champion of Champions. The field includes eight Grade 1 winners, two of them past winners of the Champion of Champions in the form of 2015 winner Heza Dasha Fire and 2016 winner Zoomin for Spuds. The 3-1 favorite in Ed Burgart’s morning line is Los Alamitos Super Derby winner Jesstacartel, a powerfully built 3-year-old gelding. Trained by Mark Skeen, Jesstacartel is a lifetime winner of seven of 10 career starts and has been tremendous this year, winning the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby and Grade 2 Golden State Derby. In 45 runnings of the Champion of Champions, sophomore males have won 11 times. Jockey Cruz Mendez also opted to ride Jesstacartel instead of four-time Champion of Champions finalist Heza Dasha Fire. Jesstacartel will start from the six, the same post from where he’s won the Super Derby and Golden State Derby this year.
“The other Grade 1 winners in this race are He Looks Hot, Tarzanito, BH Lisas Boy, Bodacious Eagle and Jess Ravin. The Champion of Champions is also the first leg of a Special Champions Double wager. The Grade 1 Los Alamitos Two Million Futurity on Sunday serves as the second leg.
“The closing-night program on Sunday is headed by the Two Million Futurity, California’s richest horse race of any breed in 2018. The $1,878,425 race will be headed by Grade 1 Golden State Million Futurity winner Flash N Roll, who is a perfect four-for-four at Los Alamitos, and Governor’s Cup Futurity winner Powerful Favorite. Fastest qualifier Ali Babe Foose will start from post number two for Jaime Gomez. The trainer won this race with J Fire Up last year.
“The most important part is that Ali Babe Foose doesn’t get bumped around,” Gomez said. “If he can avoid trouble, then we’ll see if we can get lucky and win this race again.”
“The winner of the 400-yard Two Million will earn a first place check of $771,298.50 or $1,928.25 per yard.
“Sunday’s card is also the final night as a jockey for Cesar De Alba, the leading quarter-horse jockey at Los Alamitos in 2016. The 37-year-old will embark on a new career, as he recently passed his trainers test.
“Following this weekend’s action, live racing will resume at Los Alamitos with opening night on Friday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m.”
Ed Burgart’s LA play of the day
FOURTH RACE: No. 1 Rock On Foose (4-1)
He was loaded with run after breaking more than one length slow from the number three post before altering course to the two lane near the 1/8-pole in last third-place try versus similar. He now moves to the rail post where he scored his maiden victory five outs back. I suggest a win wager and exacta boxes with #3 Only Monty and #4 Cupids Affair. Only Monty is quick breaker who beat Rock On Foose in his last out while Cupids Affair drops a class level after getting pinballed badly during the final 1/8 of last outing.
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Now, the stars of the show, Thursday’s results and Friday’s entries.