Racing! Latest on the Santa Anita horse deaths


Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we hope Santa Anita is making the most of the news on its racing surface.

The big story remains the number of horse deaths at Santa Anita. Since the last newsletter on Monday, one more horse is dead, bringing the total to 19 since Dec. 26.

Santa Anita was originally going to keep the track closed all day Monday and Tuesday but reversed itself and allowed training until 9 a.m. on Monday. The decision to open the track resulted in the death of Charmer John, a 3-year-old gelding for trainer Mark Glatt. (Now, we’re not saying the track has any culpability, but it’s a simple fact that if the track wasn’t open, as was the original plan, Charmer John would still be alive.)

On that same day, more than 120 horses had timed workouts and hundreds more galloped or exercised and all of them walked back to the barn. Santa Anita closed the track on Wednesday for additional surface and soil sampling and tests.

Late Wednesday, Santa Anita issued a news release saying the track is “100% ready” for training and racing based on the evaluation of Mick Peterson, a track soil and safety expert from the University of Kentucky.

Peterson and Andy LaRocco, the track superintendent, used soil samples of the cushion, pad and base in addition to ground-penetrating radar to come to that conclusion.

“The ground-penetrating radar verified all of the materials, silt, clay and sand, as well as moisture content, are consistent everywhere on this track,” Peterson said. “This testing ensures all components, the five-inch cushion, pad and base, are consistent and in good order.

“Andy has inspected the entire oval and has made sure that by pulling the soil (cushion) off and reapplying it, this surface is in fact 100% consistent and ready for training and racing.”

Peterson continued on later in the news release.

“If there are issues, they’re going to be addressed,” he said. “The safety of the horses, jockeys and exercise people is our number one priority and always will be.”

So, this sounds great, but what if another horse goes down in training or racing on Thursday? Is telling the owner and trainer that the expert said the track is “100% … ready” going to cut it?

Peterson’s comment of “if there are issues, they’re going to be addressed,” doesn’t work for me either. What might those issues be? Could this be a statistical anomaly? Is it just bad luck? Give us some explanation or theories of why 19 horses have died since the start of the season.

Tim Ritvo, the COO of The Stronach Group, also addressed the situation.

“At the Stronach Group, we consider the safety and security of the athletes, both equine and human, who race at our facilities, to be our top priority,” Ritvo said. “All industry stakeholders, including our company, must be held accountable for the safety and security of the horses and we are committed to doing just that.”

First, if you are trying to show genuine concern, the phrase “industry stakeholders” may not be the way to go. Now, it’s great to see that TSG wants to be “held accountable,” and we’ll make sure you get your wish.

It seems to me that the better outcome of this evaluation would have been to have found something in the surface rather than the everything is great, nothing to see here approach.

A problem with this story line is there is likely not to be an “ah-ha” moment. It’s not as if there will be a whistle-blower moment where someone finds one of the local factories is dumping cancer-causing material into the ground water.

This is going to get fixed in subtle and almost imperceptible ways. And, we likely won’t know when it has been fixed because there is no magic bullet. Statistics—over time—will let us know if things have been corrected.

For at least the next few weeks, or until this statistical uptick is hopefully brought under control, or until cause of this increase in deaths is figured out, we’re going to report about all deaths in all of our platforms (print, web, newsletter), not just here.

Ritvo and Dr. Rick Arthur, the state’s chief equine vet, both said independently, the only acceptable number of fatalities is zero.

The best story I’ve read detailing some of the “inside baseball” on this is by Dan Ross of the Thoroughbred Daily News. You can read it here.

Here’s hoping the big news in the Friday newsletter is Jon White’s weekly Kentucky Derby rankings. But if the news is not good, Santa Anita says it wants to be “held accountable.” We can help you meet that goal.

Santa Anita preview

OK, do you want the glass half-full or half-empty look at Thursday’s card? You want both? We can do that. Well, it’s eight races starting at 1 p.m. Let’s start positive. Five of the eight races are on the turf. That’s a good thing because people love turf racing.

Now, before the conspiracy folks start saying that Santa Anita is doing whatever it can to keep horses off the dirt because of the perceived danger, the educated guess here is that it is more a reflection of the condition book that had been written before the recent deaths.

Now the half-empty view. It’s a pretty miserable card with low-field sizes, except for the eighth race, which has 11 horses. In fact, I can’t find a feature race. There are three races, all maiden specials, worth $55,000. The average field size is 6.9 horses. If you throw out the 11-horse eighth race, it’s 6.3.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 5, 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 11.

Bob Ike’s SA pick of the day

THIRD RACE: No. 6 Dimkar (4-1)

Older maiden from the Phil D'Amato barn (who also sends out debut runner Overdue in here) should be set to show his best today after finishing a distant second over a sealed-sloppy track. He's come back with three works since raced, so turf or dirt, this gelding should get an ideal stalking trip from outside under top rider Flavien Prat and be in the right spot turning for home.

Sunday’s result: Honor Guard got a good enough trip but lacked serious punch through the lane and wound up fourth in a bunched finish behind the easy winner.

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

Golden Gate weekend preview

We’re back with our weekly look at the best racing at Golden Gate Fields. As with the last couple meetings, we’re delighted to have race caller and all-around good guy Matt Dinerman as our host for previews and other musings. So, take it away, Matt.

“Earlier this week, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Larry Stumes broke the news that Anothertwistafate, is officially on the Kentucky Derby trail after a 7-length romp in the El Camino Real Derby. He will run next in Sunland Park’s $800,000 Sunland Derby on March 24. The Sunland Derby offers 50 Kentucky Derby points to the winner and 20 points to the second-place finisher. Anothertwistafate would likely need to finish first or second to earn enough points to make the Derby. He already picked up 10 points with his El Camino Real victory.

“I think this decision will prove to be a very smart one. Anothertwistafate needs to prove he can run on dirt like he did in the El Camino Real Derby on synthetic, and by letting him have a crack at the Sunland Derby trophy, trainer Blaine Wright and owner Peter Redekop have given their star 3-year-old a chance to show what he’s got on an unproven surface without having to go up against the big dogs.

“Wright has said if Anothertwistafate were to not get into the Kentucky Derby, he would probably run the Scat Daddy colt in the $100,000 California Derby at Golden Gate on April 27, three weeks before shipping over to Pimlico for the Preakness. Remember, the 2019 El Camino Real Derby awarded the winner a free berth into the Preakness. All that said, a top-notch run at Sunland would mean a definite spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

“Golden Gate runs Thursday-Sunday with nine races on Friday, featuring Leg D (fifth race) of the Stronach 5 wager. It’s a terrific race with a full field of 12 allowance sprinters going six furlongs. The horse to beat looks like No. 7 Goren, a $1.1 million purchase owned by Larry Best’s OXO Equine. Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, this son of More Than Ready makes his Northern California debut after a third-place finish against Southern California allowance competition in January. Other horses that figure to get support are No. 8 Mikes Tiznow and No. 10 American Currency. I think No. 11 El Chavo Del Ocho has some appeal at a price. In his last start, he ducked inwards at the start, took up sharply off of heels shortly afterwards but was able to regain himself, made up a lot of ground down the stretch and finished third. El Chavo Del Ocho is conditioned by leading trainer Jonathan Wong. Trip play for me.

“Also entered on Saturday in the third race is Richiesinthehouse, a Larry Rivelli trainee that has turned into a real terror on synthetic surfaces. He’s three for three going six furlongs, seven for nine on synthetics and two for two at Golden Gate. The son of Sidney’s Candy dueled on the lead, at a ridiculously fast pace last time, and was still able to win the race. The second-place finisher (Summersimage) came back to win a second level allowance race last Saturday. Richiesinthehouse faces four others in a 6-furlong allowance this Friday and figures to go off at very low odds. It would be anything but surprising if show plungers come out in full force and support this guy.The likely second choice is stakes performer Camino Del Paraiso, but the six furlongs is probably too short for him.”

Final thought

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If you have any thoughts, you can reach me at You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa

And now the star of the show, Thursday’s entries.

Santa Anita Entries for Thursday, February 28.

Santa Anita, Santa Anita Park, Arcadia, California. 38th day of a 61-day meet.


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $25,000. Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $25,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1TrappizaJ.C. Diaz, Jr.117Michael Pender4-125,000
2Chalky Diego Sanchez124Jay Nehf8-125,000
3SugaryDrayden Van Dyke124Martin F. Jones6-525,000
4Greater GloryTiago Pereira124Neil A. Koch6-125,000
5Tiz WonderfullyVictor Espinoza124James M. Cassidy9-525,000
6Halo GirlJose Leon117Jesus Mendoza30-125,000


6 Furlongs. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies. 3 year olds. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Harper's GallopTiago Pereira124Jack Carava4-1
2Dr WysongFlavien Prat124Philip D'Amato8-5
3Don't SellMario Gutierrez124Doug F. O'Neill5-2
4Y Not SizzleTyler Baze124Jeff Mullins6-1
5Our RomanceDrayden Van Dyke124Philip D'Amato3-1


About 6½ Furlongs Turf. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. 4 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1PointedRuben Fuentes124Marsha D. Schwizer12-1
2Raging TigerMike Smith124Jeff Bonde2-1
3Cajun TreasureJoel Rosario124Peter Eurton5-2
4OverdueTyler Baze124Philip D'Amato3-1
5LomuDrayden Van Dyke124Neil D. Drysdale6-1
6Dimkar Flavien Prat124Philip D'Amato4-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $20,000. Maiden Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Pig IronHeriberto Figueroa119Jorge Gutierrez5-120,000
2Captain N. BarronTiago Pereira124Craig Anthony Lewis5-220,000
3Raggy RocksJ.C. Diaz, Jr.117Tim Yakteen12-120,000
4Victor's ShowRafael Bejarano124Eoin G. Harty3-120,000
5RacTyler Baze124Tim Yakteen4-120,000
6SergioGeovanni Franco124Steven Miyadi3-120,000
7Centaurus RuleJorge Velez114Richard Baltas12-120,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $55,000. Maiden Special Weight. Fillies and Mares. 4 year olds and up. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1La La LandRafael Bejarano124Anna Meah10-1
2ZillindaAssael Espinoza119Bruce Headley8-1
3Weather MarketEvin Roman124Michael Pender7-2
4RadishFlavien Prat124Doug F. O'Neill3-1
5SidecheeringTiago Pereira124Antonio Garcia7-2
6SmoovieMario Gutierrez124Doug F. O'Neill5-2
7La Guapa VelosDrayden Van Dyke124Mike Puype8-1


6 Furlongs. Purse: $28,000. Claiming. Fillies. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Time for SuzzieTyler Baze124Jorge Periban9-520,000
2Sierra SunriseRuben Fuentes122Jeff Bonde5-220,000
3Just SplendidHeriberto Figueroa117Doug F. O'Neill7-220,000
4Blueberry PrincessDiego Sanchez122Hector O. Palma4-120,000
5Queen CarmelitaAgapito Delgadillo122Rafael DeLeon8-120,000
6Plan BEdwin Maldonado122Genaro Vallejo8-120,000


5 Furlongs Turf. Purse: $25,000. Claiming. 4 year olds and up. Claiming Price $25,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Rocky RogueEvin Roman124Vann Belvoir5-225,000
2Rebel WarBrice Blanc124Bobby Wayne Grayson12-125,000
3Surfside SunsetJoel Rosario124Robert B. Hess, Jr.3-125,000
4According to BuddyEswan Flores124Hector O. Palma7-225,000
5Candyman GarretTyler Baze124Jeff Mullins2-125,000
6Artistic AbAssael Espinoza119Vann Belvoir15-125,000
7Iron CurtainAlonso Quinonez124Val Brinkerhoff12-125,000


1 Mile Turf. Purse: $32,000. Maiden Claiming. 3 year olds. Claiming Price $50,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Seven OxenEdwin Maldonado124J. Keith Desormeaux7-250,000
2Gold N GrandVictor Espinoza124James M. Cassidy15-150,000
3Silent MusketierJ.C. Diaz, Jr.117Jesus Mendoza20-150,000
4Deep Thinker Joel Rosario124Mark Glatt7-250,000
5Lake ShowTiago Pereira124Tim Yakteen30-150,000
6You Must ChillMario Gutierrez124George Papaprodromou3-150,000
7Of Good ReportAlonso Quinonez124Doug F. O'Neill6-150,000
8Resident LiberalJoseph Talamo124Thomas F. Proctor10-150,000
9Big City BaneAssael Espinoza119Carla Gaines15-150,000
10Sir AndoverRafael Bejarano124Patrick Gallagher6-150,000
11SharedGeovanni Franco124Jose Jesus Avalos30-150,000