Newsletter: Racing! Santa Anita increases its purse structure

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we wish everybody a happy Passover and Easter.

Before we get to my main topic, here’s a reminder that today is Easter and most tracks are closed, including Los Alamitos. Santa Anita, however, is still running; it just won’t have a lot of company.

For the record:
8:30 PM, Apr. 21, 2019 A previous version of this article said that Santa Anita was putting up all the extra money for an increase in race purses at the track. Instead, the increase is equally being funded by the track and the Thoroughbred Owners of California.

OK, back to regularly scheduled programming. We are a day late on this, but we’re catching up now. On Friday, Santa Anita and the Thoroughbred Owners of California announced that the track will be increasing the purses on all non-stakes races by $10,000 starting April 26 and going until June 2.

Now, as you know, I’ve been critical of Santa Anita in the past and am always miffed when Greg Avioli, president and chief executive of the TOC, never returns my messages. But it’s quite the extraordinary move when, in the midst of the chaos that is California racing, the track would increase purses instead of decrease them.


This came about when Santa Anita and the TOC agreed to put $10,000 into every non-stakes race. Each is contributing $5,000 a race. The money comes from wagering in Southern and Northern California that both get a cut from. By statute they have to distribute that money to purses, so why not now?

I’m no dummy. I understand the motivation. It’s a way to show people who might be considering leaving Southern California that the sport is OK here and is on the way to recovery. It might even bring someone in. Who knows? It’s an expensive message to send, at least $70,000 a race day, or, currently, at least $210,000 a week.

That’s real money.

As someone who has been on the Santa Anita horse death story from Day One, I can tell you that the Stronach Group has lost considerable money through the closure of the track, small fields and the defection of horses to other areas. We’re talking millions.


Before the crisis, yeah, TSG made a lot of moves that were solely predicated on making money, be it “encouraging” (you know, like jockeys encourage horses) trainers to run their horses or putting together these overly big cards.

Since then, and now that ultimate decision-maker CEO Belinda Stronach arrived on site, making money is not its top item of concern. No. 1 is easy: saving the sport in Southern California. That is, after the safety of the horses. But they are really the same goal.

So, as I’ve said, Santa Anita’s short-term loss strategy seems genuine. The company cares about making money, but not so much right now. It’s working the long view.

To go full circle, congrats to the track for doubling down on its business. Bold move? Yes. Smart move? We’ll see.

Santa Anita review

In a surprising feature, Cistron won the Grade 2 $200,000 Kona Gold Stakes over 6½ furlongs on the dirt in a dominating 5½-length win. What made the gate-to-finish line triumph so surprising is the 5-year-old was basically a turf horse, having run on the grass his last 13 races.

The combination of trainer John Sadler, jockey Victor Espinoza, and owners Kosta and Pete Hronis picked up another graded stakes victory. The trio won the San Carlos Stakes three weeks previously with St. Joe Bay.

“When we saw this race was coming up a little light and there wasn’t that much speed, we decided to supplement [for $4,000],” Sadler said. “It’s been great. Hronis Racing is as good a brand as you’ll see in racing. The safety and welfare of the horses is paramount with them. We start from there when we go out and look for horses, and hopefully we keep developing a lot of [them].”


Cistron paid $15.60, $5.60 and $4.00. All Out Blitz was second, followed by Dr. Dorr, Kanthaka and Zatter.

“The important thing for me and the horse today was that he broke running,” Espinoza said. “He was able to take control right away, and at the 16th pole, I said, ‘Where is everybody?’ He ran great all the way to the wire. John is an awesome trainer; he really got this horse ready for this race, and he made my job a lot easier.”

Santa Anita preview

Once again, not a lot to look at. Must be the theory that anyone who bets on horse racing on Easter is going to play regardless of how good the card is. If that’s the case, Santa Anita is the place to be.

There are a couple of $55,000 purse races, two turf races and five claiming races.

Here are the field sizes in order: 6, 5, 7, 5, 6, 6, 6, 9 (1 also eligible).

Big Races review

A look at graded stakes or races worth $100,000 or more Saturday.


Laurel (5): $100,000 Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes, 3 and up, 6 furlongs. Winner: Laki ($8.20)

Laurel (6): $100,000 King T. Leatherbury Stakes, 3 and up, 5½ furlongs on turf. Winner: Dirty ($13.00)

Charles Town (8): $100,000 Robert Hilton Memorial, 3-year-olds, 7 furlongs. Winner: Malpais ($4.00)

Aqueduct (6): $100,000 Woodhaven Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles on turf. Winner: Clint Maroon ($7.30)

Laurel (7): $100,000 Primonetta Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 6 furlongs. Winner: Ms Locust Point ($4.00)

Laurel (8): $100,000 Dahlia Stakes, fillies and mares 3 and up, 1 mile on turf. Winner: Secret Message ($11.80)

Woodbine (8): Grade 3 $125,000 Whimsical Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 6 furlongs. Winner: Shakopee Town ($4.90)

Charles Town (10): $100,000 Dance to Bristol Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 7 furlongs. Winner: Devine Mischief ($29.20)

Laurel (9): $125,000 Weber City Miss Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 1 1/16 miles. Winner: Las Setas ($3.60)

Aqueduct (8): $200,000 New York Stallion Stakes (Park Avenue Division), NY-bred fillies 3-years-old, 6½ furlongs. Winner: Newly Minted ($5.00)

Oaklawn (7): $100,000 Rainbow Stakes, Ark-breds 3-years-old, 6 furlongs. Winner: Tapit Star ($3.20)

Keeneland (9): Grade 2 $250,000 Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes, 4 and up, 1½ miles on turf. Winner: Bigger Picture ($16.60)

Charles Town (11): Grade 2 $1 million Charles Town Classic, 4 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Winner: Runnin’toluvya ($21.20)

Laurel (10): $125,000 Federico Tesio Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles Winner: Alwaysmining ($2.10)

Aqueduct (9): $200,000 New York Stallion Stakes (Times Square Division), NY-breds 3-years-old, 6½ furlongs. Winner: Funny Guy ($29.20)

Laurel (11): $100,000 Henry S. Clark Stakes, 3 and up, 1 mile on turf. Winner: Irish Strait ($5.80)

Santa Anita (5): Grade 2 $200,000 Kona Gold Stakes, 3 and up, 6½ furlongs. Winner: Cistron ($15.60)

Oaklawn (9): $100,000 Rainbow Miss Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Bye Bye J ($2.60)

Big races preview

A look at graded stakes or races worth $100,000 or more Sunday. All times PDT:

12:40 Woodbine (6): $100,000 Star Shoot Stakes, fillies 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Intanga Rose (3-1)

Ciaran Thornton’s SA pick of the day

Shanghai Truffles is 8-1 morning line and Flavien Prat bothers to ride for trainer Paddy Gallagher in this last race of the Easter card. Prat only has two mounts today, so immediately I am intrigued that he shows up here. The horse last ran on the hillside course in March. After a slow start, she was behind 17 lengths into the turn yet managed to finish only four lengths back surging late. The key today will be the start, and there is no better than Prat. Shortens up today and this jockey upgrade and a great price means must use in all bets. If this price is not your cup of tea then in the first race, Incredibly Lucky with Tiago Pereira riding for trainer William Spawr is your low-odds play. This combo has won three-of-nine races at the meet. including two of three in the last two weeks. Trainer is also two of four for the season with second-time starters and he is 20% beaten favorite. Lots of win stats for a low-odds single.

Saturday’s result: Fabiolla didn’t have the luck of the Irish, or any luck for that matter, and faded to last in the 10-horse race.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for, which offers daily full card picks, longshots of the day, best bets of the day.

Los Alamitos update

In case you’ve forgotten, Los Alamitos is taking the day off.

Final thoughts

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And now the stars of the show, Saturday’s results and Sunday’s entries.