Horse racing newsletter: Racing suspended at Santa Anita

As this photo from March 14 shows, fans had already been banished from Santa Anita Park before Friday’s shutdown of live racing.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa, and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as all of us urge you to be safe.

Seems like it was year ago when we were writing about the suspension of racing at Santa Anita. That was their choice to deal with the spike of equine fatalities. This time, it’s the health department’s choice.

Just minutes before racing was to start Friday, the card was called off and things were suspended until further notice.


I did a story about the closing for digital and print. You can read it, just click here.

But, let’s quote from an early version of the story as to how it actually came down.

“The drama started Wednesday morning when an environmental health specialist in the Monrovia office of the L.A. County Public Health Department deemed that the track should be shut down.

“ ‘After review by our Department, live racing of the horses has been deemed a non-essential operation,’ it said in a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times. ‘Horse racing may not continue per the Health Officer Order.’

“On Thursday, Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California racing for the Stronach Group, sent an email to Edward Morrissey, the acting chief of the Health Services Department, pleading the case of why Santa Anita and its sister track in Northern California should remain open for racing. Golden Gate Fields will remain open.

“The California Horse Racing Board met by teleconference Thursday and did not act on the status of Santa Anita despite pleas by animal rights activists to close the track in light of COVID-19. Activists were previously calling for the closing of the track for almost a year because of fatalities, which have been greatly reduced this year.

“The CHRB telegraphed what was to come in a few hours Friday morning when it sent out a news release saying: ‘In this time of an extraordinary health crisis and pandemic, the [CHRB] is relying on state, county and local health authorities to determine whether horse racing is deemed essential for exemption from shelter-in-place orders issued by those authorities.’

“And Los Angeles County enforced its order Friday. According to an L.A. County Public Health Department news release Friday, there have been six positive tests for COVID-19 in Arcadia. There are no known positives from track personnel.”


OK, that’s what happened. When will it be resolved? Forgive the triteness, but only time will tell.

What about the newsletter?

We’ll be on a bit of a hiatus while racing is suspended from Santa Anita. The thinking is we might go to a Friday newsletter only with some of our regular contributors. Jon White, Ron Flatter, Matt Dinerman and Orlando Gutierrez will have a platform if they want it. Our resident handicappers, Rob Henie, Ciaran Thornton and Chris Wade may be a little more scarce in the newsletter. Of course, this might create a Friday newsletter whose sheer size would cause my regular editor Houston Mitchell’s head to do a Linda Blair. (Look it up.) Just check your inbox every day. And we can’t say it enough: Be smart, stay safe.

Ron Flatter on the Florida Derby

It’s time for our weekly contribution from Ron Flatter of the Vegas Stats and Information Network. He offers up some thoughts about how there seems to be some breeding commonality in Saturday’s Florida Derby. Ron, what insights do you have?

“It is like a tree fell down to block the Kentucky Derby trail. If only the coronavirus were so easy to solve.


“Because this particular tree is not moving, Saturday’s Florida Derby will likely be the last stop on the trail before everyone runs into the roadblock.

“So, what context do these races have?

“ ‘After the Florida Derby, we are going to put a big dot at the end of the page,’ trainer Patrick Biancone said this week.

“Not knowing what tracks will be open this spring and summer, no one really knows how the Derby road will be mapped past that big dot. So, races such as the Florida Derby stand on their graded-stakes merit, even if they now seem like rivalry games for college football teams banned from bowl games.


“But while racing’s schedule has proven to be brittle against the pandemic, breeding is one phase of the sport that remains relatively normal. In that vein, a closer look at the Florida Derby reveals that the race might as well be called the Constitution Invitational.

“Morning-line favorite Tiz The Law (6-5), second choice Independence Hall (9-2) and fourth choice Gouverneur Morris (8-1) were all sired by Constitution, the 9-year-old stallion who stands at WinStar Farm, Ky., with North America’s top-ranked second crop this year.

“According to Blood-Horse, Constitution has produced 16 winners from 52 starters at age 3 with purse earnings totaling $896,083. So far, he is the only stallion with three second-crop winners of black-type stakes this year. Tiz The Law won last month’s Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. Independence Hall scored in the Jerome on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct. The filly Laura’s Light finished first in this month’s Grade 3 Sweet Life Stakes at Santa Anita.

“If the Florida Derby were to end with a Constitution trifecta, that sire total for 2020 would rise to more than $1.5 million.


“In the long term, the success of Tiz The Law and Independence Hall and the predicted faith this weekend in Gouverneur Morris augurs well for bettors who made Constitution the 5-1 individual favorite in the Kentucky Derby Future Sire Wager, which opened and closed last Thanksgiving weekend. So does the four-month postponement of the Derby, giving all three colts ample opportunity to pick up qualifying points.

“Of course, a bet on a Constitution colt winning the Derby depends a great deal on a Bob Baffert horse failing to do so. For the record, Baffert’s big three — Authentic, Charlatan and Nadal — were sired by three different stallions: 2019 champion stud Into Mischief, eighth-ranked Speightstown and 55th-ranked Blame, respectively.

“With five stakes winners in 2019, Constitution’s first crop was second only to American Pharoah, so he is standing the early test of time. About the only question now for him is how much stakes racing there will be the rest of the year to measure his second-crop success — and for horsemen to get something back for their $40,000 stud fees.”

Ron Flatter is a host and reporter who covers horse racing for the Vegas Stats & Information Network, which is available at SiriusXM 204 and to subscribers at The current episode of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod features handicapper and turf writer John Pricci of Horse Race Insider and Été Indien’s trainer Patrick Biancone previewing Saturday’s Florida Derby. To listen, just click here.


Big races preview

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

10:00 Gulfstream (4): $100,000 Cutler Bay Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Vitalogy (5-2)

11:00 Gulfstream (6): $100,000 Hal’s Hope Stakes, 1 1/8 miles, 4 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: American Tattoo (3-1)


11:30 Gulfstream (7): $100,000 Sanibel Island Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Cheermeister (7-2)

12:34 Gulfstream (9): $100,000 Sand Spring Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Newspaperofrecord (9-5)

1:17 Gulfstream (10): Grade 3 $100,000 Orchid Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 3/8 miles on turf. Favorite: Mean Mary (3-1)

1:49 Gulfstream (11): Grade 2 $200,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks, fillies 3-years-old, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Tonalist’s Shape (5-2)


2:26 Gulfstream (12): Grade 2 $200,000 Pan American Stakes, 4 and up, 1½ miles on turf. Favorite: Zulu Alpha (3-5)

3:00 Gulfstream (13): Grade 3 $100,000 Appleton Stakes, 4 and up, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Sombeyay (7-2)

3:08 Oaklawn (9): $125,000 Nodouble Breeders’ Stakes, Arkansas-breds 3 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: K J’s Nobility (5-2)

3:36 Gulfstream (14): Grade 1 $750,000 Florida Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Tiz The Law (6-5)


Final thought

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Any thoughts, you can reach me at You can also feed my ego by following me on Twitter @jcherwa.

Hope to see you next Friday.