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Horse racing newsletter: Los Alamitos is back in the daytime

A jockey cools down his horse after a race at the Los Alamitos Race Course in June 2019.
A jockey cools down his horse after a race at the Los Alamitos Race Course in June 2019.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter, as we discover the big change that happened at Gulfstream Park.

I know we should be talking about Los Alamitos opening on Friday, but we’ve got a ton of news to catch up on. So, let’s get to it.

Timely change at Gulfstream

First up, and this really isn’t that significant for Southern California horse players, but the Gulfstream Drag is dead. Aidan Butler, former acting director of West Coast Racing for the Stronach Group and now chief operating officer of 1/ST racing and president of 1/ST content … wait, this is too much and too indecipherable. He used to run Santa Anita and Golden Gate and now he’s in charge of Stronach Group racing on the East Coast, which is mostly Florida and Maryland. And, he’ll likely put out racing fires on the West Coast when needed.

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Well, he did away with the Gulfstream Drag, a situation introduced by former TSG racing boss Tim Ritvo, based on the idea that bettors are too stupid to understand that one or two minutes to post meant they needed to get their bets in. Instead, when the clock struck zero minutes to post at Gulfstream, there may still be five minutes to bet. It was an attempt to squeeze the very last nickel out of the betting public.

Ritvo, and P.J. Campo, also a TSG former, tried the same thing at Santa Anita. When Butler took over, he showed the bettors some respect and did away with it here, so it should be no surprise he did it at Gulfstream. However, it had been as much a part of the Gulfstream legacy as the $30-million Pegasus hood ornament that sits in the track’s parking lot.

More on Butler later, but this seemingly insignificant move shows he’s respectful of the fans and has some idea what they want. This was a change that made horse players and TVG, which has to plan the timing of races, very happy.

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New Santa Anita boss

We were very critical of Santa Anita for not announcing management changes when Butler headed back East. We wrote that on Friday, and on Monday changes were announced. Truly a coincidence. We don’t pretend to have any sway over whatever Santa Anita, or any other track, does. Local tracks listen to this newsletter as much as my 11-year-old, 12-pound rescue dog does to me. (He’s a mutt but a fraction of him is terrier, so you dog people know what I mean when it comes to listening.)

But on Monday, Santa Anita made two key moves. First, they named Nate Newby as general manager, which means he’ll be running Santa Anita on a day-to-day basis. It’s not a job you can turn down, but in the four years I’ve been covering this sport, he’s the fourth Santa Anita boss. (Roll call: Joe Morris, Tim Ritvo, Aidan Butler, Nate Newby.) Of the first three, Butler was the only one that left on his own accord. So much for job security.

What I know is that Newby is personable, attentive and he’s been around horses — and Santa Anita — for a very long time. He came from the marketing department, which he headed. He was the assistant general manager and as general manager will be the only one of the four previously mentioned to actually hold that title.

His best chance for success and longevity is to be left alone and not be micromanaged by the big bosses. Decision paralysis is a death knell in any business. People need to succeed or fail on their own and not because they are trying to guess what their bosses would want. As my former boss and onetime horse racing writer Bill Dwyre once counseled me, “Smart management is hiring good people and letting them do what you hired them for.”

Everyone wishes Nate well because the future of California racing may depend on it, not that we’re putting any pressure on him.

And in the racing office

Steve Lym is out as racing secretary at Santa Anita and Chris Merz is in. This didn’t hit like a sledgehammer such as when Rick Hammerle was sent packing by Ritvo. Lym was brought in from Woodbine in Canada and most would agree that he never quite figured out Southern California racing. You’re hard pressed to find a nicer guy than Lym, but Del Mar was running significantly larger fields with the same horse population as Santa Anita. There needed to be some fixing.

I don’t know Merz, but respected industry folks I talk to are very high on him. Plus, he learned his craft in Southern California before going to Maryland for his “masters” degree in race writing.

The signals weren’t great when Butler asked Del Mar’s respected duo of Tom Robbins and David Jerkens to look over the Santa Anita condition book. But, sometimes, they didn’t see it before it was drying in cement.

Lym has been reassigned to work for Butler on the East Coast. The thinking is he’s good with the alphabet name groups that also help run the sport. Lym could take part of that burden off Butler.

More on Butler

Aidan Butler was brought in to Santa Anita, from his role as chief strategy officer of TSG, during the height of the horse death crisis. He was an unknown commodity. No one was sure what it meant when he was put in charge of Santa Anita and Golden Gate, especially with a resume that showed he knew nothing about how to run a racetrack.

In one of his early meetings he asked the question if two horses could be stabled in the same stall. It took minutes before that made it around the backstretch. I asked him about it and he said he was making a joke. I took him at his word, but the more I was around him I became even more convinced it was an absolute joke that might have been sprung a little too early before people got to know him.

Butler won over a lot of people with his energy, humor and the mere fact that he was a tireless worker. It seemed to me he knew what he didn’t know, a good leadership trait. Most of all, he was always there, unless he was on a TSG mission elsewhere. No one can say that Butler didn’t give it everything he had. (Plus, he always called me back, the most important thing for me. Listening, Nate?)

His second year at Santa Anita (and first full meeting), he had to deal with the people-safety issue in light of the coronavirus. Yet, he never publicly pointed out the seeming hypocrisy of the L.A. County Department of Public Health shutting down Santa Anita to racing while allowing the county-owned Arboretum to stay open to the public immediately across the street.

Then he came up with a PR stunt of housing the jockeys in trailers at the track to create the illusion of a bubble, even though the jockeys could go home four nights a week, when there was no racing, but still outside the bubble. Jockeys were tested weekly before they could return to the track. Butler and Newby even stayed in a jockeys’ trailer in the parking lot during the three nights a week of quarantine. The substantive value in doing this was negligible, but the perception value and the message it sent was positively immeasurable.

When I first met him, I told him I was going to nickname him “the tourniquet.” He was there to stop the bleeding. As it turned out, he did that and much more.

Golden Gate stays closed

Golden Gate Fields in Northern California will not race the rest of this season but hopes to reopen on Dec. 26 for its winter/spring meeting. The track closed on Nov. 13 and it was subsequently revealed that the backstretch had more than 200 positive tests. The track had hoped to reopen this weekend for the final two weeks of the season, but that plan was scuttled.

On to Los Alamitos.

Los Alamitos daytime preview

I did a preview for the web, which you can read; just click here. The bottom line is it’s the first time in almost 90 years that the L.A. County Fair racing meeting wasn’t held in September. It’s an 11-day meeting, Friday through Sunday this week and Thursday through Sunday the remaining too weeks. Think about it, the only Southern California track to regularly run four-day weeks this year was Los Alamitos.

Well, on Friday’s eight-race card starting at 1 p.m., the track is hitting on all cylinders when it comes to field size. Six of the races have 10 horses, and the other two are eight and nine. Now, almost all the races are at the claiming level except the feature, which is a 5 ½-furlong allowance/optional claimer for Cal-bred fillies and mares.

The favorite, at 9-5, is Althea Gibson for trainer Phil D’Amato and jockey Jessica Pyfer. In five lifetime races, she has won two and finished second twice. The 3-year-old first raced this summer at Los Alamitos. The second favorite is La Aguililla at 9-2 for Jesus Ramos and Ruben Fuentes. She has won one-of-16 lifetime races. She has spent most of her racing time in Northern California.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 8, 9, 10 (also eligible), 10, 10, 10, 10, 10 (2 also eligible).

Ciaran Thornton’s LRC pick

FOURTH RACE: No. 4 Dark and Dandy (8-1)

Dark and Dandy has won three in a row, two before hitting the bench in February and last out mid-month. All wins were under the lights. Horse is owned and trained by Oscar Heredia who has won 27% claim repeat. He jumps the horse multiple classes Friday. Distance is OK for a horse that routed many times in 2018 and has nice speed.

Ciaran Thornton is the handicapper for Californiapick4.com, which offers daily full card picks, longshots of the day, best bets of the day.

Los Alamitos nighttime weekend preview

Los Alamitos is the only place in racing that currently runs day-night doubleheaders. You’ve read about daytime, but the nighttime, let’s turn things over to marketing and media guru Orlando Gutierrez. Orlando, the floor is yours.

“Friday night’s eight-race program will include several strong 1,000-yard events, a pair of 4 ½-furlong races, plus a trio of quarter-horse straightaway races. El Jr A, who has finished in the money in all three of his career starts, will look for his first win in the seventh race at 300 yards. Meanwhile, Nuclear Option, third in a trial to the Golden State Million Futurity in his most recent race, heads a seven-horse field in the fifth race also at 300 yards.

“The payout leg of the early Pick Four will include sharp distance runners Fort Lewis Rivers, who has won his last three starts; BS Cyclotron, who has won three of his last four outings; Santaluz Dreamin, who has finished second or better in his last five starts; and Castle Gate, who has five straight top three finishes. They’ll be going 1,000 yards. Meanwhile, the closing leg of the late Pick Four will have Santa Anita winner Factorial from trainer Ryan Hanson and recent Golden Gate winner Boomchicaboom.

“Three of the eight races on Saturday night are allowances with several sharp runners led by the late-blossoming Stolen Lives in the eighth and final on the card. Stolen Lives is a half-brother to two-time Grade 1 winner Chocolatito, who will go in next Saturday’s Champion of Champions. Stolen Lives delivered a high-octane effort as he obliterated the competition in route to a ¾-length victory on Nov. 6. The California-bred colt previously had endured a difficult trip when he was bumped early when running fourth in a trial to the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Super Derby. If Stolen Lives takes another step forward here, his connections can dream of a big 4-year-old season a la Chocolatito in 2020. Her competition includes Wambui, who had a string of quality efforts in 2019 and returns for her first start since March 7, and All American Derby trial runner-up Old Blue Shirt.

“The Snowbound Superstar Handicap at 870 yards is the main event on Sunday. The race was split last year with two divisions held and both of last year’s winners, the quarter horses Ballast Point and JB Gray Dawn, are defending their titles. Thoroughbreds Sokudo and Run Factor are among the other main contenders.”

Chris Wade’s Friday LA pick

SIXTH RACE: No. 2 CM Singing The Blues (7-2)

He is as consistent as they come at this level of competition and the gelding always gives it his all. In his most recent effort against many that he’ll face right back again Friday, this runner bobbled at the start to lose over a length of ground and his early racing momentum. After the less-than-stellar getaway, this entrant finished well to just miss the win by a head and he galloped strongly through the clubhouse turn. With a quality number in tow and going to a barn via the claim box that’s a super 33% with runners of this ilk, we’ll push the chances of this runner steadily for all the board placings at a medium mutual.

A final thought

I love getting new readers of this newsletter, and you certainly can’t beat the price. If you like it, tell someone. If you don’t like it, you’re probably not reading this.

Either way, send this along to a friend, and just have them click here to sign up. Remember, it’s free, and all we need is your email address, nothing more.

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

Now the star of the show, Friday’s entries.

Los Alamitos Race Course Entries for Friday, December 4.

Los Alamitos Race Course, Los Alamitos, California. 1st day of a 11-day meet.

FIRST RACE.

5½ Furlongs. Purse: $12,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $6,250.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ProudtobesicilianAlexis Centeno117Robert A. Bean12-16,250
2Royal SeekerTiago Pereira124Marcelo Polanco5-16,250
3Tiz LoveChristian Aragon124Patricia Harrington3-16,250
4No More FireballJuan Sanchez122Sergio Morfin12-16,250
5Write Me a SongEdwin Maldonado124George Papaprodromou2-16,250
6Ladies ManCerapio Figueroa124Quinn Howey8-16,250
7P Town TitanCesar Ortega114Jesus Nunez30-16,250
8Quality LineSantos Rivera119Edwin Alvarez3-16,250

SECOND RACE.

6 Furlongs. Purse: $18,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $16,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1BarbiereJuan Sanchez122Terri Eaton15-116,000
2Galloping MischiefJessica Pyfer117Richard E. Mandella2-116,000
3Suances SecretAbdullah Alsagoor124Santos R. Perez30-116,000
4TromadorEdgar Payeras124Richard Rosales8-116,000
5Calder ValeCarlos Lopez, Jr.124Ricardo Zamora20-116,000
6LeprinoEdwin Maldonado122Reed Saldana3-116,000
7Bob's SniperTyler Baze124Val Brinkerhoff8-116,000
8MinosoJuan Hernandez124Hector O. Palma5-116,000
9No Parking HereSantos Rivera119Steven Miyadi4-116,000

THIRD RACE.

5½ Furlongs. Purse: $23,000. Maiden Claiming. 2 year olds. Claiming Price $30,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Flash of GloryFrancisco Amparan122Jose R. Gonzalez, Jr.5-130,000
2Deputy GaryAlexis Centeno117Ruben Gomez30-130,000
3Flactem LegacyEdwin Maldonado122Edwin Alvarez8-130,000
4Russian DiplomatJuan Sanchez122Terri Eaton12-130,000
5Western RuleGeovanni Franco122Hector O. Palma2-130,000
6Presto BenchTyler Baze122Ryan Hanson8-130,000
7Pizza CharlieJuan Hernandez122John W. Sadler6-130,000
8My Child SbudLuis Valenzuela122Oscar Heredia10-130,000
9Raise a HallelujahSantos Rivera117Jonathan Wong10-130,000
10Call Sign LuckyTiago Pereira122O. J. Jauregui5-130,000
Also Eligible
11Big EndeavorFernandez Rojas122II Earl T. Baze4-130,000
12Light My TigerBrandon Boulanger122Jesus Nunez12-130,000

FOURTH RACE.

5½ Furlongs. Purse: $15,000. Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $8,000-$7,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Earle GrayFrancisco Orduna-Rojas124Robert A. Bean20-18,000
2D K's CrownEdwin Maldonado122Luis Mendez10-18,000
3Captain N. BarronRamon Guce122Sergio Morfin8-17,000
4Dark and DandyLuis Valenzuela122Oscar Heredia8-17,000
5Cryin' ChuckJuan Hernandez122John W. Sadler5-27,000
6Shake N FriesEdgar Payeras124Robert J. Lucas4-18,000
7Big Bad GarySantos Rivera119Ruben Gomez6-18,000
8Lucky RomanoCesar Ortega114Angela Maria Aquino8-18,000
9RineshaftCarlos Lopez, Jr.124Hector O. Palma15-18,000
10Show BusinessTyler Baze122Steve Knapp8-18,000

FIFTH RACE.

1 Mile. Purse: $20,000. Maiden Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Prices $20,000-$18,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Gotta Be LuckyJessica Pyfer115Carla Gaines7-218,000
2Zagrah Tiago Pereira122Manuel Badilla5-220,000
3Ice AngelRicardo Gonzalez120Steve M. Sherman20-118,000
4RocketannEdwin Maldonado122Marcia Stortz8-118,000
5Turkish AngelAlex Jimenez120Marcelo Polanco20-118,000
6Elegant SilkAbel Cedillo122Steve M. Sherman9-220,000
7MoreavinoJuan Hernandez122Gary Mandella15-118,000
8Mira Loma MadamCesar Ortega110Jesus Mendoza30-118,000
9Slew's Screen StarSantos Rivera117Daniel Dunham10-120,000
10True MischiefAlexis Centeno117Richard Baltas7-220,000

SIXTH RACE.

6 Furlongs. Purse: $30,000. Starter Allowance. 3 year olds and up.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1ZorichRuben Fuentes124Andrew Lerner8-1
2Natural HistoryJuan Hernandez122Robert B. Hess, Jr.8-1
3Bam Bam AgainEdwin Maldonado122Reed Saldana20-1
4Let's RejoyceRicardo Gonzalez122Jonathan Wong9-2
5FratelliDrayden Van Dyke124Andrew Lerner7-2
6BronnAbel Cedillo122Bob Baffert4-1
7Flat WhiteAlexis Centeno115Rene Amescua15-1
8TizhotndustyMario Gutierrez122J. Eric Kruljac4-1
9Nonno's PolarisTyler Baze122Kristin Mulhall15-1
10Wine and WhiskyHeriberto Figueroa122Felix Rondan8-1

SEVENTH RACE.

5½ Furlongs. Purse: $48,000. Allowance Optional Claiming. Fillies and Mares. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000. State bred.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Althea GibsonJessica Pyfer115Philip D'Amato9-5
2Hot On the TrailTyler Baze122Gary Stute10-1
3Felony OneEdwin Maldonado124Isidro Tamayo15-1
4WishfulTiago Pereira124Victor M. Trujillo15-1
5Midnight SunriseJose Valdivia, Jr.122Andy Mathis6-1
6Little Miss EllieAbel Cedillo120Vladimir Cerin8-1
7Eye On TigerFrancisco Amparan122Jose R. Gonzalez, Jr.20-1
8Black DropSantos Rivera117Tirso Rivera8-1
9La AguilillaRuben Fuentes124Jesus Ramos9-2
10Shylock EddieGeovanni Franco124Brian J. Koriner6-1

EIGHTH RACE.

5½ Furlongs. Purse: $20,000. Maiden Claiming. 3 year olds and up. Claiming Price $20,000.

PPHorseJockeyWtTrainerM-LClaim $
1Git On Your PulpitGeovanni Franco124Kathy Walsh6-120,000
2MobjackTyler Baze122Art Sherman20-120,000
3LunademielAnthony Locke122Stacy Locke30-120,000
4Gov From AboveAbel Cedillo122Art Sherman12-120,000
5Noble PursuitEdwin Maldonado124John W. Sadler5-220,000
6With Due CauseChristian Aragon122Patricia Harrington8-120,000
7Run Manny RunCesar Ortega112Jesus Nunez30-120,000
8Seizetheday RexyAlexis Centeno115Doug F. O'Neill2-120,000
9Lucky Ryan SevenRuben Fuentes122George Papaprodromou5-120,000
10Mr. ClutchAustin Solis122Jorge Gutierrez10-120,000
Also Eligible
11BarhopskyRamon Guce122Sergio Morfin10-120,000
12Union DanceJuan Hernandez124Isidro Tamayo7-220,000


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