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Racing! TSG announces sweeping changes

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we sadly have to say another horse has lost its life.

The death of a 22nd horse at Santa Anita during training on Thursday was followed by a long statement announcing reforms at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. The announcement was coming and would have happened regardless if the death had not occurred.

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Eric Sondheimer was on the case for us and here’s his report. Just click here. There’s also a report from Nathan Fenno you can read by clicking here.

Barring something unforeseen, racing will resume on March 22.

There is plenty of time for analysis as to the impact of these changes. Off the top, you can expect smaller fields and maybe even some trainers moving out of state. Will it cut down the number of breakdowns? Time will answer that question, if only anecdotally.

The release leaves some questions unanswered such as if these moves will eventually be adopted at Gulfstream in Florida and Laurel in Maryland. They are not mentioned. And it carefully dances around the participation of Del Mar. It says it is on board but not if it plans to implement those exact changes. Maybe that’s for Del Mar to say.

Forgive me if I turn over this newsletter to the voice making the news, plus some regular contributors, while I sit back and allow everyone to digest what happened and if this is the move that can change California racing for the better.

Here’s what Belinda Stronach, head of The Stronach Group, said in announcing the changes:

“What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking. It is unacceptable to the public and, as people who deeply love horses, to everyone at The Stronach Group and Santa Anita.

“The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards.

“[Thursday], I’m announcing The Stronach Group will take the unprecedented step of declaring a zero tolerance for race day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. These Thoroughbred racetracks will be the first in North America to follow the strict International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards.

“We have arrived at a watershed moment. The Stronach Group has long been a strong advocate for the abolishment of race-day medication, but we will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes. Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be.

“This mandate encompasses a complete revision of the current medication policy to improve the safety of our equine and human athletes and to raise the integrity of our sport.

“These revisions comprise best practices currently employed at racetracks around the world:

  • Banning the use of Lasix.

  • Increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.

  • Complete transparency of all veterinary records.

  • Significantly increasing out-of-competition testing.

  • Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.

  • A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.

  • Horses in training are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis.

“Additionally, it is time to address the growing concern about use of the riding crop. A cushion crop should only be used as a corrective safety measure. While we firmly believe our jockeys have not purposely been mistreating their mounts, it is time to make this change.

“These modernizations are in addition to the previously announced commitment to the continued engagement of outside experts to regularly review our dirt, turf and synthetic courses for consistency, composition and compaction to create the safest racing surfaces in the world.

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“We will be continuing our daily conversations with industry stakeholders to further define these transformative guidelines. But make no mistake: these changes will be implemented. The time to discuss ‘why’ these advancements must take place is over. The only thing left to discuss is ‘how.’

“There are some who will take a stand and tell us that it cannot be done. To them we say ‘the health and welfare of the horses will always come first.’ We also say ‘not only can it be done, it is what we are doing.’ Racing at Santa Anita and Golden Gate is a privilege, it is not a right.

“Ultimately, we recognize the owners and trainers of these horses have the final responsibility to assess their fitness for racing and training. Our goal is to make every resource available to aid them in that determination. We are all in this together to make the horse the first priority.

“Our COO, Tim Ritvo, has been a horseman for almost four decades. As he said, ‘The time has come for this industry to evolve. It must do so for the sake of the horses and the people who depend on this sport for their livelihoods. Moving to international standards will help to set the right foundation for racing and fairness. We love the sport of horse racing and want it to succeed today, tomorrow and long into the future.’

“We’ve spoken with the California Horse Racing Board and they will be holding a meeting on March 21 at which the situation at Santa Anita Park will be addressed. In the interim, Chairman Chuck Winner told us he personally appreciates the initiatives that The Stronach Group announced today. The Chairman said, ‘The safety of horses and riders has been, is, and will be the primary concern of the CHRB. The CHRB has been working with The Stronach Group and the various stakeholders to achieve a common objective, which is the best possible conditions for the health and safety of our equine competitors.’

“Organizations who advocate for animal welfare have also affirmed their support for these measures. Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President for PETA said, ‘PETA thanks Santa Anita for standing up to all those who have used any means to force injured or unfit horses to run. This is a historic moment for racing and PETA urges every track to recognize that the future is now and to follow suit. This groundbreaking plan will not bring back the 22 horses who have died recently, but it will prevent the deaths of many more and will set a new standard for racing that means less suffering for Thoroughbreds.’

“These initiatives are a seismic shift in how the sport has been conducted for centuries. We are pleased that Stuart S. Janney III, Chairman of The Jockey Club, which has long supported the Horseracing Integrity Act, said, ‘We applaud The Stronach Group for its announcement today to effect sweeping changes at Santa Anita, which would bring them on par with the strict standards seen in major international racing jurisdictions.’

“Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, has also voiced their agreement with these new changes. Joe Harper, CEO said, ‘Del Mar has and will continue to support discussions and implementation of measures that enhance the safety and welfare of our athletes. We are committed to working with Santa Anita, The Stronach Group and other industry stakeholders to continue to improve.’

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“We recognize this will impact our field size as horses and horsemen adjust to this new standard. There will be horses that will not be able to race because they have required medication to do so. For those horses, we are prepared to dedicate the capital required to rehabilitate, retrain, rehome and provide aftercare for them. They deserve nothing less.

“We are taking a step forward and saying, quite emphatically, that the current system is broken. While the cause of the injuries on the racetrack might be varied, they have one thing in common: the industry has yet to do everything that can be done to prevent them. That changes [Thursday].

“First and foremost, we must do right by the horse. When we do right by the horse, everything – everything – will follow.”

Jon White’s Kentucky Derby rankings

Let’s do a swerve from the big story at Santa Anita and turn our attention to the Kentucky Derby. So, we’re lucky to have the top expert Jon White take a look at what’s happening there. It’s welcome relief. Jon makes the morning line at Santa Anita, he’s a licensed steward, and he’s the pre-eminent historian on racing. We’re lucky to have him. So, here’s his Kentucky Derby rankings, brought courtesy of Xpressbet.com.

“Game Winner, who sits atop my Kentucky Derby Top 10, and Improbable, ranked No. 2, will be running in Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park.

“The Rebel originally was to have a $1 million purse and offer 85 qualifying points (50-20-10-5) for the May 4 Kentucky Derby. Oaklawn president Louis Cella said last week that if the race drew 20 or more entries, the track would be willing to split it into two divisions, each worth $750,000. Cella said that while doing so would make ‘no sense whatsoever’ from a financial standpoint, Oaklawn would do it ‘strictly on the basis of sportsmanship and what is best for the sport and best for the top 3-year-olds trying to get to the Kentucky Derby.’

“When 19 were entered in the Rebel, Cella could have stuck to his guns and saved a considerable amount of money by not splitting the race because it did not get 20. But in a classy move, Cella gave his blessing to go ahead and split it with 19.

“Oaklawn's proposal to split the Rebel and have each division worth $750,000 stemmed from the suspension of racing at Santa Anita due to a spike of equine fatalities there.

“Game Winner and Improbable, who both hail from the powerful Bob Baffert barn, were supposed to have started in Santa Anita's March 9 San Felipe Stakes. But that 1 1/16-mile race now will not be run in 2019. With no San Felipe, Baffert had to call an audible, rerouting Game Winner and Improbable to the Rebel.

“Each division of the Rebel will offer 63.75 qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby (37.5 for first, 15 for second, 7.5 for third and 3.75 for fourth). The 63.75 qualifying points for each $750,000 division of the Rebel represents 75% of the original $1 million purse.

“Game Winner and Improbable would have had to face each other in the San Felipe, but that will not be the case in the Rebel. Improbable, who has not started since winning the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity on Dec. 8, heads the field of nine entered in the first division of the Rebel. Eclipse Award winner Game Winner, who has not raced since his victory in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 2, gets top billing in the second division, which has 10 entered.

“In all likelihood, Game Winner and Improbable will be odds-on favorites.

“Omaha Beach, who is No. 8 on my Top 10, is entered in the second division of the Rebel. He is coming off a nine-length win in a seven-furlong maiden race on a sloppy track Feb. 2 at Santa Anita. Omaha Beach worked six furlongs in a scorching 1:10.60 at Los Alamitos on March 9 for trainer Richard Mandella.

“Galilean, ranked No. 9, is in the first division of the Rebel. He's coming off a facile 4 1/2-length victory in the California Cup Derby against California-breds at Santa Anita on Feb. 18. Jerry Hollendorfer trains Galilean.

“There were three races last Saturday with qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby up for grabs. They were Aqueduct's Gotham Stakes (50-20-10-5 points) at one mile, the Tampa Bay Derby (50-20-10-5 points) at 1 1/16 miles and Turfway Park's Jeff Ruby Steaks (20-8-4-2 points) at 1 1/8 miles.

“Haikal, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, rallied to win the Gotham by one length at odds of 4-1. Mind Control, 5-1, finished second. Instagrand, who was shipped all the way to the Big A from California by Hollendorfer, ran third as the even-money favorite.

“The Gotham was Haikal's third straight victory. His lone defeat in four lifetime starts came when he finished a close second in his Nov. 10 unveiling at Aqueduct.

“Instagrand was No. 4 on my Top 10 last week. His Gotham performance was not bad in that it was his first start since last Aug. 11 and the first time he had raced farther than six furlongs. Nevertheless, off his Gotham defeat, I have dropped Instagrand several notches to No. 10 this week.

“Tacitus closed strongly from well off the pace at odds of 8-1 to win the Tampa Bay Derby by 1 1/2 lengths in his 2019 debut. Outshine, 6-1, finished second. Win Win Win, the 7-5 favorite, came in third.

“Boasting one of the finest pedigrees of anyone on the Kentucky Derby trail, Tacitus is a son of premier sire Tapit and $2.7 million-earner Close Hatches. Trained by Bill Mott, Tacitus has won two of three career starts.

“Somelikeithotbrown registered a 3 1/4-length triumph in the Jeff Ruby Steaks on Turfway's synthetic surface despite zigzagging down the lane while clear. That was his third win from a total of seven starts. The only time that Somelikeithotbrown has raced on dirt, the Michael Maker-trained colt finished seventh in a maiden race at Saratoga last July 23. But it's possible that a line can be drawn through Somelikeithotbrown's uninspiring July 23 effort due to it being the first race of his career and a sloppy track. Keep in mind that Somelikeithotbrown's sire, Big Brown, did capture the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, both on dirt, in 2008."

“Here are this week's rankings, courtesy of Xpressbet:

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1. Game Winner (1)

2. Improbable (2)

3. War of Will (3)

4. Code of Honor (5)

5. Mucho Gusto (6)

6. Bourbon War (7)

7. Roadster (8)

8. Omaha Beach (9)

9. Galilean (10)

10. Improbable (4)

NOTE: Last week's rankings in parentheses

Golden Gate weekend preview

Santa Anita may not be running but Golden Gate is, so 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.

“Live racing resumes through Sunday, and the weather is supposed to be good. Like Southern California, we had a good amount of rain in January and February, with additional patches of showers in the first half of March. However, weather forecasts indicate the last spell of major rainfall has passed the Bay Area and locals will be treated to sun and a clear sky for the foreseeable future.

“TVG was on-site for live coverage of our races last week, and it is back this week too. Joaquin Jaime will, once again, be back reporting throughout the racing week, and be joined over the weekend by Todd Schrupp, Simon Bray and Rich Perloff.

“Congratulations to journeyman jockey Catalino Martinez, who picked up career win 1,000 in the first race on Saturday. Martinez was sprayed with water and champagne after the race by fellow riders and was soaking wet when interviewed by TVG’s Jaime. Catalino has been riding in the Bay Area for more than a decade and is a consistent, top 10 rider for many years. Congrats Catalino.

“Friday entries look terrific. The fifth and sixth races will be Legs C and E in the Stronach 5 wager. The fifth race is for 3-year-old maiden filles and drew a field of 11 and looks wide open. I made a legit case/angle for 8 of the 11 entrants. Th sixth race is a starter allowance sprinter for 3-year-olds and is equally as competitive. Other races that catch the eye on the Friday program: te fourth, a second-level allowance route event featuring the 2019 debut of talented Southern California mare Meal Ticket, and the eighth race, a second-level allowance sprint for fillies and mares which includes stakes performer Steph Being Steph for trainer Brian Koriner, the Peter Miller trained Suspicious Spouse and a number of sharp Northern California contenders.

“Southern California jockey Heriberto Figueroa won a pair of races last week while apprentice Jorge Valez also picked up a victory. Both jockeys, represented by agent Nelson Arroyo, will be back to ride at Golden Gate this week. Aaron Gryder and Ruben Fuentes rode in races over the weekend and will also be making the trip back up North.”

Big races preview

I know we’re a day early, but here’s a look at graded stakes or races worth more $100,000 or more on Saturday. All times PST.

11:05 Oaklawn (1): $100,000 maiden special weight, 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Breaking News (7-2)

11:40 Aqueduct (3): $100,000 Correction Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Sower (8-5)

12:11 Oaklawn (3): $100,000 maiden special weight, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Cowboy Diplomacy (3-1)

12:12 Laurel (5): $100,000 Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes, 4 and up, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Twisted Tom (5-2)

12:43 Oaklawn (4): $101,000 allowance, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Dessman (8-5)

1:12 Laurel (7): $100,000 Beyond the Wires Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 mile. Favorite: Las Setas (3-1)

1:14 Oaklawn (5): $100,000 maiden special weight, 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favrorite: Warrior’s Charge (2-1)

1:43 Laurel (8): $100,000 Private Terms Stakes,3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Always Smiling (4-5)

2:21 Oaklawn (7); Grade 2 $350,000 Azeri Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Midnight Bisou (6-5)

2:37 Gulfstream (11): Grade 2 $200,000 Inside Information Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Tequilita (5-2)

2:57 Oaklawn (8): Grade 2 $750,000 Rebel Stakes (first division): 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Improbable (3-5)

3:29 Oaklawn (9): $300,000 Essex Handicap, 4 and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Giant Expectations (5-2)

4:06 Oaklawn (10): Grade 2 $750,000 Rebel Stakes (second division): 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Game Winner (4-5)

4:38 Oaklawn (11): $100,000 maiden special weight, 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Nifty (3-1)

Los Alamitos 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.

“Three allowance races, including a pair of highly competitive 870-yard events, will highlight the eight-race program at Los Alamitos Race Course on Friday. First post is 6 p.m. The first of three allowances is the 870-yard third when Heaven Squared is back after a six-length victory on Feb. 24. Now facing winners, the Art Sherman-trained filly by Square Eddie will take on five – four who posted their maiden wins this year.

The second allowance is also 870 yards and features the return of the Edward Freeman-trained Staythirstymyamigo. The Kentucky-bred filly finished second in a 5 1/2 furlong race during a daytime race held in September. She followed that effort with back-to-back starts at six furlongs, first at Santa Anita on Nov. 3 and then at Del Mar on Nov. 12. The 300-yard eight race has an $11,525 allowance purse. Top runners include recent winner Ballast Point and Los Alamitos Maiden Stakes finalist Miss Montielita.

“On Saturday night, razor sharp Run Raging Rhino Run and always tough Bound To Bet -- a pair of top quarter horses around the turn -- will face some of the toughest thoroughbreds on the grounds in the $15,000 Rossmoor Handicap at 870 yards.

“Run Raging Rhino Run finished second to Rule He Will in the Snowbound Superstar Handicap at 870 yards on Dec. 9 and then won the Barbra B Handicap at 550 yards. In his most recent start, the son of FDD Dynasty set the pace in an 870-yard test before finishing second to the tough Thoroughbred Oil on Feb. 23. Lorenzo Ruiz will saddle the solid thoroughbreds Great Ma Neri and St. Reno in this race. Great Ma Neri has won her last two starts by daylight, while St. Reno won at Los Alamitos during the daytime on Dec. 15 and then at night on Jan. 5. He recently finished third at Santa Anita.

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“Earlier this week, owner Johnny Trotter confirmed that AQHA World Champion Bodacious Eagle has been retired from racing and is now being trained for ‘halter.’

“’He doesn't owe us anything more,” Trotter said. “He has achieved so much on the racetrack and it was time for him to move on from his racing career. I would like for him to become a Supreme Champion with his achievements on the racetrack, and now hopefully in the performance arena.’

“The son of leading sire One Famous Eagle won the Grade 1 Champion of Champions last year. In five years the sorrel gelding won 14 of 33 career starts and earned $1,293,444.

“In last weekend’s Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Derby winner Powerful Favorite stumbled at the start, but quickly recovered to win his trial to the El Primero Del Ano Derby in the fastest qualifying time. The $211,000 final will be held here on March 31. Terrific First Down, who finished third to Powerful Favorite in the Winter Derby, posted the fastest time to the $210,000 La Primera Del Ano Derby for fillies. The final is set for March 30.”

Chris Wade’s LA pick of the day

RACE TWO: No. 2 Reign On (4-1)

He went well late after a less than stellar start to finish a solid third versus two long gone speedsters over a speed favoring racing surface 19 nights ago. The figure earned in that outing compares favorably with the others in Friday’s second race and the gelding should improve in his second start over the oval for top notch connections. With an expected step forward in a field that has two horses that should go for the lead in Shadow Op and Swiss Cheese, I like Reign On to sit closer down the back-stretch and give the pacesetters a run for the money inside the 1/16th pole.

(Chris Wade has been the racing analyst and host of the Los Alamitos night simulcast broadcast for nearly two decades. While Ed Burgart is on vacation, Chris also fills in as the nighttime morning-line maker.)

Final thought

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

Thanks to ours stars of the show, Jon, Matt and Orlando. Way to go guys. If all goes well, we’ll be back next Friday and the resume our normal schedule.

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