Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we congratulate the man in the middle, Jim Cassidy, California Thoroughbred Trainer president, for winning the feature and giving him a brief respite from the horse death controversy. (Apologies for the long sentence.)
Santa Anita had a successful first day back. Success, under the new normal, is no fatalities. I’m sure everyone agrees that is a very good thing. I was at Santa Anita and I’ve got to say, I held my breath every race. I wasn’t looking at the horses at the front but those at the back because that’s where bad things happen.
But, hey, let’s celebrate another day, and we’ve had a few, where no horse died on the track.
Having spent some time the last two days with Belinda Stronach and Tim Ritvo, the top two people at The Stronach Group, you can see their new strategy emerging.
Stronach credited Ritvo with this analogy. There are two bubbles, one in which racegoers live, and a bigger one where the general public gets its perception of horse racing. The bubble that seems more important at this point is the general public.
It seems clear to most that the progressive measures put forth by Stronach have little to do with the recent breakdowns, but more about pushing the sport to a more palatable level to the general public.
Here’s what Ritvo said to the media after the conclusion of Friday’s racing.
“[The public] are the ones that go to Sacramento and they are the ones that come out and vote and can end our sport,” Ritvo said. “There are more of them than there are customers, unfortunately. … [If there is ever a ballot initiative], the people who do want to end us will come out and vote in droves and the ones that don’t care just won’t show up at the ballot box.
“We need to do a really good job of getting into that outside bubble [of the public] and tell people the truth of how people really love and care for these horses.”
You know, that seems like a smart strategy, convince the non-believers rather than cater to those who you’ve already won.
But, is it a winning strategy?
Truth be told, I never thought a ballot initiative was in the immediate future. And maybe it isn’t. Or maybe it is. You folks, actually people who likely don’t read this newsletter, are in charge of the answer to that question.
I recently witnessed the same kind of initiative in Florida, where I have a home, about the abolition of dog racing. Those that opposed the sport crushed those who did. In fairness, dog racing was drawing pools similar to the new roulette bet. OK, maybe not that small. The sport was essentially DOA before the vote.
The good news, and it’s very good news, is the demand for adoption of dogs currently available was greater than dogs that were available. I love that, especially as the co-parent (with my wife, and let’s face it, who is in charge depends on the day, although the usual answer is Griff) of a rescue.
But adopting a horse is not going to the store and buying a bag of kibble and a chew toy. Horses are much more difficult to care for in the after-racing career.
Sorry, I’m getting off target.
Ritvo recognizes that horse racing is in a much tougher spot than three months ago. How it plays out may well be out of his, and everyone else’s, control.
If you only read one story about the re-opening, try this one from the incomparable Bill Plaschke. Just click here.
If you have time for two stories, this is this one I filed. Just click here.
Santa Anita review
Friday wasn’t the greatest card, but the fact no horses died, made it spectacular for that reason.
The feature race was the Grade 2 $200,000 San Luis Rey Stakes for 4-year-olds and up going 1 1/2 miles on the turf. (That means starting at the top of the downhill turf course and going around the main stretch twice.)
Epical wired the five-horse field, winning by 2 ½ lengths. He paid $4.20, $2.40 and $2.40. Beach View was second followed by Marckie’s Water, Unapologetic and Ashleylovessugar.
“We had a few struggles along the way with this horse, but he had the right trip in the last few races and it shows,” Cassidy says. (More from Cassidy at this link. Just click here.)
Santa Anita preview
Pretty good day on Saturday, with 10 races beginning at 1 p.m. There are four graded stakes, more of a product of trying to catch up after all the missed days, than a planned super day.
So, let’s got through them in order.
Grade 1 $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile: No need to tell you the distance for this race. It’s for older horses. Catapult is the 8-5 morning-line favorite for trainer John Sadler and jockey Drayden Van Dyke. He’s six-for-17 lifetime with his last win coming in the Del Mar Handicap. River Boyne for Jeff Mullins and Rafael Bejarano is the 5-2 second choice, The race is scheduled as the fifth at about 3:15 p.m.
Grade 2 $200,000 San Carlos Stakes : This is a sprint for 3-year-olds and up, going seven furlongs. Ax Man for Bob Baffert and Van Dyke is the 5-2 favorite. Ax Man is coming off an allowance win which was preceded by a terrible 12th in the Malibu Stakes. Kanthaka for Jerry Hollendorfer and Rafael Bejarano is the second favorite at 3-1. Post is about 4 p.m.
Grade 3 $100,000 Santa Ana Stakes: How about 1 ¼ miles on the turf for older fillies and mares. Elysea’s World, at 5-2, is the favorite for Richard Baltas, and, you guessed it, Van Dyke as the rider. She’s not a lock at this price having last won in September at Monmouth. This will be Van Dyke’s first trip aboard this horse. Streak of Luck is the 3-1 second favorite. Post time is around 4:30 p.m.
Grade 1 $400,000 Beholder Mile: This is for 3-year-old and up fillies and mares going, you guessed it. Marley’s Freedom has won eight of 15 races and is the 4-5 favorite. Baffert is the trainer and who do you think rides? How about Van Dyke. Now Drayden is a great rider but being the favorite in all four graded stakes is partly a result of jockeys Mike Smith, Joel Rosario, Flavien Prat and Joe Talamo being in Dubai for Saturday’s $35 million card. Selcourt is the distant 5-1 second choice. Selcourt is the distant 5-1 second choice. Post is about 5:30 p.m.
Big races preview
A look at graded stakes or races worth more $100,000 or more on Saturday. All times PST.
10:00 Gulfstream (4): Grade 2 $300,000 Gulfstream Park Mile, 4 and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Prince Lucky (2-5)
10:30 Gulfstream (5): $125,000 Cutler Bay Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Marquee Prince (2-1)
11:00 Gulfstream (6): $125,000 Sanibel Island Stakes, fillies 3-years-old, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: A Bit Special (9-5)
12:00 Gulfstream (8): Grade 2 $250,000 Gulfstream Park Oaks, fillies 3-years-old, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Dunbar Road (8-5)
1:17 Gulfstream (10): $100,000 Sand Springs Stakes, fillies and mares 4 and up, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Valedictorian (5-2)
3:00 Gulfstream (13): Grade 2 $250,000 Pan American Stakes, 4 and up, 1 ½ miles on turf. Favorite: Soglio (3-1)
3:17 Santa Anita (5): Grade 1 $400,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, 4 and up, 1 mile on turf. Favorite: Catapult (8-5)
3:36 Gulfstream (14): Grade 1 $1 million Florida Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles. Favorite: Hidden Scroll (5-2)
3:36 Oaklawn (9): $150,000 Purple Martin Stakes, 3-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Favorite: Bye Bye Jay (2-1)
3:58 Santa Anita (6): Grade 2 $200,000 San Carlos Stakes, 3 and up, 7 furlongs. Favorite: Ax Man (5-2)
4:28 Santa Anita (7): Grade 3 $100,000 Santa Ana Stakes, 4 and up, 1 ¼ miles on turf. Favorite: Elysea’s World (5-2)
5:28 Santa Anita (9): Grade 1 $400,000 Beholder Mile, fillies 3 and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Marley’s Freedom (4-5)
Bob Ike’s SA pick of the day
EIGHTH RACE: No. 7 Air Strike (4-1)
Colt from the Phil D’Amato barn was in steep last time when finishing sixth in the Grade 2 San Antonio after racing wide on the far turn. Dropping down into a second-level allowance race, the 4-year-old colt adds blinkers and should fire a good shot while making his first start since Dec. 26.
Friday’s result: Swirling moved up to press leader down the hill, made the lead in mid-stretch, then tired in the final 50 yards and finished third as the favorite in the fourth race.
Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of Horsebills.com (here’s a video) and the proprietor of BobIkePicks.com (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).
Ed Burgart’s LA pick of the day
SIXTH RACE: No. 4 Fly N Away (2-1)
This improving filly has much upside while facing several rivals who appear to have peaked. In her last 3/4-length victory, she was in hand at the wire and galloped out with authority from the rail post. Trainer Matt Fales shows confidence with a two-level class hike and she is the lone entrant with two wins. Key in the Pick 4 and Pick 3.
(Editor’s note: Welcome back to Ed, who was enjoying a little time away from racing. And thanks to Chris Wade for filling in, even though we were on a pretty slim newsletter schedule while racing was suspended at Santa Anita.)
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And now the stars of the show, Friday’s results and Saturday’s entries.