Racing! A new day at Santa Anita

A statue of Zenyatta stands in the paddock gardens area at Santa Anita Park.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Hello, my name is John Cherwa and welcome back to our horse racing newsletter as we congratulate Flavien Prat for five victories Saturday.

Apparently, when The Stronach Group announced Thursday that Aidan Butler was the new acting executive director of California racing operations, I missed the significance of what happened.

I just thought they were giving him a long title because the one of chief strategy officer for TSG didn’t make sense in his current role.


But if you dig you find that Tim Ritvo is no longer the guy running Santa Anita. Now, Ritvo is still the chief operating officer of TSG and that gives him cache and authority in essentially all matters. Day to day, however, now belongs to Butler.

Think of it this way: Butler is living in Ritvo’s pool house (and who can’t relate to that. Ah, me. I grew up in a place where there were more cars on blocks in the front yard than on tires. But, that’s for a different day.) To the point, Butler has a lot of authority but on the organizational chart, he reports to Ritvo.

The news release said Butler was responsible for “codifying and building on the reforms initiated by The Stronach Group during its winter meet while continuing to oversee the company’s modernization of the sport in the areas of horse population, ownership and technology.”

Maybe I should have been smarter when Ritvo was quoted as saying: “Aidan’s on-site leadership in California …” was code for Ritvo’s leadership will be off-site. Although, a person with knowledge of the situation but not authorized to speak publicly, said Ritvo won’t be far away.

Things on who’s running the place started to clarify at the Thoroughbred Owners of California meeting at Del Mar on Saturday. Greg Avioli, chief executive of the TOC, said that Butler, not Ritvo, is the contact at Santa Anita going forward.

Avioli also said that Butler is restoring the tradition of handing out trophies and champagne toasts, which was stopped for cost-cutting reasons. Is that the equivalent of Artie Moreno lowering beer prices at Angels games?


How much direction Butler will get from Ritvo is still unclear. How long Ritvo will stick around is unclear. He has a major mess in Maryland — what to do about the Preakness and Pimlico — to clean up.

Will he help implement the Santa Anita safety protocols at Gulfstream and Laurel as TSG promised?

When we learn more, we’ll share.

More on TOC meeting

The newsletter had a spy at the TOC meeting Saturday. (Actually, it’s a very open meeting, so the group wasn’t hiding anything.) Horse owner Eric (Manny Mota) Sondheimer was there to give us the high points. He said it was well attended and the TOC officers took written questions, gave out awards to top owners and updated people on the relevant issues.

“Avioli tried to explain what happened during the Santa Anita meeting,” Sondheimer said. “ ‘I get asked every day what happened at Santa Anita,’ Avioli said. ‘Thirty horses perished for 30 different reasons.’ He basically said unprecedented rain was the major contributor but that track management bears some responsibility. ‘Our job is to do everything we can to make racing as safe as possible,’ Avioli said.

“Nick Alexander, TOC chairman, said: ‘We inherited a situation that was real dire.’ He said the public wanted Santa Anita to shut down. The governor wanted Santa Anita to shut down. Santa Anita didn’t know how to handle the public relations crisis. But negotiations helped keep the track running.


‘We did not solve the surface problems at Santa Anita,’ Alexander said. ‘They’re still working on it. We’ve made huge strides [in making things safer.]”

Josh Rubinstein, Del Mar chief operating officer, said that as of Saturday morning five horses had been scratched by the new screening panel. Del Mar is handling things different than Santa Anita, relying more on talking to trainers and seeing horses personally. Only two of the horses were scratched based on paper. The other three by using eyes and discussions with trainers. He said he’s pleased they are able to run five days a week despite the drop in wagering and field sizes. He said the plan is to race four times a week in the fall.

“Avioli also said Santa Anita would like to bring back the 6 1/2 furlongs downhill races on the turf in the winter. ‘We’re hopeful.’”

Thanks, Eric.

Del Mar review

Saturday’s feature ended up with an upset winner in Collusion Illusion but it was the side stories that may be more important in the long-range forecast. Collusion Illusion won the Grade II Best Pal Stakes for 2-year-olds by 1¼ lengths for the six-furlong race. The race is a major prep for the Del Mar Futurity over Labor Day weekend. Last year’s winner was Game Winner.

The favorite, Schrodinger, was scratched because of a fever. And Wrecking Crew got left at the gate and had a strong performance to rally for second. Fore Left, who won a stakes at Belmont for Doug O’Neill, was third.


Collusion Illusion paid $17.40, $7.40 and $3.20 for trainer Mark Glatt and jockey Joe Talamo.

Here’s what the winning connections had to say:

Glatt: “He’s been nothing but a pro from day one since we got him after the sale. He was probably ready earlier than the race he actually debuted in [July 21] but we decided to wait for Del Mar and we’re extremely pleased with him. This race came up a little bit quick, I usually like to give a horse more time after his debut, but he’s such a classy horse and he never missed a bite of grain. I thought about running him back in the Futurity but who knows what will happen between now and September, and he was ready to run now. I wouldn’t rule out the Futurity. That might be a little too aggressive with him, but we’ll keep it as an option.”

Talamo: “I had the beautiful trip. And the speed set it up right. I was impressed with my horse the way he gutted it out down the lane. And I think the farther the better with him. Wait till he goes seven eighths or two turns. Then you’re going to see the best of him.”

Del Mar preview

We are past the halfway mark of the meeting as Week Seven comes to a close. It’s an eight-race card with a 2 p.m. start. There are four turf races, one stakes and two allowance races.

The feature is the seventh, the Grade III $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap for fillies and mares going 6½ furlongs on the dirt. Prat had his choice between the top two favorites and settled on Anonymity for trainer Richard Mandella. She has finished second in three of her last four races. The other finish was a third. She finished second in this race last year. She was also third in the Breeders’ Cup fillies and mares sprint.


The second favorite, at 3-1, is Lady Ninja for Richard Baltas and Drayden Van Dyke. She is seven of 20 and has won three of her last four races. However, she has never raced at the stakes level.

Here are the field sizes, in order: 6, 9, 8, 8, 12 (2 also eligible), 9, 9, 11.

Big races review

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

Saratoga (8): Grade II $200,000 Saratoga Special, 2-year-olds, 6½ furlongs. Winner: Green Light Go ($5.10)

Woodbine (9): $225,000 Wonder Where Stakes, Ontario, Canada-bred fillies, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on turf. Winner: Desert Ride ($5.10)

Saratoga (9): Grade I $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile on turf. Winner: Got Stormy ($12.00)

Arlington (9): Grade I $600,000 Beverly D., fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, 1 3/16 miles on turf. Winner: Sistercharlie ($2.80)


Arlington (10): Grade I $500,000 Secretariat Stakes, 3-year-olds, 1 mile on turf. Winner: Valid Point ($7.20)

Colonial (5): $100,000 M. Tyson Gilpin Stakes, Virginia-bred fillies and mares 3 and up, 5 ½ furlongs on turf. Winner: Up the Beep ($4.40)

Arlington (11): Grade I $1-million Arlington Million XXXVII, 3-yeaer-olds and up, 1¼ miles on turf. Winner: Bricks And Mortar ($0.08-5)

Arlington (12): Grade III $100,000 Pucker Up Stakes, fillies 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles on turf. Winner: Cafe Americano ($7.40)

Colonial (8): $100,000 Meadow Stable Stakes, Virginia-breds, 3-year-olds and up, 5½ furlongs on turf. Winner: Elusive Mischief ($2.80)

Del Mar (8): Grade II $200,000 Best Pal Stakes, 2-year-olds, 6 furlongs. Winner: Collusion Illusion ($17.40)


Colonial (9): $100,000 Nellie Mae Cox Stakes, Virginia-bred fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile on turf. Winner: Tryon Summer ($9.40)

Colonial (10): $100,000 Edward P. Evans Stakes, Virginia-breds, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile on turf. Winner: River Deep ($7.00)

Big races preview

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

2:08 Woodbine (9): $125,000 Seagram Cup Stakes, 3-year-olds and up, 1 1/16 miles. Favorite: Mr Havercamp (1-1)

2:10 Ellis Park (8): $125,000 Groupie Doll Stakes, fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Moonlit Garden (7-5)

2:18 Saratoga (9): $100,000 Galway Stakes, fillies, 3-year-olds, 5½ furlongs. Favorite: Karama (4-1)


2:40 Ellis Park (9): $100,000 Ellis Park Derby, 3-year-olds, 1 mile. Favorite: Gray Magician (5-2)

5:02 Del Mar (7): Grade III $100,000 Rancho Bernardo Handicap, fillies and mares, 3-year-olds and up, 6½ furlongs. Favorite: Anonymity (2-1)

5:30 Emerald Downs (7): $200,000 Longacres Mile Handicap, 3-year-olds and up, 1 mile. Favorite: Anyportinastorm (8-5)

Bob Ike’s Del Mar pick of the day

SIXTH RACE: No. 4 Give Me The Lute (4-1)

Liked this gelding when he broke his maiden on opening day and will come right back again here as co-third choice on the morning line. The Peter Miller trainee relaxed nicely and easily handled Cal-breds but now must face open company (although race is restricted to 3-year-olds). The rider (Flavien Prat) is winning a few races, too.

Saturday’s result: Prat had gone five for five leading up to our selection in the seventh race but we stopped him as Zee Drop encountered some trouble late but likely wasn’t going to finish better than third with a clean trip.


Bob Ike is a Partner/VP of (here’s a video) and the proprietor of (full-card picks, 3 Best Plays and betting strategy).

Ed Burgart’s LA pick of the day

SIXTH RACE: No. 4 Lallybroch (7-2) and No. 3 Jess Karma (4-1)

Obviously, I think No. 5 Lidonna is a vulnerable 8-5 morning-line favorite based on third and runnerup efforts with clean trips in her last two outings that are not as good as looked on paper. Conversely, Lallybroch had a rough start in sixth-place debut vs. tougher when having to check back from tight quarters during the first 80 yards. Jess Karma, likewise, almost hit the inner rail when forced in sharply at the 1/8-pole in last fifth-place try and was claimed by connections that do well with first-out acquisitions. I suggest using both Lallybroch and Jess Karma in Pick Fours and Pick Threes.

Final thoughts

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