Santa Anita hillside course race goes off without a hitch upon return

A rider takes to the track as visitors look on at Santa Anita Park on Friday.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

The buzz in the crowd was a little higher than normal when the horses started to enter the starting gate at the top of the hillside course at Santa Anita on Friday. After 2½ years, Santa Anita’s signature course was back in play for horses coming down the hill, making a slight right turn and making their way across an 80-foot dirt crossing.

And then track officials held their breath, hoping that nothing would go wrong such as when Arms Runner broke down on the dirt crossing on March 31, 2019 precipitating the closing of the course for sprints.

The race went off perfectly, especially for Lieutenant Dan as he won the Grade 2 $200,000 Eddie D Stakes by half-a-length.


Bob Baffert has cultivated the story of a horse racing dynasty built from humble roots. He now faces scrutiny about short cuts he’s alleged to have taken.

“It’s such an interesting [6 ½-furlong] race because it brings together sprinters stretching out a little bit and two-turn horses that seem to excel on it, too,” said Nick Alexander, the winning owner and breeder. “Every race is different. It’s a jockey’s race. You’ve got to have position and it’s beautiful. … It’s like poetry, like something you don’t see anywhere else.”

Lieutenant Dan went off as the favorite at 5-2 odds. He paid $7.00, $3.80 and $3.20 for trainer Steve Miyadi and jockey Geovanni Franco. Snapper Sinclair was second and Choas Theory finished third in the nine-horse race.

The course was closed to sprints by Belinda Stronach, The Stronach Group chief executive, immediately after the death of Arms Runner as the track was dealing with its fatality crisis. The reopening of the course will be limited. There is one race on the course on both Saturday and Sunday.

“I can’t say enough about [chief operating officer] Aidan Butler persisting,” Alexander said. “We pestered the hell out of him. He’s the one that had to get the OK. Belinda was here the day that they had that crash and that affected her maybe more than it should have. She’s a hard person to change her mind on things.”

TSG has been an aggressive track owner when it comes to improving the safety of the horses. It was precipitated by the unexplained spike in 2019 when 37 horses died either racing or training during Santa Anita’s combined seven months of racing. Last year there were 16 racing or training deaths under a reduced schedule because of the pandemic and there have been 15 fatalities so far this racing year.

This 16-day fall meet is not off to a good start as it had its second death in two days when Fight On Ron appeared to injure himself at the end of a five-furlong maiden special turf race. He was taken to the backside by horse ambulance where the decision to euthanize him was made. It was the fourth death this year for trainer Peter Miller, the first three coming at the San Luis Rey training center. Fight On Ron was a 2-year-old gelding running his second race after being purchased for $125,000.

On Thursday, Seven Summers broke down during morning training and was euthanized. It was the first death this year for trainer Mike Puype. Seven Summers was an unraced 2-year-old filly.