Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Opening Day Wrap-Up

Opening day at Santa Anita went as well one could have hoped when it came to the racing. There were fast times, large fields and most importantly, every horse came back safe and sound.

The track was lightning quick (as expected) and fast times were abound. After the first couple of races were the jockeys were feeling out the track (and riding the race like they would on the synthetic), the 4th race featured a blowout winner and maybe a future star in The Factor. He was massively hyped before his first race (down to a ridiculous 60/1 on the Kentucky Derby future books) before running off the board. He came back with a vengeance on Sunday, setting a track record for 6 furlongs. While his pedigree doesn't exactly scream a mile and a quarter, as of now, he has a tremendous upside.

After that sparkling performance, the stakes action kicked off with the Cal Breeders Champions Stakes. Heavy favorite Arresting Officer failed to run to his odds, as he was upset by Thirtyfirststreet. This Cal-bred son of freshman sire Good Journey rallied from well off the pace for the victory. Past winners have gone on to graded stakes glory, such as Preakness winner Snow Chief, multiple grade 1 winner General Challenge, both who won this race on their way to Santa Anita Derby glory, and multiple grade 1 wins after that. The winner's pedigree says that the distance will not be a problem for the SA Derby, but is the horse fast enough? The time was good, not great, for the 7 furlong distance (1:22:20). Not overly fast (compared to most of the card), but a good building block race nonetheless.

The graded stakes action kicked off with the Grade 1 La Brea. Switch came off of a strong 2nd place finish in the BC F&M Sprint in her last race. The trainer of Champagne D'Oro had been talking her up all week, and she definitely looked the part in the paddock. Malibu Pier was the buzz horse all week. But Switch turned the lights off on the field with a scintillating run to win the race by 4 widening lengths. Malibu Pier rallied for second and Champagne D'Oro finished well, well back. Her time (1:20:33) was just three tenths of the then track record, and was a harbinger for what was to come later on in the card. Switch's connections now face an interesting dilemma on what her next race will be. She could continue in the La Canada series and go next in the Grade 2 El Encino S. on 1/16, or she could stay at the distance and run in the Grade 1 Santa Monica H. on 1/30. A tough decision indeed.

In the next race, a scratched down field of five ran in the Grade 3 Sir Beaufort S. (could be reinstated back at Grade 2 depending on the GSC), which was run on the main track instead of the turf. Sidney's Candy was the heavy favorite, appeared to be the lone speed in the race, and just blew the doors off his opponents early, winning in wire-to-wire fashion. Now, while the win was visually impressive, Sidney was beating up on a field who would struggle to compete against grade 3 competition. All this race reinforced is that when Sidney is given a clear lead, he will kick on. Now, when he faces a field filled with other quality speed.pressers, can he hang on? Or will he fold quickly?

The last graded stakes race on the card was the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. Alcindor was the hype horse, who only had two starts but did them in style. Smiling Tiger came off a 3rd in the Breeders' Cup Sprint and was looking to lock down Eclipse Award finalist status in both the Sprint and 3yo male divisions. Twirling Candy (pictured) was looking to rebound after a disastrous run in his previous start. Noble's Promise invaded from the east and would go off favored. Smiling Tiger harangued Alcindor through the first half-mile and put him away turning for home. ST dug deep, trying to hold on, but Twirling Candy loomed up and just went by him in the final few strides. In the process, they both broke Spectacular Bid's 30 year old track record. This blog is the first to admit that the track was blazing fast, and if Bid had run on it, he might have gone 1:19 flat. Still, don't take away from the effort that these two horses put up in the race. Twirling Candy looks to be a force to be reckoned with in the older male division, and he is dangerous on both dirt and turf.

What did we learn on opening day? Speed, especially run-away-and-hide speed, can and will be a usable tool once again in Southern California; Switch looks to be a major contender to vacated older female throne; Twirling Candy is a fast horse; and maybe, just maybe, we saw the arrival of a future superstar. Now let's hope the rest of the meet is this good...

P.S. This post was delayed due to computer issues, and I apologize for its tardiness.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A New Chapter for Santa Anita

On Christmas Day back in 1934, Santa Anita opened its doors for racing for the first time. Its Art Deco facade remains nearly the same it did then as it does now. Opening day is one of the marquee days of the meet, and is filled with stakes action. The always-beloved calendar will once again been given away, with this year's theme showcasing some of the many occurrences where Santa Anita served as the backdrop for featured films and television shows. With another season upon us, many ideas, hopes and dreams swirl in the air over the new surface, the end to "The Drought" and many, many more. This blog will take share some thoughts on these two, along with a few other thoughts about the meet.

The dirt - The re-installation of a new dirt surface has people buzzing. The track already handled its first major test in style with its tolerating of ten-plus inches of rain in the span of less than six days time. It has produced fast workout times and for now has handled the horse traffic with ease. Hopefully this trend continues and the fears of this blog that switch would lead to a swath of injuries will proved to be unfounded. The return to dirt has brought some new blood into the water as well. Trainer Steve Asmussen has sent a string out here to train over the track, including some of his well-thought of two year olds such as Brock, the $2.3 million yearling purchase out of the sire Distorted Humor. The switch to dirt could also help future Derby prospects in their ultimate goal. That leads me to...

"The Drought" - The drought I speak of is the 21 year gap of the Santa Anita Derby winner going on to win the Kentucky Derby. Not since Sunday Silence in 1989 has the winner gone on to claim the roses the first Saturday in May. While some have come close (Cavonnier, Pioneerof The Nile) and some who have not won have gone on to win in Kentucky ( Real Quiet, Giacomo), not one horse has pulled the double since 1989. Maybe the switch back to dirt, along with the Preakness 5.5 program, will finally give that last little oomph need to get a horse to pull the double. Maybe one of Bob Baffert's many charges will be the one to do it, including the newest horse to join the barn, Grade 1 winning Jaycito. Or it could be this blog's current choice to break the streak, Premier Pegasus. This son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, out of a mare who has also produced Grade 1 winner Street Hero, is three-for-three lifetime. He won the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue last time out, and he is being pointed to first prep on the dirt for the Derby at Santa Anita, the Grade 3 Sham.

Odds and Ends
The elimination of Wednesday cards for the first two months of the meet should help field size remain high, and avoiding the waiting game that plagued the cards towards the end of the last meet, when it took almost until Tuesday to get a Thursday card filled.

Blog favorite Tanda has still not worked after suffering a foot bruise, which caused her to miss the Grade 1 La Brea Stakes on opening day (though part of that is due to the inclement weather out here). Hopefully she will make it back to the track in time to get a prep in for what this blog hopes is a winning run in the Grade 1 Santa Monica Handicap on January 30.

While the weather may not keep them off the turf course for route races, the intense rain has knocked the downhill turf course out of action. The upper part of the course just has not had enough time to dry out so it can be used while not getting chewed up, especially since it is the beginning of the meet. Races on both the 26th and 27th were scrubbed due to this and with the rain on Saturday and the threat of rain on the Wednesday the 29th, it could realistically until 2011 until a race down the hill is run.

The new meet is a time for renewed hope. Hope that the surface is safe as possible and will hold up to the weather. Hope that "The Drought" finally ends and the Santa Anita Derby becomes a viable prep again. Hope that this sport can finally turn around out of its freefall. Hope that maybe, just maybe, a star can blossom right before our eyes that will surpass the beauty of that gorgeous backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains. Good luck everybody.

(P.S. Thoughts about the 4 stakes on the opening day card will be offered in the comments)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Comma Drama in the CashCall

Comma To The Top won a very soggy renewing of the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity, but not without a boatload of drama. In what ended up being a half-hour delay, Comma had a shoe issue that turned into an absolute debacle. First, the farrier did not have the right tool, so he had to go back and get it. Then, once he had the right tool and started to work on Comma, he was stepped on and was injured. A second farrier then had to be summoned to finish the job. The entire time this is happening, a steady rain was falling. All of the other horses in the field had been either standing or walking around the entire time, along with all the connections. (see photo) Now, the question has to be asked, why did they not scratch Comma To The Top, especially after the first farrier went down? My thoughts on why the stewards did not scratch him is:

  • The horse was the morning line and current favorite in a Grade 1 race: I would imagine that stewards would try to avoid at all cost to scratch a favorite in this magnitude of a race. Not only would it bring some bad press to the track, it would severely affect handle on the race and the multi-race exotics on what is technically the marquee race of the meet.
  • The delay was not the horse's fault: As explained above, the series of circumstances (wrong tools, the farrier getting injured, 2nd farrier needed) all were such long odds to happen one after the other in quick succession that there was no "clean break" point to scratch the horse. It was already at least 17 minutes into the delay when the second farrier had to be called, so the stewards were committed to see out the shoe repair.
  • Carry Gulch: Who? Carry Gulch was a Peter Miller trained horse (as is Comma To The Top) who was injured during the running of the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap back in June. Miller was incensed over how little time the field was given (3 minutes) to warm-up before the race. He was seething and mumbling to himself in the paddock while saddling his charge for the race after the Whittingham, and rightfully so. While Carry Gulch did survive his injuries, he will never race again. Now, while I'm not saying that the stewards were deliberately showing favoritism towards Miller, it may have been in the back of their mind when they decided not scratch the horse after the delay had gone on for some time. The coincidence that both wore the #10 saddle cloth in their respective races maybe was a fortuitous one, as it may have jogged the memory of what happened that day in June. (It did for me)
Comma To The Top put an exclamation on the drama-filled CashCall Futurity with his win. The connections dodged a bullet with his shoe issues and avoid being contracted from the race. His win gives him enough graded earnings to get into the gate the first Saturday in May. Why the stewards decided that Comma To The top deserved a chance to race no matter the length of the delay is up to debate, but it turned out to be the right one for him

Friday, December 17, 2010

Hustlin' for that Cash...Call Futurity Winner

The road to the Kentucky Derby hits one of its early destinations, the Grade 1 $750,000 CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park this Saturday. This Grade 1 race has been the stepping stone to such horses as Real Quiet, Point Given and last year's winner Lookin At Lucky. The $450,000 first place check all but guarantees a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate. The top two Southern California two year olds (Jaycito and Premier Pegasus) are skipping the race, so there is a chance for someone to take a big step forward toward the Derby dream. The locals must defend the turf from two east coast invaders. Let's get to the race.

The only Grade 1 winner in the field is #2 J P's Gusto. This winner of the G1 Del Mar Futurity comes out of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile where he was a well-beaten 6th. He finished a disappointing third in the Norfolk two races back, and appears to be beyond the scope of his abilities distance-wise. He loses his jockey to another horse in the race, and it looks like he will be nothing more than a pace factor.

The other two graded stakes winners are #7 Gourmet Dinner and #10 Comma to the Top. Each won a Grade 3 last time out, albeit on a surface different than today's race. Gourmet Dinner was a upset winner of the Delta Jackpot on dirt, while Comma To The Top was a gate-to-wire winner of the Generous. Comma has risen the class ladder all the way from the bottom (the maiden claiming ranks) to the top (Grade 1), with a 4 race win streak that includes a win over this track a part of the rise. Unfortunately, the ride ends here for him, as he will finally hit his class ceiling. As the favorite, he will take plenty of money, but with J P's Gusto and others harassing him on the lead, Comma looks very vulnerable. Gourmet Dinner had a quick blowout over the surface yesterday, and should be fine over the surface. Never finishing worst than second in his five lifetime races, he must use in the exotics. He will be coming from mid-pack under his regular jockey, who follows along from their home base of Calder (in Florida).

An interesting horse who will be a price is #8 Riveting Reason, after setting the pace (then backing up quickly) in the BC Juvenile, he came back to SoCal and broke his maiden. Before the Juvenile, he had finished third in the Norfolk and the Del Mar Futurity. He steps back up into stakes company, and should be sitting just behind the first flight of horses. He is a must use in the middle and lower rungs of the exotics. The only time he did not was the BC Juvenile. He gets the riding services of Alonzo Quinonez, who rides the other 2yo star of the barn, Premier Pegasus.

The main threat and the second choice on both the morning line and of this blog is #9 Industry Leader. This lightly raced son of Cherokee Run made his stakes debut in only his second start last time out, finishing second behind Premier Pegasus in the Hollywood Prevue. He has worked swiftly in the interim, and should have no problem with the distance. His trainer is very high on him, and he looks to set a good trip sitting in the second or third tier of runners.

The selection is #3 Rustler Hustler. This son of Ecton Park ships in from the east coast for his trainer Richard Dutrow. He has been working swiftly and steadily for his first start in 7 weeks. He won a race at this distance (but on the grass) last time out at Belmont. He manages to get top New York jockey Ramon Dominguez to take a break from his vacation to ride the horse. He should not have a problem with the synthetic, as he broke his maiden on the Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs. The only concern is that his trainer does not do will over the synthetic. (The maiden win was under a different trainer.) Rustler will be rolling from the back of the pack, and hopefully will show some 'hustle' and mow them all down.

Rustler Hustler to win; Gourmet Dinner, Industry Leader & Riveting Reason underneath.

Will we see a horse give a breakout performance and thrust himself into the forefront of the Derby discussion? Will an east coast invader take the last grade 1 route race of the year? Can anyone stop Comma To the Top from making another 'possessive' statement of a victory? This field of two year olds have only upside to the them. But will that upside be enough? We will know by Saturday night. Good luck everybody!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I Just Can't

(Added: I wrote this in one take, no editing, only spellcheck, so if it rambles or makes no sense in parts, i apologize in advance)

I just can't say goodbye to Zenyatta. I don't want her to leave. She has meant so much to me over her three years of racing. From her debut on Thanksgiving Day, where there were, at best, 4k in the crowd until he finale at Churchill, where more than 40x as much watched her across the nation. She kept me going during the tough times of 2008 and through the good times the last two years. She got me to do things I never would have done in the past. She dragged me onto blogs and Twitter and Facebook to see if there were others like me who loved her. She helped me become a more complete person.

I just can't say goodbye to Zenyatta. Seeing her live so many times makes one "spoiled by greatness". Her debut made a miserable Thanksgiving Day a little better. Her El Encino win made the antibiotics from the illness that I was dealing with a little more tolerable. Her BC Classic win made life a little better. Her Classic loss made being a fan of hers a little better, as she silenced many of doubters about her class and her ability. Her announced retirement made it a little easier with her losing, knowing she went out with a big effort.

I just can't say goodbye to Zenyatta. Literally. While the many of my horse racing "family" and horse fans in SoCal has gone to visit her on the backside at Hollywood Park the last month, I couldn't bring myself to do it. I can't let go, nor can I face her. My heart deals with the strain of knowing i "picked a favorite amongst my children" when I picked Blame over Zenyatta in the Classic. While I know that i made the correct decision, it still hurts me. I go today to Hollywood Park with a heavy heart, knowing she is leaving us in California one final time, never to return. I know when I look her in the eye, it will be of man who doubted her. I will see her leave and have to move on. But...

I just can't say goodbye to Zenyatta.

(Adding this video of one of my favorite groups Boyz II Men's song "Yesterday", as I think it sums up how I feel)