Change is in the air as we begin the fall season of racing in Southern California, however it’s what’s not changing that brings the most excitement to race fans.
Oak Tree is no more after 41 years at Santa Anita and going out with a whimper in their final and only stand at Hollywood Park last year.
Instead, Frank Stronach gets his way with the inaugural Autumn meet at Santa Anita set to begin tomorrow that will feature all the same major Breeders’ Cup prep races that Oak Tree had hosted for decades.
As far as the racing surface at The Great Race Place goes, change has been the norm in recent years. The beginning of this meet is no different as a “new dirt” track has been installed since racing concluded at Santa Anita in April. Fingers crossed that this concoction can stay out of the headlines, as the synthetic tracks at the recently concluded Hollywood Park and Del Mar meets did, so that the focus can remain on the world-class racing both this year and looking ahead to hosting next year’s Breeders’ Cup.
After suffering through a few weeks of meaningless races at Fairplex, major stakes racing takes center stage with seven graded stakes over the first three days at Santa Anita featuring horses making their final preps for next months Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs.
That includes five $250,000 Grade I’s, with Saturday’s Goodwood, Yellow Ribbon, Lady’s Secret and Norfolk and Sunday’s Oak Leaf.
Eight are entered in the Goodwood going the classic distance of a mile and a quarter on the main track, but if owner Bud Johnston sticks to what he said following Acclamation’s Pacific Classic (Grade I) win, he will scratch and run instead on Sunday in the $150,000 Clement L. Hirsch (Grade II) on turf.
Bob Baffert sends a pair in the Goodwood, with Game On Dude returning to Santa Anita for the first time since his Big ‘Cap win earlier this year, and Coil facing elders for the first time in his return to California after winning the Haskell (Grade I) at Monmouth Park before finishing last in the Travers (Grade I) at Saratoga.
A contentious group of nine older females go on turf in the mile and a quarter Yellow Ribbon, where the one to beat is Dubawi Heights after her second place finish in the Beverly D (Grade I) at Arlington Park in her last start. She had previously rolled off four straight wins locally including the Gamely (Grade I) and Wilshire (Grade III) at Hollywood Park and a first-level allowance in her lone try on Santa Anita’s sod.
It’s all about Blind Luck in the Lady’s Secret, as the iron mare that has finished in the money in all 21 career starts including top two finishes 19 times looks to mow them down late for her seventh Grade I win.
However, east coast shipper Ask the Moon could prove tough to catch at the mile and a sixteenth distance coming in off a pair of Grade I wins by a combined 8 ½ lengths.
A short group of two-year-olds go in the mile and a sixteenth Norfolk, but the list of contenders is a third of that with just Drill and Creative Cause. The top two finishers from the Del Mar Futurity (Grade I) will finish that way again.
It’s a different story with the juvenile fillies in Sunday’s Oak Leaf as a case can be made for all ten runners. However, off a 1 ¼ length win in the Del Mar Debutante (Grade I), Weemissfrankie should go favored to win the third straight start to begin her career.
Notably absent from the Oak Leaf is Sister Moon, who broke the 5 ½ furlong track record in a 10 ¾ length debut victory at Del Mar this summer.
Unzip Me looks for a repeat victory in the $100,000 Senator Ken Maddy (Grade III) against a tough group of five other females rolling the six and a half furlongs down the hillside turf course on opening day Friday to round out the weekend stakes action.
ESPN will cover the Norfolk, Lady’s Secret and Goodwood as part of their Breeders’ Cup Classic Challenge, however the coverage will be relegated to their Classic channel, which means horse racing even gets the high definition snub from the worldwide leader.
That’s no different from the programming on HRTV, as well as with the nation’s leading horse racing channel TVG when they’ve been at the production controls, which both remain in standard definition. Outdoor, golf, tennis and numerous soccer channels are all available in HD, but neither of the horse racing ones are. Brutal for now, but that could be changing too as announced today.
With Stronach getting his way, that also means that TVG gets shut out at Santa Anita. Both TVG and HRTV produce a solid product at times, with the former doing so in more of a contemporary manner and the latter doing it the antique way, but each also mixes in a good amount of rubbish, with TVG doing so circus style and HRTV boring viewers to sleep.
The bottom line with TVG out of the picture is that Santa Anita’s product reaches far less eyes and gambling dollars, which in part has lead to a purse cut of 15-17% from the recently concluded Del Mar meet. HRTV is available in far fewer homes nation wide, and racing loses the exposure from TVG being on the Fox Sports family of networks as well.
Some minds are doing their part to lead racing and Santa Anita into the 21st century, with the wildly successful Food Truck Festival returning on Saturday, and the premiere Tweet in the Suite event, which I will be taking part in, set for Sunday.
Other meet highlights include next Saturday’s $250,000 Ancient Title (Grade I) for sprinters at six furlongs on the main track and the $150,000 Oak Tree Mile (Grade II) at a mile on turf, along with the $150,000 Oak Tree Derby (Grade II) at a mile and an eighth on turf on October 15 and California Cup Day on October 29, which features five stakes for Cal-breds with purses totaling $600,000.
Let’s hope my proficient dirt handicapping that lead to over $5,000 in profits playing the Pick 4 at the Winter/Spring Santa Anita meet carries over to this dirt. You can get my Pick 4 and Pick 5 analysis and selections for the entire meet for less than $2 a day by clicking HERE.
Pick a winner in at least one Breeders' Cup prep race and you can qualify for TVG's $500,000 Champions' Challenge contest.
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