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HRN Original Blog:
Toasting with Andrew Champagne

The State of Santa Anita

California Chrome wins 2014 San Felipe.
Photo: Benoit Photo
 
The longest meet in Santa Anita history ends Sunday, and for the first time since Christmas Day, there won’t be racing four days a week at the Great Race Place. With six months of action in the books, it’s prudent to examine what worked this past meet and what may need some tweaking going forward.

By all accounts, handle is far from a problem. Handle at the winter meet (which concluded in April) was up four percent from 2013, and a recent report on handle in the state of California showed moderate gains in the realm of thoroughbred racing. By and large, horseplayers were opening their wallets, which is one of the more accurate ways to determine how successful any given meet truly is (for example, Arlington Park has had to cut purses due to declines in handle).

Star power also hasn’t been an issue, and the emergence of California Chrome this past spring was a boon to the SoCal racing scene. Santa Anita saw a massive crowd file into the Great Race Place on Belmont Day, and most of those people came to watch a race happening 3,000 miles away. Additionally, Game On Dude won his third Santa Anita Handicap, and looks poised to capture his third Gold Cup title this Saturday.

There was no lack of high points this past meet. However, there were several issues that may need to be addressed when officials look back on the six months spent in Arcadia.

Many races shifted locations once Betfair Hollywood Park closed. One such race was the Grade 1 Vanity, which has long held a reputation as one of the top races for older fillies and mares in the country. That said, this year’s renewal was seriously lacking in star power when compared to other races of similar magnitudes. The Ogden Phipps drew Close Hatches, Princess of Sylmar, and Beholder, and the Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs got On Fire Baby and Fiftyshadesofhay.

Iotapa’s victory was scintillating, but who did she beat? Grace Hall may be past her prime, and Scherzinger and Let Faith Arise, while both solid mares, could not compare to the likes of Close Hatches and Princess of Sylmar. This wasn’t a Grade 1-caliber field, and Santa Anita may be better served moving the race to an earlier date (possibly April or May), one that doesn’t conflict with two other similar affairs.

The other issue to address is more serious than just rescheduling a big race. One of the meet’s darkest days was when a horse ridden by Rafael Bejarano went down in a mid-May accident on the downhill turf course. Fortunately, Bejarano will recover, and he’s eying a return to the saddle this summer.

However, what may be prudent is a look at how many low-level races are carded at the “about 6 ½ furlongs” distance. The trip, which features a right-hand turn and crossing over the dirt course, is exciting, but it’s also given us some horrifying moments. This is not a new trend, either. Per the Jockey Club’s equine injury database, the fatality rate of horses going down the hill in 2013 was 3.86 per thousand, easily the highest of any surface. Getting rid of the downhill isn’t the answer, but perhaps minimizing races like the one Bejarano was injured in (a maiden claimer) is a more reasonable alternative.

Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet concludes Sunday, and racing will shift to Los Alamitos beginning on July 3rd. Racing returns to Arcadia for the Oak Tree meet this fall.

 

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Older Comments about The State of Santa Anita...

Laffit broke his neck on that course
I love it anyway.
Horses like Cambiocorsa were scintillating to watch on the downhill, but I've seen the results of a horse having fallen while running down a slope. He tripped and rolled forward on top of his rider, with a portion of the saddle pressing into the man's abdomen and diaphragm. Both were significantly injured. Yes, there are hill-loving horses at SA, but I was taught similarly to Exterminator as a child.
Hearnimal- No, I'm an eventer. There were a lot of hills where I grew up so that was the warning I received.
Hill gives burn out speed a chance to win. Then there are hill-loving horses. I love the hill. No such thing as too fast, is there?
  • amino998 · Back in the day, before the mesh/pool table grass, speedy milers had the edge downhill when capable of laying close enough before making the last winning move. They also ran few, if any, maidens or cheaper races. · 85 days ago
And way to put a frowny face on Iotapa's nice win. Downer. Maybe mdracing can write a pro-Santa Anita blog. Grrr.
exterminator are you a jockey?if you are great respect
They run too fast on the downhill course.
I never supported downhill racing. When I began riding, one of the first lessons I was taught was to be careful going downhill for the horse's safety. Galloping flat-out down a hill is completely dumb and stupid in my opinion and shows a lack of respect for the athletes we entrust with our lives daily. If people want fast times, why don't they keep breeding sound, quality horses?
wont do any good if the composition of the course is changed.
really?? What a short analysis.....

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Meet Andrew Champagne

 

A native of upstate New York and a graduate of Ithaca College, Andrew Champagne fell in love with horse racing at a very early age on summer trips to Saratoga. His turf writing credits include time spent as a sportswriter, weekly columnist, and handicapper at The Saratogian, a summer working for The Saratoga Special, and "field research" at OTB facilities in Saratoga Springs and his hometown of Kingston. He also spent two years in the athletic communications office at Siena College, and interned with NBC Olympics at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.


Andrew moved to Pasadena, Calif., in October of 2013, and now serves as an Associate Producer in HRTV's Digital Media department and Horse Racing Nation's Southern California writer. Follow him on Twitter at @AndrewChampagne, and email him at andrewdchampagne@gmail.com.