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Handle, field size rise despite obstacles at Los Alamitos' winter meet

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Photo: Andrew Champagne

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert made some history, and Majestic Heat becoming a graded stakes winner on dirt were the highlights of Los Alamitos' winter Thoroughbred meet, which concluded Sunday.

The 11-day season – shortened by one day when racing was cancelled Friday, Dec. 8, after the fires at the San Louis Rey Downs training center  – saw an increase in all-sources handle.

Although complete business figures won’t be available for several days, F. Jack Liebau, the vice president of the Los Alamitos Racing Association, said Sunday afternoon that all-sources handle was up about 2% over comparable dates of the 2016 Winter Meet, which was eight days long.  He added handle through advance deposit wagering providers and the Southern California satellite network increased 5%.

Field size rose over the Summer Thoroughbred Festival in July and the Los Angeles County Fair meet in September with an average of 7.54 starters per race.

“Our meet was overshadowed by the fire at San Luis Rey, and we continue to be concerned about the implications of that tragedy,’’ Liebau said. “Although our field size was about the same as it was at this meet last year, we were hurt by six days where we had only a few San Luis Rey-based horses competing after we had been averaging at least three or four a day before that terrible event.’’

Baffert became the first trainer to win both the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity and the Starlet in the same year when McKinzie – via the disqualification of stablemate Solomini – and heavily-favored Dream Tree won the two prestigious events for 2-year-olds Dec. 9.

The victory by McKinzie, named in honor of Brad McKinzie, the longtime Los Alamitos executive who died Aug. 6, was Baffert’s 10th in the Futurity, which was run at Hollywood Park between 1981-2013. The trainer has won all four renewals of the race at Los Alamitos, scoring with Dortmund (2014), Mor Spirit (2015) and Mastery (2016) prior to McKinzie’s success.

A son of Street Sense and the Petionville mare Runway Model, McKinzie is 2-for-2 for owners Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman.

In her first start beyond seven furlongs, Dream Tree toyed with three rivals in the Starlet to remain perfect in three starts for Phoenix Thoroughbred III.

Trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella and owned by a partnership that includes Bardy Farm, Ron McCauley and co-breeder Madeline Auerbach, Majestic Heat rallied to win the Bayakoa Dec. 3 as the Grade II for older fillies and mares was run at Los Alamitos for the first time since 2014.

Ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith, the 5-year-old Unusual Heat mare improved to 2-for-2 on dirt, having won the seven-furlong Betty Grable three weeks earlier.

Baffert also topped the trainer standings for the meet, finishing with six victories. It was the fifth time Baffert has either led or shared the title at Los Alamitos since thoroughbred racing returned in July, 2014.

Doug O’Neill and Baffert tied for most victories (14) for the year at Los Alamitos, combining the Winter meet with the Summer Thoroughbred Festival and the LACF meet.

Apprentice Evin Roman made it a clean sweep of the three meets, finishing the Winter season with 18 victories, 10 more than closest pursuer Stewart Elliott.

A 19-year-old native of Bayaman, Puerto Rico, Roman finished the year with 48 wins at Los Alamitos. He totaled 13 in July and 17 in September.

Thoroughbred racing will return to Los Alamitos for three meets in 2018.

The Summer Thoroughbred Festival will begin Thursday, June 28 and continue through Sunday, July 15. The Los Angeles County Fair meet will begin Thursday, Sept. 6 and conclude Sunday, Sept. 23 while the eight-day Winter season will start Thursday, Dec. 6 and wrap Sunday, Dec. 16. The first two meets are 12 days long.

Source: Los Alamitos news release

                       

 

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