Furthermore, there are bad memories from the last two occasions the Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita. In 2008 and 2009, the main track was a synthetic surface, and European horses won a disproportionate amount of races. It’s been switched back to conventional dirt since then, but East Coast horses routinely have trouble with the surface.
Re: East Coast horses, sure, the stats are bad — particularly for New Yorkers.
But bad memories? Coming after the horror of the 2007 Breeders’ Cup — watching George Washington slump into death on the sloppy Monmouth stretch and listening to the unknowing crowd clap as his lifeless body was driven away in the horse ambulance in the gathering gloom of a chilly twilight remains one of my worst racing memories — the light, warmth, and lack of dying horses at Santa Anita* in 2008 and 2009 was wonderful. There, at least, people were cheering for the living. I’m so glad the BC is back in Arcadia.
*I admit to being a little worried about what might happen this year. The publicly available Equine Injury Database stats for Santa Anita haven’t been updated since April 2012, but the fatality rate is up post-synth (PDF).
Look, horses like Game On Dude and Executiveprivilege were probably going to win Saturday whether or not there was a bias, so I don’t think they should be penalized for riding the crest of the way the track was playing. I am less convinced about Love and Pride and Power Broker. But I do know that the way the track was playing, well bet closers such as Richard’s Kid, Include Me Out, Amani, and Capo Bastone had absolutely zero chance. And that’s not fair.
Come the Breeders’ Cup, will we have reason to miss the Santa Anita synthetic?
The Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008 and 2009. In those five years, 31 Breeders’ Cup races were decided on Santa Anita’s main track. Horses coming off a race in New York have won just one of those 31 races for a miniscule 3.2% strike rate. That one winner was Lady’s Secret, who captured the 1986 Distaff after having won the Beldame in her most recent start. Lady’s Secret was voted 1986 Horse of the Year and entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Yikes. I knew the record was poor, but that’s a stark stat.
New York prepped horses do a bit better finishing in the money in main track Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, with 17 running either second or third in the five years the BC has been held at the SoCal track. The main track race in which New York prepped horses have done the best at Santa Anita is the Juvenile Fillies — five New York fillies have finished in the money. New Yorkers also did their best on the Santa Anita main track in 2008 and 2009 — the synthetic surface years — when five and four, respectively, finished in the money, particularly in the Filly and Mare Sprint (2nd and 3rd, 2008), Distaff (2nd and 3rd, 2008), and Dirt Mile (2nd and 3rd, 2009).
“It is very important to us,” said Christian, speaking in Baden-Baden before Sunday’s Grosser Preis von Baden, which is now part of the Breeders’ Cup ‘Win and You’re In’ Challenge series.
“We consider ourselves [an] international event, not an American event — and when you’re an international event you have to adhere to international standards.”
“Prince Khalid loves the Breeders’ Cup and we would love to take Frankel to Santa Anita, Bobby Frankel’s home town — the emotional ties would be fantastic.
“But unfortunately the right race is not there — we are not going to race him on dirt. It’s a pity, because if they had Polytrack we’d have been there.”
No dirt. Even a $5 million purse and sentiment aren’t enough.
Failing that, how about Black Caviar down the hill and Frankel in the Mile at the Breeders’ Cup? I get that isn’t going to happen, but …
It would never happen — there’s no scenario in which it makes sense — but I would really enjoy watching Frankel on the downhill turf at Santa Anita.
Santa Anita meet’s closed on Sunday and its numbers don’t tell a happy story*. David Milch’s racetrack drama probably won’t either, but the “Luck” preview released by HBO on Monday generates a good kind of excitement:
The horses used in filming “Luck” were some of the first to test the restored dirt track at Santa Anita last December, the same surface on which 19 horses were fatally injured during the meet. With an additional fatality on the training track and six on the turf course, the total number of fatalities came to 26 (as estimated here). Santa Anita is funding a safety study: “We hope that data will be important to us and something that we can apply.” That is to be hoped! It was a real pleasure to watch Santa Anita for three years and rarely worry about seeing a horse go down. After this meet, I can’t say that — and I’m not alone.
How’s this for ugly? Fatality numbers were almost all that was up at Santa Anita. While attendance held steady, handle declined. The track announced a 9% decrease in average daily handle, but the raw CHRIMS data, available through CalRacing, showed a 20.7% decline in gross handle over the previous year, from $589 million (PDF) to $467 million (PDF). Adjusting for eight fewer days, and a decline of 9.7% in the number of races carded, the Blood-Horse found average daily handle was down 11.6%. Pull the Pocket has an interesting theory on why Blood-Horse, which originally reported the 9% decline straight, revisited the handle numbers so thoroughly and quickly.
As long as I’m linking bad news, here’s more: The national HBPA officially opposes the proposed RCI ban on raceday medications. Apparently, a five-year phase-out isn’t long enough. “Blah. Blah. Blah,” says Ray Paulick. Exactly.
*Not a happy story, unless you’re a horseman or owner, in which case, hooray! Total purses were up 5.1% for the Santa Anita meet.
“Getting back to the dirt was a big plus, and I have a pretty strong barn now which we were able to build up again. I’ve got no complaints, and it’s been a very safe meet.”
For Baffert’s barn, perhaps, aside from Always a Princess’ career-ending injury in the Santa Margarita. But it’s hardly been a safe meet for the overall horse population; on-track injury and fatality rates at Santa Anita have returned to the ugly level that helped spur the installation of synthetics in California.
Oh, California. In an industry roiling coast to coast, the turmoil out west is something else. Handle is down more than $77 million at Santa Anita. Too few horses cause canceled days. Horseplayers are in revolt. “In my opinion,” bettor Andy Asaro told Art Wilson, “the CHRB leadership has failed California racing.” The matter of who’s leading is about to get more complicated: A new group called the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a press release last night challenging the standing of the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the official group representing owners’ interests in the state.
It’ll be interesting to see what Maclean’s Music does in his second career start, after setting freakish fractions of :21.24, :43.48, and 1:07.44 in his debut at Santa Anita on Saturday. And what a Beyer speed figure — handicapper Andy Serling tweeted earlier today that the colt was given “the highest debut Beyer ever … 114.” ThoroTimes reporter Jeff Lowe added a bit of pedigree context to the number, noting that Maclean’s dam, “Forest Music, ran a similar race first-time out.” Put the Distorted Humor colt on your watch list — he may never run so well again, but the odds are good this one’s a serious racehorse.
(Replay via Hello Race Fans.)