JC / Railbird


Friday Notes

It’s mid-February, the weekend of Sam and Bob, the weekend Derby preps get serious. Forgive the plug, but if you’re looking for analysis of Kentucky Derby and Oaks preps this spring, consider signing up for the weekly Hello Race Fans! Derby Prep Alert, which this week covers the Sam F. Davis at Tampa, the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita, and El Camino Real at Golden Gate. Subscribers last week were tipped off to Zazu’s upset potential in the Las Virgenes.

I’ve been a little preoccupied this week (to readers who are not Suffolk Downs fans, my thanks for sticking around through what’s been a series of minutiae-filled posts about a track on the ropes), and haven’t done much more than glance at the entries for the preps — enough to notice that Jaycito isn’t in the Lewis, a race in which Tapizar seems a solid favorite — and to skim Jeremy Plonk’s exhaustive Countdown to the Crown column, which mentions a few allowance races that bear watching for Derby prospects. [Jaycito will start in the San Vicente on February 20. “He’s ready to go,” said trainer Bob Baffert.]

Suffolk certainly isn’t the only racetrack struggling, and that it’s my local track isn’t all that makes the dispute with the New England horsemen over the 2011 meet purses, days, and simulcasting split so fascinating to me — it’s also that what’s happening here is of a piece with what’s happening in California, where annual handle is down and horseplayers are revolting. It’s all part of the Great American Racing Contraction, a reapportionment of power and money that isn’t going to leave a track, horseman, or horseplayer untouched.

Front Runners

Since the start of the Santa Anita meet, trainer Bob Baffert has once again become a familiar face in the track’s winner’s circle:

It wouldn’t be inappropriate at all if “Happy Days are Here Again” was being piped on a continuous loop at Baffert’s Santa Anita barn. Or if there was the overall feeling that the clock had been turned back a decade or more.

Baffert horses have won 17 races and finished in-the-money in 28 races out of 33 starts. That’s a win rate of 46%, an ITM rate of 76%. Of his 17 winners, all on the dirt, nine have won going wire-to-wire and another five have been within a length of the lead at the start. Always a Princess, winner of the El Encino Stakes on Sunday, counts among the latter. The 4-1 third-favorite chased Champagne d’Oro through early fractions of :22.38 and :45.41, drawing away in the stretch to finish 3 1/2 lengths ahead of favored Blind Luck with a final time of 1:41.47. Blind Luck, making her 4-year-old debut:

… never appeared comfortable in the El Encino as jockey Joel Rosario tried to get her going while racing from well off the pace in a field reduced to five 4-year-old fillies by three scratches. She shied from the whip a couple of times in the stretch.

She also appeared to take a bad step mid-stretch and then stumbled after the wire, dumping Rosario (the rider was uninjured). Despite her apparent dislike of the going, Blind Luck still ran the final 2 1/2 furlongs almost a second faster than did Always a Princess. DRF Formulator gives her closing time as :31.78, Always a Princess :32.73. Being a deep closer on a speed-favoring track is never easy, and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer seemed to be considering his options for the filly after the race, telling Steve Andersen, “We may have to do something else. If the track stays the same way, I don’t think we’ll run here.”

In the Sham Stakes on Saturday, even-money Tapizar went wire-to-wire to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Clubhouse Ride. The race marked the start of Santa Anita’s sophomore glamour series — otherwise known as Kentucky Derby preps — making Tapizar trainer Steve Asmussen’s newest Derby prospect.

If we’re starting to talk about Derby prospects, that means it’s also the time of year I start updating the big Derby Prep Schedule and Results chart.