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Presents have been opened, food and beverage overconsumed. Tomorrow is opening day at Santa Anita, which is one of the two special days (along with opening day at Del Mar) on the Southern California calendar. Noon post, nine difficult races with huge field sizes. The late Pick 4 consists of 12, 14, 14 and 14 runners, including competitive stakes in the Malibu and the Sir Beaufort. With no runner less than 7/2 on the morning line, the P4 payoff will be healthy no matter which horses win. Not to mention possibilities for lucrative exotic payoffs all day long. And don’t forget the new bet—the Super High Five—which is essentially a superfecta plus one on the last race of the day. It’s a $1 bet that requires picking the first five horses in correct order of finish. Do that and walk away with a big score. If no one hits that day, the pool (minus takeout) carries over to the next day…and so on.

Hollywood Wrap: I thought the HP Fall meet went very well. The quality of racing was good, field sizes were solid and form held up well. Highlights of the meet: COUNTRY STAR winning the Starlet and being named horse of the meet; Garrett Gomez drawing off to win the riding title over a suddenly strong local colony; trainer John Sadler winning his first title after years of being one of the circuit’s top conditioners. The Sadler barn won with maiden claimers to stakes horses and everything in between; Jerry Hollendorfer getting his 5,000th win in the last race of the meet. The perennial Bay Area kingpin has more than proved himself on this circuit over the past year.

NOTES: Jockey Joe Talamo fired agent Ronnie Ebanks and hired Scotty McClellan. Is it coincidental or did trainers give Talamo the cold shoulder with only three mounts in each of Santa Anita’s first two cards?…CITRONNADE was retired after her easy win in the Dahlia on Dec. 16. The Bobby Frankel-trained filly retires with a record of nine wins from 14 starts (seven for 10 on turf) but it’s hard to guage how good she really was. Almost every one of her important wins was accomplished as the lone speed in paceless races…what a day for Marty Jones on Friday, racking up three longshot wins on the day. Hope he was gambling because his winners paid $39, $30.20 and $21.

Drainage Debacle: The Santa Anita Cushion Track has been put back together again, with horses back working over the strip in the last week. The weather will be great for opening day and the forseeable future, but what about when the rain comes? I’m hearing that the track will be sealed when rain is anticipated, but what happens when the seal is broken? Will the track drain enough to allow racing to continue? Many racing insiders feel that races will be cancelled and days will be lost if we have a wet winter. In other words, the smart money says that Santa Anita will not be able to run all 85 scheduled days.

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It should have come as no surprise that the Breeders’ Cup added three more races to its now two-day affair. If a little is good, a lot has to be better, right? Next year at Oak Tree, Friday’s warm-up card will include the $1 million Turf Sprint; the $1 million Juvenile Fillies Turf; and the $500,000 Dirt Marathon. Of these three, I can only get excited about the Turf Sprint, especially since it will be run over Santa Anita’s unique downhill course.

I was ambivalent when BC announced it was adding three races and a second day of racing for this year’s running at Monmouth. Being a die-hard traditionalist, I am always leery of changing something that works. Breeders’ Cup Day has been my favorite event of the year since its inception in 1984. However, I enjoyed this year’s undercard and felt all three races (Filly and Mare Sprint, Dirt Mile and Juvenile Turf) fit into a niche.

But I can’t see the logic in further diluting the juvenile division, now making four of the 14 races for 2-year-olds. As for the Dirt Marathon? Maybe I’m suffering from Adult ADD, but I just don’t find the thrill in marathon racing (sorry, that goes for the San Juan Capistrano and any other turf marathon you want to name). If the point of a horse race is for every runner to gallop along on a false pace to the 1/4-pole, then see who can sprint home the fastest, then I’m missing the boat. Call me unsophisticated, but these races have always bored me to tears. I do like the concept of a race for turf sprinters (which is always an extremely competitive division), so for my money, Breeders’ Cup got one out of three right.

NOTES:Â Four track records fell last week, which means the HP Cushion Track is now playing very much like the Santa Anita version. It wasn’t that way for the first two meets run over this synthetic surface but, for some reason, it sure has gotten quick lately…no Pick Six carryovers but there were only two winning tickets on Thursday and Friday, and single-ticket winners over the weekend. Despite HEATSEEKER ($63.40) winning Saturday’s Native Diver and MIGHTY CLEVER ($110.00) pulling off the shocker on Sunday, someone was able to hit both days. Personally, neither of those two winners was as shocking as 5-year-old professional maiden WILD BEGINNINGS taking the Saturday nightcap in his 29th start…the jockey race is starting to turn into the Garrett Gomez show as he closed out the week with a 29-23 lead over Tyler Baze, whose cousin Michael surged with four winners on Saturday and ended the week at 22…John Sadler holds a 16-11 margin over Mike Mitchell. Both trainers are hitting at a very high percentage and sending out nothing but live runners…honorable mention to perhaps the best value trainer on the circuit, Jorge Periban, who saddled two winners; and Neil Drysdale, who sent out three winners, including longshots CANTEEN ($55.40) and BELAFONTE ($22.60), as well as Hermosa Beach winner SOHGOL…former jockey Kenny Black scored his first win as a trainer with longshot FRANGIPANNI on Saturday…stretch-running TRUE MAN closed about as fast as I’ve ever seen, coming from about 12 lengths back at the 3/16ths (still six lengths behind leader at 1/8th) to run down “sure winner” LUIS’S ESPECIAL in Saturday’s 8th.

It was a breath of fresh air listening to track announcer Frank Mirahmadi pinch hit for Vic Stauffer on Sunday. Mirahmadi’s calls were easy on the ears, measured and accurate. Especially after Stauffer’s glaring mistakes during the week: (“SUNRIVER is going to win the Hollywood Gold Cup…Hollywood Turf Cup”—forcing another re-do on the replay show; and botching the SOHGOL call (proclaiming her “head strong…absolutely rank” and said the second horse “seems to be going more comfortably”) before her handy victory. Mirahmadi didn’t use any of his terrific impersonations for the race calls but had me in stitches as Marv Albert during his radio interview with Mike Willman that morning.

Finally, Hollywood Park announced The Californian will be renamed for Lava Man following his retirement. Seems like a strange gesture considering the track is likely to shut down in the next year or two. What happens if Lava Man outlasts Hollywood Park?

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The natives were extremely restless this week when it came to emailing yours truly. On topics ranging from late odds drops, proportional payouts for dead-heats in Pick 4′s and Pick 6′s, consolation pools in the Pick 4, Frank Stronach’s Energy Girls or commentary on the Hollywood Park track announcer, I got it all. First, a recap of the week and then we’ll get to the mailbag.

The Cushion Track continues to play very fast, with another track record falling on Saturday when ROMANCE IS DIANE wired the Bayakoa field in 1:40.90. Her connections had contemplated retirement when her form went sour earlier in the year, but she is back better than ever…on Sunday, BUSHWACKER also went gate to wire in taking the Underwood over favorites IN SUMMATION and GREG’S GOLD, who appears to have lost a step. Despite drifting out late and surviving an inquiry, BUSHWACKER got the money under Joe Talamo in a 1:08.2…Michael Baze got back in the hunt with four winners on Wednesday’s card, including a romping win with CHARM THE GIANT in the feature…although he rode two winners on Friday, Victor Espinoza is mired in a terrible slump. Through Sunday’s card, he had only four wins from 83 mounts…the Show Plunger went down the tubes again, this time when HARLENE ran out of the money in Thurday’s 2nd race, triggering big show prices for the top three. Anyone crazy enough to make this type of wager gets zero sympathy from this corner…favorites are winning at a more respectable 31.6% for the meet…through the first 20 days, I lead all public handicappers with 59 winners (34%) for $351.60 in mutuels, a flat-bet profit based on 174 races…there is a Pick Six carryover of more than $172,000 into Wednesday’s card.

To illustrate what kind of demand he is in, Garrett Gomez rode nine races (one of his mounts was scratched from Sunday’s 10-race card), nearly every one of which he had NOT ridden in their most recent starts. Gomez knocked down three winners to assume the top spot in the standings, two in front of Tyler Baze. To say that Gomez is the best rider in the country seems as obvious to me as saying Michael Jordan was the best basketball player of his era. He simply possesses that special quality that gets extra run out of his mounts.

Now to the mailbag:

Regarding proportional payouts and Pick 4 consolation pools, I received this email from Mike Marten, spokesman for the CHRB:

Here is part of the report by Commissioner Jerry Moss to the full Board on November 29 pertaining to consolations and proportional payouts. Moss chairs the Pari-Mutuel Operations Committee, which met October 19 and learned about the technical problem from Scientific Games at that time.

You were the catalyst for getting the proportional payouts discussion going, and we’re sorry we could not accommodate you and other bettors.

From Commissioner Jerry Moss: We heard from Scientific Games on the technical reasons why they cannot implement our new rules for consolation pools for scratched horses in the Pick Four and for proportional payouts when there are deadheats in the Pick Four and Pick Six. Initially, Scientific Games told us we could go ahead with these changes, but upon further review, they determined we cannot. It all has to do with the way wagers are processed. There is a fundamental difference in the way they process the daily double and the Pick Three–which do have consolation pools and proportional payouts–and the way they process wagers involving more races, such as the Pick Four and the Pick Six.
Bottom line, they say they can’t do it. So we, as a Board, cannot provide these changes for the benefit of bettors. It is very disappointing, but there doesn’t seem to be any way to get around it.

More from Marten: It cannot be done under existing totalizator protocols and technology in North America but it will be possible with the new Wagering Transaction Protocol that will be going through the trial stages this year in various racing jurisdictions. WTP also will be the solution to late odds changes. I’m sure there will be an update on WTP coming out of the Racing Symposium in Arizona this month, which will give us a better idea of how far away WTP is from being fully implemented.

From reader Roger W: I think any private concern who gave such a contract and had the contractor [Scientific Games] default so badly, would have set a deadline for completion and, if the demand was not met, would put the contract out for re-bid to see if someone else could do the job…same old stuff. Everyone seems to be served first except the horseplayer. HHHMMM!

Regarding Frank’s Energy Girls from Big Bobby L: Whatever you think about Frankie S. and his performance running the MEC tracks, you’ve got to give him credit for Frank’s Energy Girls. Staying consistent with Frankie S.’s ‘hands-on’ management style, I’m sure that Frankie S. might have provided some input concerning the selection of the Energy Girls. My personal favorite was Margaretta. I especially liked her choice of favorite food–the wiener schnitzel!!

And finally, on the topic of our favorite track announcer. You’ve heard me rant and rave enough, this from a prominent industry observer who shall remain nameless:

I swear to God if I have to listen to this announcer one day longer …
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Look at the finish for God’s sake, you absolute hack. People do bet the tris and supers and you are absolutely horrendous at calling the finish. Can’t split close ones, doesn’t know who ran third or fourth because he either didn’t look the first time or spent too long saying, “okay, I think it’s A but then B did this and then blah, blah, blah.” Just call what it was and shut up! First race today is a perfect example if you can hear the gallop out. No, the 4 was not even close to fourth, the 1 ran fourth by over a length but he said maybe the 4 because he galloped out well and didn’t look the first time. The other day with Dawn After Dawn and Swiss Diva he goes “Swiss Diva got way the best of the bob.” Acutally, no, she was basically in front but got the absolute worst of the bob, and any fool could see that live. Look up the photo on Calracing if you didn’t see it. How about the Grade I Hollywood Derby? “Maybe Mostacolli Mort for fourth.” No, actually Twilight Meteor ran fourth by, again, over a length but, hey, you’re not there for the
superfecta bettors or owners/breeders who would like to know that their horse actually did place fourth.
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“And if so and so wins the 54th so and so stakes she will make up x lengths in 4-1/2 furlongs …” When I hear that one coming my stomach just turns.
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And he can’t see them coming from out of it with a searchlight. They’re in the test barn by the time he gets on board. Couldn’t pick it out of the pack if he had a psychic working with him around the clock.Â
Absolutely dreadful!

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Good night, now.

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