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Last week I wrote that small field sizes at Santa Anita in the upcoming days would likely prevent any “Pick Six rollovers or big exotics scores with those type of paltry numbers”. Wrong. Despite short fields on Wednesday, no one hit the Pick Six, resulting in a carryover of more than $89,000 into Thursday’s card. Wednesday’s late Pick 4 returned slightly over $12,000. Thursday’s short fields produced another carryover, with $292,000 going into Friday’s card. Then on Friday there were 25 winning P6 tickets (returning over $45,000) before Saturday’s large fields produced another carryover into Sunday. The moral of the story? There is an assumption (by me and many others) that short fields will correspondingly result in short payoffs. But perhaps beating the obvious top one or two contenders in small fields results in exaggerated payoffs because of players’ natural reluctance to go deep in those races. Smaller Pick Six players are more likely to get involved on carryover days when the fields are shorter, believing they have a more realistic chance at competing with the big tickets, while possibly making an inflated score. We’ll see what happens in the next few days when horseplayers will be given a menu of embarrassingly short fields and low-quality racing. Aren’t you just salivating over Wednesday’s 60-horse card (59 betting interests), Thursday’s 59 entrants or Friday’s 63 entered runners? Who knows, maybe there is a score to be made after all.

FLIP FLOP: Have you ever seen so much flip-flopping as at this meet? I’ve noticed it with horseplayers who absolutely loved the synthetic tracks (particularly the Hollywood Park Cushion Track) but now have changed their tune to the point of vitriol now that Santa Anita’s version of Cushion turned out to be a disaster. Or with track management, which puts out one schedule for track repair, changes weeks, then adds and subtracts days to the point of complete confusion. We’re going to have Wednesday racing, we’re not going to have Wednesday racing (apparently the latest is that Santa Anita, seeing how the current horse population does not support six-day racing, will not be seeking additional Wednesdays for the upcoming condition book).

Now the latest from CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro on the possibility that Santa Anita may consider going back to a conventional dirt surface after its synthetic strip is torn up at the conclusion of the meet. Shapiro, who along with the Board mandated that synthetic tracks be installed at California’s major tracks by the end of 2007, is quoted in DRF: “If, at the end of the day, Santa Anita comes forward and said, ‘We’ve looked at the options and we believe for the safety of the horse and rider that we’ve got a plan to put in a dirt track on top of a good solid base,’ and they would put in a track that was safe, personally, I’m not totally opposed to that,” he said.

“I think we have to have an open mind. I think what you’ve seen, the synthetic tracks are successful, but clearly there are bumps in the road. I’m not favoring one or the other. I’m hoping that synthetic tracks are the answers. If there is a better option, I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t listen to everything.”

I’m totally confused. So a mandate is a mandate unless a track doesn’t want to abide by that mandate? Bay Meadows negotiated a waiver since their days were numbered and they understandably did not want to invest millions on a surface that was going to be used for probably just one year. Del Mar wanted to put in Polytrack. But what about Hollywood Park, which likely did not want to invest millions on a surface that would have soon been paved over for condominiums if the real estate market had stayed hot. It seems that Santa Anita is now the tail that wags the dog, likely to get anything it wants from a Board that may be feeling remorse over a mandate that ultimately cost Santa Anita 11 racing days. The start-and-stop schedule has prevented any sort of momentum as The Great Race Place limps along through its most forgettable season since I began covering the races on a daily basis here in 1986.

To reiterate, my thoughts on the synthetic surfaces: From a gambling standpoint, Hollywood Park is my favorite track, largely due to the Cushion Track. I can’t speak for trainers (most of whom gave early positive reviews but now seem more divided on synthetics) regarding horse injuries but, to me, I see less horses breaking down during races. Field sizes had been up and Eastern outfits came West until the problems at Santa Anita discouraged some. Had Cushion Track makers put in a good surface in Arcadia, racing likely wouldn’t be having this discussion through 45-person synthetic panels. Most everyone would be happy, especially if Del Mar finds a way to “speed up” its Polytrack. I’m not ready to flip flop yet. I still think the positives of synthetic tracks can outweigh the negatives. Anything beats the rock-hard sealed surfaces we used to get during the rainy season, and horses were able to continue morning training through the rain last week. That wouldn’t have happened before.

Actually, my main concern is with the long-term health risks to horses and humans vis-a-vis the chemicals used in these tracks. I’m hearing that there is a groundswell of discontent from guys who work on the starting gate crew, patrol judges and others who work in close proximity to the surface. Since chemicals were added to alleviate the drainage problem, the track has taken on a strong odor, similar to the smell of hot tar used when a roof is being put on a house. As a personal aside, I spent 30 minutes trackside last Thursday when giving handicapping selections to a group of seniors at the Club Court area. The smell was somewhat overpowering and I left there with a splitting headache and the urge to wash my mouth out with Listerine. What happens if track workers (and horses) start coming down with strange illnesses in the next few years?

NOTES: The Big Cap is on Saturday, with an overflow field in prospect. Entries are being drawn at this moment, with a maximum of 14 able to run…I was very surprised that David Flores chose AWESOME GEM over MONTEREY JAZZ. Both are trained by Craig Dollase, but I never would have gotten off ‘JAZZ the way he won last time. Russell Baze, riding in his first Big Cap, will pick up the mount…Showvivor II starts tomorrow and I will resume giving out a selection on my website (under Free Pick of the Day)…Wednesday’s ontrack attendance of 1,990 is believed to be the lowest in the history of the track. In fact, SA didn’t break the 10,000 mark on either weekend day…through Sunday, favorites are winning at only 25% for the meet…Alex Solis looks rejuvenated out there. He won seven races last week (through Sunday), moving him into a tie for fourth place with 21 winners…congratulations to Richard Migliore, who was named this year’s winner of the George Woolf Memorial Award.

To View Free Samples of last week’s Premium Plays, click on the links below: Feb. 20Â Â Feb. 21Â Â Feb. 22Â Â Feb. 23Â Â Feb. 24Â Â Feb. 25

In one memorable episode of the “Sopranos”, Tony utters this famous line about his evil but still-living mother: “I’m not defending her, she’s dead to me.” Well, that’s how I feel about Monday racing since the start of six-day race weeks at Santa Anita (or maybe it should be called Del Mar North): It’s dead to me.

From a business standpoint, I fully understand why Santa Anita needs to try to make up for the 11 cancelled days and attempt to recoup millions of dollars in lost revenue. But as one who has continually harped on the need for less racing—not more—I have decided on a self-imposed boycott of the extra day. And since I’m a traditionalist who liked the old Wednesday through Sunday format, that’s how I’ll approach things until we are back on a five-day-a-week schedule. Starting with yesterday’s races, no more trips to Santa Anita on Mondays (until Wednesdays are dropped); no gambling on Monday cards; no watching on HRTV or computer; no looking at results or watching the replay show. Total abstinence.

If racing wants to commit suicide through the slow death of overracing, who I am to stop it? Everyone in the industry knows we run too many dates, but those in leadership positions are not willing to make the first move in cutting back. While horse racing is a very tough game to figure out from a handicapping and wagering standpoint, there seems to be a very simple formula that works from a quality-of-product aspect: Less racing dates equals good racing; more racing dates equals bad racing.

Take a look at last week, for example. On Friday, 60 horses competed in the Pick Six races alone, producing a carryover of $93,552. On Saturday, 61 horses ran in Pick Six races, making for a double carryover of $420,093. And on Sunday, 67 horses (66 betting interests) ran in the the last six races on the card, making for a three-day carryover of more than $1.2 million into Monday’s holiday card. Now take a look at the upcoming three days, all eight-race cards: 69 TOTAL horses entered on Wednesday (featuring four maiden claiming races); 62 entered (60 betting interests) for Thursday (with four more maiden claimers); and 61 entered on Friday (three maiden claimers). After only one week of six-day racing, the damage to field size is already evident. So don’t expect any Pick Six rollovers or big exotics scores with those type of paltry numbers.

By the way, I heard a rumor someone hit the Pick Six on Monday. Guess I’ll find out when I get to the track on Wednesday.

NOTES: Big field sizes are largely responsible for the low percentage of winning favorites at this meet. With only one winning favorite on Friday, none on Saturday and two on Sunday, favorites are winning at under 25% so far…SURF CAT got back on the winning track by outrunning GREG’S GOLD in Saturday’s San Carlos. It probably didn’t matter, but why did Rafael Bejarano on lone speed JOHNNY EVES slow the pace down to a crawl? The advantage to a speed horse is completely lost when the rider guzzles him through ridiculously slow fractions…Tough Beat of the Year II (so far): There was one live Pick Six ticket to TURKISH VICTORY in Saturday’s last race but that poor soul lost a heartbreaker to 50-1 first-time starter TURBO FAN. How could you ever play the races again if you got beat an inch for $420,000 by a 50-1 shot?…CHEROOT ($58.80) gave me my best-priced winner in ages (maybe ever) when I picked him on top in my graded handicap and suggested him as one of my Best Plays on the Premium Play sheet. Great job by Martin Pedroza, who knifed his way through traffic to get up by a scant nose in taking the Daytona Handicap…congratulations to SA publicity director Mike Willman for putting on a great day honoring long-time L.A. sportscaster and racing personality Gil Stratton on Sunday…Bejarano has announced that he will stay in Southern Calfornia for the rest of the year, meaning he becomes top dog when Garrett Gomez goes back East…THE GREEN MONKEY has been retired, leaving a huge hole in the Pletcher barn. ‘MONKEY, who had been a disaster since the day he was named, did manage to win back $10,000 of his original $16 million purchase price…Edgar Prado got his 6,000th winner a week ago Sunday at Gulstream Park…P.Val still hasn’t started riding at the Fair Grounds yet, again delaying his arrival. Best of luck to his new agent down there…Jeff Mullins begins serving a 20-day suspension. His horses will run under the name of assistant Ral Ayers…the Holy Angels’ 7th and 8th graders have been installed as a 12-point favorite over the jockeys in their 41st annual meeting Thursday night (7:00 p.m. tipoff) at La Salle High. Word on the street is that coach Kurt Hoover’s job is in jeopardy unless he can get things turned around with his depleted troops. With one-man show Kent Desormeaux now riding back East and second-best player Corey Nakatani still injured, Hoover figures to have his hands full.

Finally, the CHRB has put together a panel to discuss synthetic surfaces tomorrow morning at Santa Anita. The problem? There are 45 people on the panel, ranging from trainers to jockeys to track operators to handicappers to vets to racing secretaries. Forty five people! It takes forever for three stewards to make a decision on a disqualification, so unless this panel is going to convene for the next week or so, good luck on getting anything accomplished in tomorrow’s meeting.

To View Free Samples of last week’s Premium Plays, click on the links below: Feb. 13Â Â Feb. 14Â Â Feb. 15Â Â Feb. 16Â Â Feb. 17Â Â Feb. 18

On Saturday, after a one-week hiatus, racing at Santa Anita began again over the new “Cushion Track/Pro-Ride” surface. So far, so good. The renovated surface has played extremely fair while producing times that are much more in line with normal expectations. No more absurdly-fast world record times like Bob Black Jack’s 1:06.53. Horses won on the lead or from well off the pace, which is all horseplayers can ask for—a bias-free strip.

Ian Pearse, the Australian founder and president of Pro-Ride who was hired to fix the problematic Cushion Track, came up to the press box on Sunday for a brief Q&A. Pearse was extremely impressive, devoid of salesmanship and the normal fluff one would expect from someone whose business is selling his product to racetracks. His confidence in Pro-Ride, he explained, came from over 10 years of testing and refining the product. He even admitted that his company has been much more adept at that side of the business than actually going out and selling the product. He said that the new track requires very little maintenance (I did not see a harrow or water truck go over the track in three racing days) and should handle as much as 3-4 inches of rain in an hour. We’ll find out about drainage the next time it rains—which may be a while since the weather has been summer-like this week. Until then, let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for more of what we saw the last three days.

NOTES: On Saturday, Santa Anita carded two of the weakest Grade I events you’ll ever see, along with the rescheduled San Antonio. DOUBLE TROUBLE took the four-horse Santa Maria and GOLDEN DOC A won the six-horse Las Virgenes for new owner Ron McCauley, who recently purchased the daughter of Unusual Heat for $800,000. Besides picking up the $150,000 winners share, McCauley now has a Grade I winner, which means he’s probably already “out” on his investment…WELL ARMED took the San Antonio field wire-to-wire as the older handicap horses take turns beating each other…Rafael Bejarano won four races on the day and just missed his fifth when finishing second on HEATSEEKER in the ‘Antonio…the real racing on Saturday was at the Fair Grounds, where PYRO moved to the head of the 3-year-old class with a devastating win in the Risen Star, closing from last behind slow fractions to blow by the competition…other winners on that card included GRASSHOPPER in the Mineshaft, DAYTONA (shipping from California for Dan Hendricks and Mike Smith) winning his fourth straight in the Fair Grounds Handicap, and champion INDIAN BLESSING remaining undefeated with a victory in the Silverbulletday…speaking of the Fair Grounds, Patrick Valenzuela did not start riding there on Friday as expected. According to his new agent, P.Val had some loose ends to tie up and couldn’t get there in time. More likely reason: he couldn’t make riding weight yet…it was announced that Oak Tree at Santa Anita has been awarded the 2009 Breeders’ Cup, making it the first track to host the event in two consecutive years. For more on this, see Steven Crist’s excellent column in Sunday’s DRF (http://www.drf.com/drfNewsArticle.do?NID=92159&subs=0&arc=0).

On Sunday, DAWN AFTER DAWN walked on the lead and took a very weak edition of the La Canada, and GEORGIE BOY was extremely impressive in taking the San Vicente. In his first start since the Del Mar Futurity, GEORGIE BOY stormed home off a slow pace to win in 1:20.01, racehorse time over the refurbished track. INGRID THE GAMBLER survived a stewards’ inquiry to win the Wishing Well but I’ve yet to talk to one person who agreed with the call. She came out about 30-40 yards before the wire to impede ROCKELLA, who was slowly making up ground before being bothered. In my opinion, it was going to be very close at the wire, so how could the stewards possibly determine that the foul didn’t affect the outcome?…a 3-year-old to watch out of Florida is HEY BYRN, who crushed a couple well-regarded colts in a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream. The son of Put It Back could be the real deal.

On Monday, longshots ruled, with the winners of races 3-6 paying $83.00, $34.40, $23.00 and $37.80 (the Pick 3 on races 3-5 paid $41,828 to one ticket). With Pick Six bettors pouring in $891,900 chasing a Pick Six carryover of more than $173,000, there were three horses covered in the last race, all paying off to single-ticket holders. In fact, one of the tickets (alive to EASTERN BORN) was purchased at Santa Anita, meaning that person would also receive a new Corvette. One of those covered, first-time starter ROAR OF EAGLES, overcame a terrible start and a very wide trip to romp home, giving the winning ticket holder (purchased at Los Alamitos) a life-changing score of $668,690…the Super High Five finally paid off big, with $121,172 going to two winners…by the way, the connections of ‘EAGLES had to be sick when Craig Lewis dropped a claim tag. The Cal-bred gelding is worth much more than $40,000…Leading riders Garrett Gomez, Rafael Bejarano and David Flores have won 84 of the 233 races (36%) at the meet, while taking 21 of the 36 stakes (58%).

Quote of the Year (so far): In an article by Larry Stewart in Monday’s L.A. Times, CHRB chairman Richard Shapiro is quoted as saying, “I think those 11 lost days [due to cancellations] were the best thing that could have happened…we’ve learned an awful lot.” If the quote is accurate and was taken in context, this is the most preposterous statement ever uttered. Best thing for whom? Santa Anita, which as I’ve reported is down $117 million in handle compared to last year? The owners, trainers and jockeys who were not able to earn a cent during those cancelled days? The vendors, clerks and everyone else who make a living through this business that were unable to work on those days? The connections of Sweetnorthernsaint, who shipped their horse out here for the Sunshine Millions but didn’t draw into the Classic, waited for the San Antonio (which was cancelled on Super Bowl Sunday), then finally got a chance to run in the rescheduled race 15 days after ‘Millions day? The horseplayers? Or how about all of us who are now stuck with six-day racing for the forseeable future? Yes, Mr. Shapiro, those 11 lost days really were the best thing that could have happened.

To View Free Samples of last week’s Premium Plays, click on the links below: Feb. 9Â Â Feb. 10Â Â Feb. 11

Santa Anita announced today that Friday’s races have been cancelled as repair work continues on its problematic Cushion Track. Tomorrow’s cancellation will bring the total to 11 days lost during the meet, exactly half the number of days that actually have been run. Now, a .667 success rate is good in baseball or the NBA, but not for a racetrack. Especially not for one of the premier tracks in America—one that had lost only eight previous days since its doors opened on Christmas Day, 1934.

Despite working almost round-the-clock (workers forced to stop at 1:00 a.m.—due to frost or complaints from neighbors, whichever you choose to believe—then start up again at 7:00 a.m.), the repair work apparently will not be completed by tonight, which was the deadline in order to have horses work out and test the surface before racing could be conducted again. With two Grade I races and the important San Antonio scheduled, as well as a Pick Six carryover of more than $181,000 in the pot, Saturday is an absolutely vital day to the track. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the renovation is complete and we are back racing on Saturday.

I was curious to see just how devastating this has been to Santa Anita from a business standpoint, so I did research comparing this season to last year. Through Feb. 8 (tomorrow) we will have run 22 days and a total of 204 races. By Feb. 8, 2007, there had been 32 race days and 273 races, a total of 69 more races had been run by this time last year.

Total handle at this meet has been around $230 million. Through 22 dates last year, handle was about $236, a shortfall of about $6 million for this season. However, a closer look makes the losses even more catastrophic. Included in the ’08 total is Sunshine Millions Day ($14.96 million in total handle). Last year’s ‘Millions did not come until the 24th day of the meet, meaning its huge $20.35 million total is not even included in a corresponding 22-day comparison. When one adds up totals through Feb. 8, 2007 (those extra 10 racing days produced over $111 million in total handle), Santa Anita is down about $117 in total handle when compared to last year at this time. I repeat, $117 MILLION in lost handle, of which somewhere in the neighborhood of $111 MILLION can be attributed to this year’s cancellations. I sure hope the Cushion Track company has good lawyers and a hefty insurance policy behind it.

When the “new” Cushion/Pro-Ride track is up and running, what can we expect from a handicapping perspective? The new Pro-Ride fiber material that is being added to the original surface has more of a “Polytrack” look to it, sort of the color of ground-up asphalt. It is supposed to make for a “kinder and gentler” track, which will surely slow down the ridiculously fast surface that produced a world record time on ‘Millions Day. With very little information to go on (such as how horses are handling the surface in morning workouts), doesn’t handicapping on this new surface become a complete crap shoot? I mean, if this is a totally new surface, doesn’t previous form go right out the window? I’m going to tread lightly and treat handicapping the same way I did at the start of Del Mar last summer: Simplify everything. See which horses like the surface and which ones don’t. Stick with those “horses for courses” as “class” takes a back seat in the handicapping equation. Now, if earlier SA form holds up, great. Don’t worry about making any adjustments. But don’t be surprised if there are some significant form reversals in the upcoming weeks.

NOTES: Saturday—the last time we had live racing—was a huge day, with five consecutive stakes races carded. In order: CROWN OF THORNS thrust himself into the Derby picture with an authoritative victory in the Bob Lewis; PASSION outgamed ARIEGE in an exciting La Habra; INTANGAROO, the longest shot in the five-horse Santa Monica field, gave trainer Gary Sherlock his first Grade I victory when she hung a nose decsion on SOCIETY HOSTESS. Heavily favored HYSTERICALADY misfired badly and ran fourth, sending the bridgejumper(s) to an early grave and making for huge show payoffs; STORM MILITARY snapped back to top form with a strong victory in the Thunder Road; and MONTEREY JAZZ remained perfect around two turns with a huge win in the Strub. His dominating front-running performance had veteran observers comparing him to Precisionist and Siphon. Color him the early favorite for the Big Cap on March 1st…Russell Baze got win No. 10,000 on Friday at Golden Gate, powering home his mount to win a desperate three-horse photo. The fact that Baze hit this milestone on a $4,000 claimer is all the more apropos. Along with Laffit Pincay, has anyone ever ridden harder or been a better friend to the horseplayer? Baze joins South American rider Jorge Ricardo, who accomplished the feat on Jan. 9, as the only other rider to have won 10,000 career races…Horse of the Year CURLIN apparently will make his next two starts in Dubai, starting with a Feb. 28 prep race for the Dubai World Cup on Mar. 29…trainer Doug O’Neill had a starter test over the permitted level of bicarbonate (total carbon dioxide) last month. His horses will run out of the detention barn for a total of 60 days…note at the bottom of Sunday’s overnight: “ATTN HORSEMEN: The card from Friday, February 8 will be re-drawn on Sunday, February 10 and will be carded for Wednesday, February 13.” Let the madness of six-day racing begin!

Tough Beat of the Year (so far): There was one live Pick Six ticket going to SHEM TOV in Saturday’s final race, the only horse covered in the nine-horse field. The nose loss cost that single-ticket holder the all-burger, over $181,000. Plus a Corvette, if that ticket was purchased on track. Ouch.

Finally, just when you thought the troubled saga of Pat Valenzuela had come to an end, he has been named on a couple of horses for Friday’s races at the Fair Grounds in Louisiana. Officials there did not feel that reciprocity guidelines were in effect (meaning one state abides by another’s ruling) since he had not been sanctioned or ruled off in California. As I replied to a couple of inquiring emailers, this cat has more than nine lives.

To View Free Samples from last week, click on the links below: Jan. 31Â Â Feb. 1Â Â Â Â Feb. 2Â Â Â

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