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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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