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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

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