Santa Anita picks up slack in California


If you want to know how good a job Santa Anita Park has done with this extended race meet, just ask yourself this: How many horseplayers do you hear complaining about not racing at Hollywood Park?

Believe me, I’d still rather have Hollywood alive and well. But since it was sold down the river many years ago for future land development, the Grand Old Lady is not coming back.

The new Southern California racing schedule leans heavily on Santa Anita and Del Mar. That’s a good thing considering how popular both tracks are. The unknown will be how racing fans take to three separate race meets at Los Alamitos.

Los Alamitos in Orange County will race from July 3 through 13, Sept. 5 through 21 and Dec. 4 through 21. There is a good reason why each meet is about two weeks long: There is no turf course.

Since the modern era grass horse runs about once a month anyway, the lack of turf racing at Los Alamitos is not an issue.

The Los Alamitos meet will have its signature race, the $500,000 Los Alamitos Derby, on Saturday, July 5. It replaces the Swaps Stakes on the racing calendar.

Shared Belief, last year’s 2-year-old Eclipse champion, heads the Derby. I’m really looking forward to his return after a foot injury forced him to miss the Triple Crown. He is a very talented colt trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer.

It’s been proven time and again that horses that miss the Triple Crown can benefit from more time to mature physically and mentally. If Shared Belief wins, the buzz will start over a potential meeting with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome.

California Chrome is on a well-deserved vacation. Here’s hoping that he comes back strong and even races next year as a 4-year-old. You can bank on the fact that anywhere he shows up to race, there will be a huge spike in attendance.

But before we end the meet Sunday on a successful extended session at Santa Anita, there is a terrific stakes-filled card Saturday. The newly minted Gold Cup at Santa Anita heads up four graded stakes, including the Royal Heroine, Triple Bend and Senorita.

The Gold Cup is the old Hollywood Gold Cup, a race with a long, rich history. Game On Dude has won it the last two years, and his trainer Bob Baffert has won it the last three years.

Game On Dude figures to be a very short price despite a rematch with Imperative, who upset him at 26-1 odds in the Charles Town Classic. Many will call that a fluke result.

■ SEARS FLAP — Brian Sears is one of the very best harness drivers in the sport. Thus, it was shocking news last week when Jeff Gural, who operates the Meadowlands, Tioga and Vernon Downs, banned him from competing at his trio of tracks.

At first, I thought Sears had done something wrong. His wrong turned out to be he told Gural he was going to drive full time at Yonkers, and not the Meadowlands. Yonkers purses are higher than the Meadowlands due to slot machine revenue.

Cooler heads prevailed and Sears is welcome again at Gural’s tracks. In horse racing, the competitors follow the money. And that will never change.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.