Given it’s the “Great Race Place,” it’s no surprise that the reopening of Santa Anita Park came down to the wire.
Officials at the storied Southern California track drew entries early this week for a nine-race card Friday in anticipation of resuming racing minus fans after a seven-week closure triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
But a daylong hearing before the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health was drawing to a close Wednesday before county officials finally received the OK to get back into action, as long as officials strictly enforce a series of safety protocols to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among track personnel.
Racing will continue, most likely three times a week, through June 23 assuming all goes well.
The pent-up demand following the break that began March 27 was evident in Friday’s nine-race card, which attracted 94 horses and no fewer than nine entries in any race.
Saturday’s 10-race card will be highlighted by the $150,000 Echo Eddie Stakes for California-bred 3-year-olds at 6 furlongs and the $150,000 Evening Jewel Stakes for state-bred 3-year-old fillies at the same distance.
Meanwhile, the remainder of the road to the topsy-turvy Triple Crown is beginning to take shape, with races such as the $150,000 Matt Winn ( Stakes, Grade 3) on May 23 at Churchill Downs and the rescheduled $400,000 Santa Anita Derby (Grade 1) on June 6 now serving as early steppingstones for the reconfigured three-race series consisting of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.
The Derby is scheduled for Sept. 5, but the dates for the Preakness and Belmont haven’t been determined.
Depending on where those races land, 3-year-old races such as the Haskell Invitational and Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park; the Travers Stakes at Saratoga; the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland; the Los Alamitos Derby; the Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand; and possibly the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar could be in the mix to help bridge the gap to the first Saturday in September in this crazy year.
#RJhorseracing featured races
While the #RJhorseracing handicapping crew is rejoicing over the reopening of Santa Anita, it is focused laserlike on Churchill Downs on Saturday for the first weekend of racing at the historic Louisville track in many moons.
This week’s quarry are the eighth race on the quality-packed card, a mile turf allowance race for 3-year-olds and up who are nonwinners of a race other than maiden, claiming or starter races, and Race 10, an allowance optional $75,000 claiming race for 3-year-old fillies at 7 furlongs on the main track.
In the former, the handicapping crew is backing Limnery, the 4-1 morning line favorite in the main body of the field. They see European newcomer Tankerville (6-1) and Danny California (8-1) filling out the trifecta.
I’m in accordance with the gang, though I won’t want anything less than the morning line odds to play what I consider the most likely horse to win. I’ll use Tankerville to place and the mystery horse Sea of Hope (10-1), returning from a yearlong layoff, to show.
In the 10th, the crowd ’cappers are again siding with a 4-1 morning line favorite, Portrait, but at least this time it’s a co-favorite. They have Aurelia Garland (8-1) to place and the other end of the chalk stick, Miss T Too (4-1), to show.
Portrait, and any other horse sent out by trainer Brad Cox at Churchill Downs, definitely deserves respect, but I’ll try to beat her with Mo City (9-2), who faced some decent stakes competition before taking a brief vacation and should get a nice ground-saving trip. I’ll use Portrait and Miss T Too to round out my top three.
Ellis Starr’s Echo Eddie Stakes analysis
Although Big Sweep won her career debut and only start leading from start to finish, there is evidence she is not a need-the-lead type and won’t get caught up in the likely early pace battle between Stir the Pot, Project Leader and Bettor Trip Nick. Drawn outside of that trio in the gate, Big Sweep may find herself in a great spot in fourth as the field moves down the backstretch, enabling her to take over on the turn and hold off any closers. In her debut Big Sweep earned a field high 99 Equibase Speed Figure and should improve in her second career start. It’s interesting to note trainer Mark Glatt entered her in this race instead of the filly version later on the card, likely because he had an idea of who was going to run in that race, including a multiple stakes winner in Warren’s Showtime, rather than a number of horses not nearly as proven in stakes. Better still, as a filly Big Sweep gets to carry from five to nine pounds less in jockey and saddle weight compared to the rest of the field.
Club Aspen is proven in stakes around one and two turns. He won at 6 furlongs last August in the second start of his career. Then last December he won the King Glorious Stakes around two turns. Jockey Velez has been aboard for both wins and rides today. Club Aspen earned a career-best 95 figure when second in a dirt sprint in November before a 93 figure in the King Glorious and could run even better as a more mature 3-year-old.
Summer Fire and Rookie Mistake get honorable mention. Rookie Mistake won a turf sprint in his most recent start on March 6, with Summer Fire a fast closing fourth, beaten a neck for third. While Rookie Mistake earned a higher 96 figure, he is winless in three starts on dirt although he did finish second in one of them. Summer Fire beat him that day while earning his only win in a dirt sprint. Both have a closing style to benefit from the likely contested early pace scenario in this race.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Audace (85); Bettor Trip Nick (93); Phantom Boss (94); Project Leader (80); and Stir the Pot (85).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.