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Santa Anita seeks permission to reopen races without fans

Updated April 23, 2020 - 6:39 pm

It should be a no-brainer, but we’ll likely find out in the coming days whether public health officials in California are willing to let Santa Anita Park reopen for racing without fans.

The track has not run any races since the Los Angeles County Health Department ordered it to stop offering spectator-free contests on March 27.

Since then — and even before — more than 750 grooms, hot walkers and other workers have been living at the track, exercising and caring for the more than 1,700 horses on the grounds. And there has not been a single case of COVID-19 reported among them. Others, like trainers and jockeys who come and go, also have been able to enter and exit the facility without touching off a localized outbreak.

That matches the experience of the few racetracks that have continued to operate as usual — minus the fans — during the pandemic, including Gulfstream Park, Oaklawn Park, Tampa Bay Downs and Los Alamitos.

In the last week, officials of The Stronach Group, which owns both Santa Anita and Golden Gate Field, have asked the health department to reverse the closure. They note the shutdown of racing is harming not only the thousands of workers at the track and ancillary businesses, but the horses themselves.

Belinda Stronach, the company’s chair and president, noted in an op-ed published Friday in the Los Angeles Times and other outlets that purse money that would normally go to programs for retired racehorses is not flowing into the accounts. That means the California Aftercare Retirement Management Account “no longer can accept new retirees into their program due to lack of funding, leaving those most in need of their attention in jeopardy,” she said.

Aidan Butler, executive director of TSG’s California racing operations, also sent a 12-page letter to health department officials and met with Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger to discuss health precautions put in place to prevent the disease from gaining a foothold at the storied racetrack.

TSG officials indicated they expect to learn within days whether they will be able to resume racing. With the ability to offer a safe environment already established, I can’t see why the powers that be would say no.

#RJhorseracing featured races

The relentless #RJhorseracing handicappers are dividing to conquer, tackling the $100,00 Bachelor Stakes at Oaklawn Park and the 11th race at Gulfstream Park.

In the former, a 6-furlong dash for 3-year-olds, the crowd ’cappers are going to try to beat the chalk with Long Weekend, the 3-1 second choice on the morning line. They have the aforementioned favorite, Eight Rings (5-2) and Echo Town (9-2) rounding out the top three.

I’m taking a stand against Long Weekend, who got away with moderate fractions on the lead in his last and figures to have company up front this time. I think Eight Rings, making his first start since his disappointing Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, is the horse to beat, but off the long layoff and with this likely a prep for a stretch-out I’m looking elsewhere.

Ginobili (6-1), is my pick, despite his dismal first try over the track early this month, when he broke slowly and never got involved. But the race before that was top notch, as he battled Nadal through the stretch to just miss in the San Vicente Stakes (Grade 2) at Santa Anita. I’ll use Echo Town to place and Little Menace (4-1) to show.

In race 11 at Gulfstream, a 7-furlong test for 4-year-olds and up who have not won $10,000 three times or are entered for a $75,000 claiming tag, the crowd ’cappers are hopping back on the favorite train with Soldado, the 2-1 morning line choice. They have Spinoff (7-2) and Global Campaign (6-1) filling out their top three.

I agree with the gang that Soldado is the horse to beat, but I’m going to take a shot with Yorkton (9-2), who improved sharply in his last to finish right behind Vekoma. I think he will take the lead and I’m hoping he can hang around a bit longer in his third start off a layoff. I’ll use Spinoff and Soldado to round out my top three.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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