Baffert not at fault for small stakes fields

Is it just me, or does it seem whenever trainer Bob Baffert starts a horse in a Santa Anita stakes race, the field is only four horses deep?

Last weekend, Baffert saddled two of the four horses in the Robert B. Lewis and ran first and second with Flashback and Den’s Legacy. Then in the four-horse San Antonio, his Game On Dude won in a cakewalk.

This is good for the bank accounts of Baffert and his owners but clearly an unbettable product for most of us.

I’m not sure what the answer is to these incredibly shrinking stakes fields. If Baffert controls the best horses in various divisions, then other trainers will look to avoid him, even if they must ship elsewhere.

For example, trainer Mike Pender sent Ultimate Eagle to Gulfstream Park for the Donn Handicap instead of staying at Santa Anita for the San Antonio.

This isn’t Baffert or Pender’s fault. It’s the nature of the racing game: Make money for your owners while taking the path of least resistance.

One constant with Southern California racing has been its isolation. It’s always been hard to get horses to ship in from east of the Mississippi River. Stakes coordinators have had more success lately with stakes shippers, but, usually, it’s been with grass runners.

There is good news on Saturday. The San Marcos feature at Santa Anita drew an overflow field of 14 entries. The angle might be that Baffert doesn’t train any of the entrants.

I’m sure the bean counters are paying close attention, though. A lot more money will be bet on the San Marcos than in the Lewis and San Antonio races combined.

■ PARX PIKER — On Sunday, I saw the worst steward’s decision in some time in Race 8 at Parx Racing. The Equibase chart caller wrote this comment, “Mad Magic was fractious in the gate and appeared to be entangled with the assistant starter when the gates opened. She reared and never left the gate.” The Parx stewards posted an inquiry but took no action. Mad Magic, the 2-1 favorite, should have been declared a nonstarter because she was being held and never had a chance to run.

■ DERBY FUTURE WAGER — Pool 1 of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager is this weekend. Betting will close at 3 p.m. Sunday. The favorite in Pool 1 is the mutuel field at 9-5. Of the 23 listed horses, Shanghai Bobby and Violence have the lowest odds at 12-1. In Las Vegas, you can make Derby fixed odds bets at Wynn Las Vegas, LVH, William Hill and Caesars Entertainment race books.

■ DOWNEY PROFILE — I found an interesting resource for following Kentucky Derby horses at thedowneyprofile.com. Dick Downey does fine work keeping track of the scores of horses who are on the Derby trail.

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.

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