Bankruptcy detracts from Big ‘Cap card

Santa Anita management cannot catch a break.

While the focus Saturday should be on three terrific Grade I stakes — the Santa Anita Handicap, Kilroe Mile and Santa Anita Oaks — all that racing people can talk about is the bankruptcy filing of parent company Magna Entertainment.

In Las Vegas, we are numb from hearing the “B” word. Casino giants such as MGM Mirage, Las Vegas Sands and Station Casinos, among others, might have one foot in the bankruptcy grave. But it does not mean they are going out of business.

Meanwhile, Churchill Downs Inc. just reported a nice profit for 2008. CDI and Penn National are the two horse racing companies that have cash, and they might be willing to buy a Magna track.

Maybe this finally will lead to something I’ve suggested for years: Indian tribes should buy the California tracks and install slot machines with revenue going to purses and expenses while they lease out the racing dates.

Saturday’s Santa Anita card is outstanding. Start with the Big ‘Cap, which drew 14 runners, 13 of them graded stakes winners or stakes placed. Oddsmaker Jeff Tufts made Colonel John the 9-2 favorite, which tells us how tough this race is.

And here’s further proof that synthetic surfaces are changing the game in Southern California: Ten Big ‘Cap starters are stakes winners on grass.

That leads me to my pick for the Big ‘Cap, Zambezi Sun at 12-1 odds. He was a Group 1-caliber grass star in France. The Bobby Frankel horse was training brilliantly for his U.S. debut in the San Luis Obispo. He was so rank that Garrett Gomez could not settle him down, and he ran sixth as an odds-on favorite.

The Oaks and Kilroe Mile have superstar headliners in Stardom Bound and Ventura. Both will be odds-on favorites and could team with Zambezi Sun to give trainer Bobby Frankel a sweep of the three Grade I stakes.

Stardom Bound is being prepared for a start in either the Kentucky Oaks on May 1 or the Kentucky Derby on May 2. Frankel will stay on the filly trail for as long as possible; he loves being the 3-5 chalk in a Grade I stakes.

Ventura will face males in the Kilroe Mile but still figures to be a strong favorite. She ran second against the boys in the Woodbine Mile last year, a significantly tougher race than this.

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

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