Will the Santa Anita reboot work?

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Earning back the trust and confidence of owners, trainers, fans, horseplayers and the general public is what is at stake when Santa Anita opens its autumn meet on Friday.

After a disastrous winter/spring meeting where there were 30 catastrophic injuries and several lost weeks of racing due to concerns over track condition, The Stronach Group (TSG) has a new management team in place.

TSG Chief Strategy Officer Aiden Butler will serve as acting Executive Director of California Racing Operations. Steve Koch, former Executive Director of the Safety and Integrity Alliance at the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), has been appointed Senior Vice President of Racing for TSG. Dr. Laurie Bohannon has been hired to the new position of Senior Veterinarian.

The emphasis will be on safety, with added veterinary checks prior to workouts in addition to permission slips to schedule a work, pre-race vet exams and committee reviews of each and every horse entered to race.  The review committee will once again be allowed to arbitrarily refuse any entry.

The Santa Anita main track was quietly renovated during the summer and is reportedly in good shape prior to the start of the meet.

Santa Anita has an opportunity to get started on the right foot with seven key Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” races opening weekend.  Here is a look at the major contenders scheduled to race:

Friday: Grade I $300,000 American Pharoah Stakes (1-1/16 miles on dirt and a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Win and You’re In). Eight Rings will try to make amends after ducking in and losing the rider when favored in the Del Mar Futurity. Trainer Bob Baffert has adjusted the blinkers on Eight Rings.

Express Train comes off a highly impressive Maiden win routing and may actually be the one to beat, with highly touted Maiden winner American Theorem and Del Mar Futurity upset winner Nucky making this an interesting contest.

Grade I $300,000 Chandelier Stakes (1-1/16 miles on dirt and a Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Win and You’re In) goes through Del Mar Debutante winner Bast. The Baffert-trained filly acts like she will enjoy two turns. K P Dreamin has proven route form and will be tested for class.

Grade II $200,000 Eddie D. Stakes (Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Win and You’re In) will be run at five furlongs since Santa Anita has decided not to run any 6-1/2 furlong turf sprints during the autumn meet. Up-and-comer Mr Vargas is the one to beat, with two-time defending Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint champ Stormy Liberal trying to regain his best form.

Saturday: Grade I $300,000 Rodeo Drive (Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf Win and You’re In) apparently won’t include course specialist Vasilika. She was curiously not on the nomination list. Her trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was banned by Santa Anita in June after a catastrophic injury to one of his horses and he has not been allotted stalls at the meet.

Juliet Foxtrot, an unlucky nose loser to Vasilika in the Grade II John C. Mabee at Del Mar, merits one-to-beat status in this 10-furlong turf race with invaders Mrs. Sippy and Si Que Es Buena the ones to fear most.

Grade I $300,000 Awesome Again (1-1/8 miles dirt and a Breeders’ Cup Classic Win and You’re In) will have a heavy favorite in Whitney winner McKinzie. Grade I Pacific Classic winner Higher Power looks like the biggest threat.

Grade II $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship (Breeders’ Cup Turf Win and You’re In) is light on proven quality. United and Cleopatra’s Strike are improving and can get the 10-furlong trip.

Sunday: Grade II $200,000 Zen­yatta Stakes (1-1/16 miles on dirt and Breeders’ Cup Distaff Win and You’re In) is a rematch of the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch at Del Mar when Ollie’s Candy gamely beat Secret Spice by a nose.

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held at Santa Anita November 1-2, after which Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel will take over as TSG’s Chief Executive Officer of Racing Operations.

There is a lot on the line for California racing starting Friday. Let’s hope the message sent from Santa Anita this fall is much different from the message received earlier this year.

Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Churchill Downs Friday Race 9 – Manny Wah (No. 1). Three-year-old will be fit off troubled trip in return.  He gets back on home track and has speed to flee rail post. 

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About the Author

Jon Lindo

Jon Lindo is a syndicated handicapper, long-time thoroughbred owner, and publisher of the Lindo Report. Jon is also a regular contributor to Race Day Las Vegas Radio show on KSHP 1400 in Las Vegas and Thoroughbred Los Angeles Radio show, heard in Las Vegas at thoroughbredla.com.

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