Santa Anita will begin its 85-day winter/spring meeting on Dec. 26, if the Seabiscuit folks ever leave, that is.
They will, of course, and when they do, it will be business as usual, except that odds favor considerably more rain this season than in 2001-02.
Last meet, there were “fast” tracks 82 of the 85 days. On the three days the track was “off,” it started out “fast” but was changed during the day due to weather.
Thus, horsemen and bettors alike are on notice that the track surface could play differently, effecting how horses perform. Take a wait-and-see approach before reaching for your bankroll with both hands. Even Jack Carava expects to play it cautiously, and he was the leading trainer with 14 victories at Oak Tree, which concluded its 26-day session at Santa Anita less than two months ago.
“I don’t have the same barn as I had for Oak Tree,” the candid conditioner forewarned at Santa Anita the other morning. “At Oak Tree, I had a lot of claiming horses to run, and they were winning races in a row. But this meet, I’ll be bringing many horses back from layoffs, and they won’t quite be ready at the beginning of the meet. I’m trying to claim a few at Hollywood to have them ready for Santa Anita, but I haven’t been able to find a whole lot.”
But the jig is not up. If any trainer can find a horse and move it up, it’s Carava. The 36-year-old Arcadia native has learned his trade well. For Carava, selectivity pays.
“I’ve claimed a few (at Hollywood), and one or two have been claimed back, but we’re going to try and claim a few more,” Carava said. “I’ll just have to be patient. I don’t have anything major to get excited about, mostly cheap maidens. We’re just trying to piece everything together and hopefully we’ll be live before too long. It’s a long meet.”
And he expects it to be wetter than Oak Tree.
“The Santa Anita winter/spring meet is a bit different (for the main track surface), but not a whole lot,” Carava said. “I don’t think there are horses that run good at Oak Tree and don’t at Santa Anita’s long meet. If they like this track, they like it. But if there’s a wet winter, the surface could become hard because the track has to be sealed so often.
“We don’t get mud here very often here, but like I said, it’s such a long meet the track surface can change as we go. It can be on the wet side the first part of the meet, then dry out towards the end.”
Carava, meanwhile, will keep a sharp eye for fresh stock as well as on the condition book, a bi-monthly publication put out by the racing office. The condition book is a “bible” for horsemen and jockey agents, describing conditions of upcoming races.
“I look for horses I think will come back and run well, that are just starting to round into form, as opposed to horses that have already won two in a row,” Carava said, shedding light on his claiming parameters. “I don’t like taking those kind of horses because horses don’t tend to put tons of wins together. I try to find horses that are just starting to come around. Maybe their form isn’t all that great but they’ve got a reason to be where they’re running and just starting to show signs of life.”
Don’t get him wrong. Carava does not ignore horses that win frequently.
“I love horses that win a lot (in their racing life),” he said. “That’s no big deal. But if they’ve just won recently, I usually stay away, because claiming horses have a tendency not to string four or five wins together. Good horses do, but claiming horses are inclined to win once or twice a year and that’s about it. We try to catch them when they’re going to win those one or two races, then let somebody else have them when they’re losing.”
As for reading the condition book with perception, Carava says there’s little mystery involved.
“I think most people know what they’re doing,” Carava said about reading a condition book. “When I look at a race in the condition book, I try to visualize what kind of horses I’m going to face in the race. If you pay close attention to which horses ran under similar conditions last time the race went, you can usually guess about half to three-quarters of the horses that are going to be in the race, and which horses that were claimed last out that are going to have to jump up (in class). That’s important, to visualize what horses are going to be in the race.”
Of course, things aren’t always as envisioned, especially in horse racing.
“A lot of times you’re disappointed when you see which horses entered,” Carava said. “A good jock’s agent does the same as a trainer. That’s how they know to ride the right horses. You figure out which horse is going to be in which spot, or what you think will be the case, and go from there.”
THE HOMESTRETCH: Eddie Delahoussaye’s scheduled MRI on Dec. 9 was postponed until Jan. 13 on the advice of his doctor, meaning the 51-year-old Hall of Fame rider won’t be back in action until late February at the earliest. Delahoussaye was injured in a serious spill at Del Mar last Aug. 30 and was hoping to get a green light to resume his career following the MRI. In the interim, his agent, Ray Kravagna, has taken the book of 17-year-old apprentice Carlo Silva, cousin of trainer Juan Pablo Silva and nephew of trainer Jose Silva. “He’s won 58 races in Mexico City,” Kravagna said of Carlo, who could make his U.S. debut the last day or two at Hollywood Park, “but we plan on starting at Santa Anita,” Kravagna said. “He can tack 108 (pounds) and he’s got a five-pound ”˜bug’ until next August.” . . . Following another sizzling workout by Rojo Toro, Bob Baffert called the son of Mountain Cat “one of the fastest 2-year-olds I’ve ever trained.” Rojo Toro zipped six furlongs at Santa Anita in a bullet 1:10 flat on Dec. 9. One of Mountain Cat’s most accomplished sons is Classic Cat, who at age three in 1998 won the Coolmore Lexington Stakes at 11/16 miles; the Ohio Derby at 11/8 miles and the Remington Derby at 11/8 miles. He was third to Real Quiet in the Preakness and at age four won the San Bernardino Handicap at 11/8 miles, so Rojo Toro is bred to go a distance . . . Trivia question: of the 326 horses nominated to the inaugural Sunshine Millions, eight races worth $3.6 million on Jan. 25 at Santa Anita and Gulfstream, how many are from the Bobby Frankel barn? Answer: none.