Well, as a California horseplayer and horse owner, things could be worse.
Take New York for example. Field size, illnesses, lack of turf racing, and adjudications have helped the product at Aqueduct to be “forgettable” at the very least and more accurately unplayable much of the time.
Let’s look at recent field sizes at Aqueduct:
• Thursday, Feb. 8 – 45 horses in eight races (5.6 horses per race);
• Friday, Feb. 9 – 47 horses in eight races (5.9 horses per race);
• Saturday, Feb. 10 – 61 horses in nine races (6.8 horses per race);
• Sunday, Feb. 11 – 44 horses in eight races (5.5 horses per race);
• Thursday, Feb. 15 – 44 horses in eight races (5.5 horses per race);
• Friday, Feb. 16 – 47 horses in eight races (5.9 horses per race);
• Saturday, Feb. 17 – 65 horses in nine races (7.2 horses per race);
• Sunday, Feb. 18 – 52 horses in nine races (5.8 horses per race).
Get the picture? According to David Grening of Daily Racing Form, all sources handle for Aqueduct is down approximately $40 million, or roughly 28%, for the first six weeks of this year as compared to last year.
Last week a filly – Ladies Day – had to be euthanized after spiking a fever and testing positive for equine herpesvirus - 1 (EHV-1), a virus that can prove fatal.
The barn of her trainer Tom Albertrani and neighbor trainer Michael Dilger has been quarantined and they will not be permitted to race for 21 days.
The quarantine has resulted in many jurisdictions refusing to accept shippers from New York. There were 19 late scratches at Laurel on Saturday, the vast majority were horses due to ship in from New York to compete on Laurel’s Winter Carnival Stakes card.
There have been problems for those horses who have started at the meet, too.
Wildcat Belle, who won the fifth race by five lengths carrying the assigned 121 pounds on Feb. 8, was disqualified for carrying the incorrect weight. Wildcat Belle was entered for the Feb. 8 race on Feb. 3, but in the interim Wildcat Belle won a race at Parx on Feb. 5.
The extra win should have adjusted her assigned weight for the Feb. 8 race to 123 pounds, but there was no correction made by the stewards or the racing office and the filly carried the weight assigned at the time of entry to victory.
Owner Ben Mondello is appealing the ruling that requires him to return the $30,000 in purse money.
Starting this week, Aqueduct is scheduled to go to three-day race weeks through April 8. Until turf racing returns in the Spring, the product for horseplayers in New York figures to continue to be tough sledding.
Curse of Apollo?
Rumors were rampant on Sunday about a first-time starter from the Bob Baffert stable named Justify. The rumblings were right on the money, as the son of Scat Daddy made the dull Santa Anita main track look fast by racing away to a 9-1/2 length win, running the seven furlongs in a blistering 1:21.86. By comparison, the six furlong split in Justify’s victory (1:09.07) was significantly faster than the time it took the older Selcourt to win the Grade III Las Flores Stakes later in the day (1:09.65).
Discussions will start again this week that Apollo was the last and only horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. That was in 1882.
There are obvious huge hurdles to overcome – lack of experience, no two-turn experience, yet to face winners, never shipped to race come to mind – but this was by far the most impressive Maiden win at the Santa Anita meet and trainer Bob Baffert says he has a plan to get him there.
Since Baffert knows a thing or two about winning the Kentucky Derby and has several potential horses (Solomini, Mourinho, McKenzie) already in the mix, we better keep a close eye on Justify. He could be any kind.
For those in Las Vegas looking to get down on a Kentucky Derby Future wager, it must be noted Justify was bet down to 50/1 at the Wynn hotel before he started.
Jockey Martin Pedroza starts a 15-day suspension on Tuesday that includes seven racing days. Pedroza was involved in an altercation in the jockey’s room on Dec. 29 with a valet and actually hit that valet in the head with his helmet. Both the valet and Pedroza were treated for minor injuries.
Apprentice Evin Roman will lose his “bug” – his five pound apprentice Allowance – in the next month and become a journeyman jockey. That could open the door for a new apprentice to gain some valuable business.
My guess is Franklin Ceballos may be the beneficiary. Formerly based in Maryland, Ceballos looks good on a horse and is slowly growing his business. Watch a replay of the way he and Ransomed re-rallied in the stretch to win Sunday’s seventh race at Santa Anita, as an example of his talent.
Speaking of jockeys on the rise, Giovanni Franco won three races this past Saturday at Santa Anita – a turf sprint for older claimers, a dirt sprint for Maiden-Claimers, and the Grade II Buena Vista routing on turf aboard Fault for the Phil D’Amato stable. This guy can ride and he has already proven to be the horseplayer’s friend generating inflated mutuels.
Play of the Week
Golden Gate, Friday, Race 1 – Miss Resilience (post 3). I like the way this filly finished up in her Jan. 13 debut. She gets a positive raise in class for a barn good with second-time starters and has a sneaky good jockey/trainer tandem in her corner, too.