Santa Anita forced to shut down

Santa Anita forced to shut down

March 05, 2019 6:04 PM
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After yet another catastrophic injury during training hours at Santa Anita on Tuesday morning, the Arcadia track announced late Tuesday afternoon that it will be closed indefinitely for racing.

The Grade I $600,000 Santa Anita Handicap, the premier race of the winter, was scheduled to be run this Saturday, as was the Grade II $500,000 San Felipe Stakes for three-year-olds that featured the return of top Bob Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby hopefuls Game Winner and Improbable. Both races have been postponed.

Stronach Group Chief Operating Officer Tim Ritvo told the Daily Racing Form the track will be closed indefinitely to allow Dennis Moore, the former track consultant who was rehired Tuesday afternoon, to inspect the surface. 

Ritvo declined to speculate on the date of resumption, though under normal circumstances the next racing day after this weekend would be Thursday March 14.

Lets Light the Way, a four-year-old filly trained by Hall of Famer Ron McAnally, was in the middle of a workout Tuesday morning when she suffered her catastrophic injury and became the 21st equine fatality since December 24 at Santa Anita.

Also on Tuesday morning, Graded Stakes winner Vyjack, a nine-year-old, pulled up after a five furlong workout and had to be vanned off the track. His trainer, Phil D’Amato, reported that Vyjack “took a couple of funny steps on the gallop out” and added “the horse is O.K.”

Tuesday’s incidents were the latest after Santa Anita closed the main track for inspection for two days the previous week. No irregularities were found, and racing resumed without any problems last Friday. 

Rain forced Santa Anita to seal the main track for their Saturday, March 2 card, and a filly named Eskenforadrink suffered a fatal injury during the third race that day. On Sunday, protestors picketed outside the entrance gates of the track.

Moore left the position of track consultant at Santa Anita at the end of December and remains the track superintendent at Los Alamitos and Del Mar. Moore returned to Santa Anita Tuesday afternoon to begin inspection of the course.

Ritvo said Moore will be given all of the time he needs to conduct his studies before racing resumes at Santa Anita. 

Santa Anita is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships later this year. A statement via Twitter on Tuesday from Breeders Cup stated: “We are paying close attention to the matter. We are concerned for the horses lost and for the connections.

“But we have confidence in Santa Anita and the parties working on site that the situation is being addressed appropriately.” 

More Derby preps

The postponement of the Grade II San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita will delay the three-year-old debuts of the top sophomores from the Bob Baffert stable — Game Winner and Improbable. There are others who could emerge as major players on the Derby trail, so let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs, the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, and the Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park:

Grade II $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs (1-1/16 miles): Well Defined won the local prep for the Tampa Bay Derby when he wired the field in the Gr. III Sam F. Davis Stakes Feb 9. Win Win Win set a Tampa Bay Downs track record for seven furlongs (1:20.89) winning the Pasco Stakes Jan 19. 

Dream Maker looked vastly improved in his sophomore debut winning a Fair Grounds Allowance by nearly nine lengths on Feb 9. The key to the race is whether anyone can keep Well Defined honest on the front end.

Grade III $300,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct (one turn mile): Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer called an audible last week and announced that undefeated Instagrand, who was scheduled to return in the San Felipe Stakes, would instead be shipped to New York for the Gotham. 

The one-turn mile distance was cited as the key reason for the switch, though Game Winner and Improbable running in the San Felipe may have had something to do with the decision, too. 

Baffert will send Much Better from his California base. The shippers will likely meet Aqueduct’s Jerome Stakes winner Mind Control and Jimmy Winkfield Stakes winner Haikal. 

Most eyes will be on Instagrand to see if he returns to the same brilliant form he showed at Del Mar as a juvenile.

Grade III $200,000 Jeff Ruby Steaks at Turfway Park (1-1/8 miles synthetic track): This race has produced a Kentucky Derby winner in Animal Kingdom, but the synthetic track usually caters to turf horses and the results do not necessarily transfer to the dirt at Churchill Downs. 

Turf specialist Somelikeithotbrown was an easy winner of the local prep for this race — the Battaglia Memorial Feb 15 — and is likely to go off as the favorite.

Skywire won an off-the-turf Allowance race at Gulfstream Park in his last start and has proven synthetic track form up at Woodbine in Canada.

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