A truly unforgettable Santa Anita meet comes to an end this Sunday. Some of the decisions that were made along the way could impact California racing for years.
Last November, just one month prior to the start of the meet, Rick Hammerle, the Vice President of Racing, was let go, as was popular track announcer Michael Wrona. It was reported that Santa Anita track superintendent Dennis Moore “retired” at the end of 2018 as well, though he kept similar positions at Los Alamitos and Del Mar.
In addition to the personnel changes, Santa Anita officials made it clear to horsemen that Santa Anita was not a training facility. Horses stabled there were expected to participate in the racing program and that the number of starts per stall were going to be monitored. Those numbers would help determine stall applications from trainers for future Santa Anita meets.
When horsemen tried to scratch horses that were entered for whatever reason, calls from the racing office were made that could be described as confrontational with the intention of keeping horses entered from scratching. Trainer Shelbe Ruis used the Twitter platform to publicize her battle.
The rain came in hard and often this winter. At least 17 inches of rain hit Santa Anita from December to March, leading to a number of sealed tracks. During this time, an unusually high 21 equine fatalities forced the track to shut down on March 5 to evaluate the surface. Moore was rehired to help evaluate and recondition the surface, and racing resumed March 29.
When racing resumed, Santa Anita enacted several rule changes, including the ban of race day medications with the exception of Lasix. The maximum amount of allowable Lasix to be administered was cut in half from 10cc to 5cc.
Santa Anita tried to change the already restricted use of the riding crops to the point where those crops could be used for the protection and safety of rider and horse only. To date there have been no changes in the current whip rules.
Santa Anita then added a requirement that trainers fill out permission slips prior to scheduled workouts, giving racing officials 48 hours to determine if those requests to work be granted or denied.
After six weeks of racing and training without a catastrophic injury, another recent series of equine fatalities starting on May 17 has raised the total to 29 for the meet.
Santa Anita declined requests from Senator Dianne Feinstein and Governor Gavin Newsome to shut down racing for the final three weeks of the meet, and instead added another round of pre-race examinations, this time from a five-person panel to evaluate horses entered. Any of the five member panel, after examining a horse’s record, training pattern, or recent performances could simply turn down the entry.
These evaluations did not include a physical examination of the horses, who are all eligible to participate at the Santa Anita meet per the eligibility rules spelled out in the condition book.
The evaluations by the panel led to nine horses last weekend either being scratched off the program or denied entry – three late scratches last Friday, four late scratches last Saturday, and two entries denied last Sunday. With entries already drawn for this Friday and Saturday, eight horses were denied entry on Friday and another seven for this Saturday. The numbers were provided by the California Horse Racing Board.
Among the reasons given for denying entry were a horse’s age (nine), an unstarted four-year-old maiden, and a horse that appeared to have missed a workout (official clockers do a good job but it is not uncommon for a workout to be missed).
The ramifications of these changes in protocol and the shutdown of racing in March are many. Several prominent SoCal trainers — Phil D’Amato, Peter Miller, Jeff Mullins, Keith Desormeaux, Bob Hess Jr., and Paulo Lobo among them – either set up second strings in different states or relocated completely.
Glen Hill Farm, a major force in California racing dating all the way back to the famous match race in June 1972 between the victorious Glen Hill Farm-owned Convenience (ridden by Jerry Lambert) and Typecast (ridden by Bill Shoemaker), announced this week they are leaving California. Originally owned by the late Leonard Lavin, current Glen Hill Farm owner Craig Bernick cited the uncertainty around California racing.
Bernick told the Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen: “I’m not confident enough we can have a full-time stable in California and rely on the leadership out there to get this thing figured out. It’s not Del Mar’s fault. It’s Santa Anita.”
Del Mar will reportedly not be using the five-man panel to evaluate entries of horses. Both Del Mar and Los Alamitos will adhere to the medication rule changes adopted at the Santa Anita meet.
What will happen when the Santa Anita house rules go back into effect at the autumn meet? Will those house rules be applicable to the Breeders’ Cup scheduled to be run at Santa Anita November 1-2? How will Santa Anita entice horsemen to come back to California to compete next winter? Will there be some defined reasons that could lead to denial of entry that horsemen could follow so they don’t bring in horses and spend tens of thousands of dollars to get them ready to race only to be denied a chance to race? What incentives can be used to help build the depleted SoCal horse population back up? Will there be changes made to the main track and/or turf course during the summer?
The landscape has definitely changed at Santa Anita, with answers to those questions and many more vital to the survival and prosperity of racing in California.
Yes, it was truly an unforgettable meet at Santa Anita.
Lindo Report Play for Gaming Today: Santa Anita Friday Race 6 — Call You Tomorrow (No. 6). Love the way this youngster battled throughout in a very fast race May 18. He gets a class raise off a loss, a sign of confidence, and the outside post is perfect. Graduation day.
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