Week 20 is concluded at Santa Anita Park and management is starting to have trouble with field size, as there were many short fields in last week’s three days of racing. Of course, like most tracks across the country, they are focusing on the “big” day and save many races to capitalize on handle for those. This weekend, which will amount to three days due to Memorial Day, will be an example. More details on this week’s racing action to follow. The main track played fair on Friday and Saturday, but early speed dominated on Sunday with all four main track winners being up on the pace. The turf course played fair all three race days. The track did announce late Sunday that they will have a mandatory payout on the Rainbow pick six this coming Monday, the 29th. That’s providing nobody hits the jackpot prior on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The carryover into Friday’s card is $201,326. In addition, management will guarantee a cool $1 million to any single ticket winner on this coming Saturday and Sunday, if there is only one single ticket winner. All of this to try and improve the daily handle. If someone does hit the jackpot on Saturday, the deal is off for Sunday. That’s still a much better deal than what we are getting from our government with the debt ceiling crisis.
THIS WEEK’S STAKES: This weekend will have some very good racing at Lucky Baldwin’s Arcadia plant which was erected way back in 1934. Over the three day span, they will have 10 stakes races, two on Saturday, five on Sunday, all for Cal breds on Gold Rush Day, and then three on Monday. The three on Monday will all be Grade Ones with some of the best quality horses in training. Sprinters are in the limelight on Saturday with the Grade 2 Triple Bend stakes at 7 furlongs on the main track and then older runners will come down the hill in the Grade 3 Daytona stakes. In the Triple Bend, the vastly improved Spirit of Makena will take on Richard Mandella’s speedball, Forbidden Kingdom. They both worked 5/8 on the main track Saturday with the former sizzling in 59.60 and the latter in 59.40. “Kingdom” was a very game second in the Grade 1 Malibu back on opening day while “Makena” has won 3 of 4 starts and his only loss was by a nose. Both horses are graded stakes winners. On Sunday they will have five Cal bred stakes for Gold Rush Sunday with each of them having a purse value of at least $100,000. And there’s a good chance that two great sprinters might hook up in the Thor’s Echo at six furlongs on the main track. The ultra quick Brickyard Ride is a definite for this race while The Chosen Vron will run there or the Crystal Water at a mile on the turf. The two have never faced each other and between them they have won 24 races and 17 of them are stakes. That would be quite a match up to witness. “Brickyard” has only one way of going and that is right for the lead, while The Chosen Vron is much more versatile. He can win short or long, turf or dirt, and is equally effective in any of the four situations. There are three other Cal bred stakes Sunday as well. On Monday, the stars come out with the three Grade Ones, i.e. the $500,000 Shoemaker Mile, the $400,000 Gamely for older fillies and mares, and the Hollywood Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter on the main track for older runners. Trainer Phil D’Amato is loaded with top runners for both of the grass races and will have the likely favorite in Hong Kong Harry for the Shoemaker Mile. D’Amato will also run Balnikhov and Gold Phoenix in that race, much like the late, great Charlie Whittingham used to do, and his opponents will counter with such top runners as Cabo Spirit, Du Jour, Exaulted, and the French invader Salesman. In the Gamely stakes, D’Amato is also loaded with Rhea Moon, Macadamia, and School Dance while their opponents will be the likes of Quattroelle, Queen Goddess, and Viareggio amongst others. You don’t want to miss Monday’s card while Sunday’s racing should offer some very good wagering opportunities as well.
PREAKNESS STAKES: (THE YEAR OF THE SCRATCH) As the Preakness stakes was completed this past Saturday, and two thirds of the Triple Crown have been run, the year 2023 may best be remembered as the Year of the Scratch. The Kentucky Derby field seemed set with 20 runners on Wednesday evening prior to the Saturday running, but then in less than 48 hours, they scratched five horses, including the favorite, Forte. So when the three also eligible horses got in, the field was down to 18 by post time. Both the owner and the trainer, Todd Pletcher, were upset with the scratch of Forte by the state vet, as they deemed their horse ready to run. But after all of the fatalities at Churchill that week, the track may have erred on the side of caution. Only 8 lined up for the Preakness stakes, and then with the day before running the race, the second choice on the morning line, First Mission was scratched. Trainer Brad Cox was not pleased with the decision, as he thought his horse was fit and ready to run, and had been pointing for this race for some time. The scratch of First Mission completely changed the complexion of the race, as he was one of the runners who could have applied some pressure on the front runner, National Treasure. As it was, this race was over on the back side, as Hall of Fame rider Johnny Velasquez was allowed to set dawdling fractions of 23.95, 48.92, and 1:13.49 for ¾. When Blazing Sevens came to him at the top of the lane, he still had plenty left in the tank, and really only had to run the final quarter mile. Race horses are equine athletes, and they all have their minor aches and pains and quirks about them. But nobody knows these horses better than the one who trains them. And they are not going to send these horses over if they think they are not sound and going to break down. I really do believe there is so much pressure being applied to the state vets today, that they are scratching horses that are sound enough to be running. Sure, nobody wants to see a horse break down on the track like Baffert had done on the undercard of the Preakness, but there is no way he was saddling an unsound horse. These are fragile animals and they can take a bad step at any time. With all of the public scrutiny on Baffert these days, do you really think he would take a chance and try and run a horse in a stakes race that wasn’t 100% sound? Of course he wouldn’t. So the Preakness was run with just 7 runners. The overall handle was down 16% vs. last year. The only horse from the Derby to run in the race was the favorite, Mage, who of course won the Derby and was trying for the Triple Crown. But Mage is a stretch runner, and is totally pace dependent. With fractions like that, he had no chance, and was very much a false favorite. National Treasure was an overlaid winner at $7.80. He should have been 7/5 or 6/5 with the pace advantage. Coffeewithchris was the only other speed in the race, and their connections made it very plain ahead of the race, that they were not going to sacrifice their horse in a pace duel with the winner. That strategy didn’t work for them either, as he is basically an allowance horse and ended up dead last while chasing a very soft pace. Blazing Sevens ran a strong race and he almost pulled it off with Irad Ortiz using all of his skills that he could to intimidate the winner down the lane. There was considerable contact in the stretch between the two of them, but both horses were equally to blame, so there was no inquiry sign posted. We had the winner as a Best Bet at Turfdom, plus we had the exact finish of the trifecta listed in the correct order on our sheet. The exacta paid $32 for a $2 wager and the tri paid $24 for a $1 dollar wager. So now it’s on to the Belmont, where many of the Derby horses will be participating such as Angel of Empire, Forte, Tapit Trice, (who should love 12 furlongs), Raise Cain, and many others. They figure to have a field of at least 10. That is, if they don’t go crazy with the SCRATCHES.
FIXED ODDS WAGERING: Fixed odds wagering is off and running at Monmouth Park. New Jersey horse players have the luxury of wagering through pari-mutuel betting or fixed odds prior to post time. And on their opening Saturday card, 9 of the 10 races featured better payouts on the fixed odds than on the tote board with pari-mutuel wagering. Bettors in New Jersey can wager on fixed odds through their on line account at MonmouthBets.com, at the Jersey Shore track in person, or on their phones with a mobile app. If you’re betting on the horses these days, it’s all about finding the best value you can get for your wagers. MonmouthBets. Com is even offering a $50 signup bonus for new customers. I like living in California, but wagering in New Jersey has become very appealing.
BEST BETS: We really hate tooting our own horn, because when we do, this game has a way of coming back and biting you in the rear end. It’s just not that easy picking winners and showing an overall profit for a meet. If it was, everyone would be doing it. But we had an $18.20 winner as a Best Bet on Sunday, so we thought we would display our overall record since December 26, the start of the Santa Anita winter meet. Now anybody can show a profit with their Best Bets for a few weeks or even a couple of months, but to do it over a long period of time, like five months, is truly difficult. Our three star Best Bets since Dec. 26 show an ROI of a plus 9% through this past Sunday. Good, but nothing to get excited about. However, our Best Chance Bet, two stars, shows a plus ROI of 69%, and if you combine the two of them, it is a plus 39% for five months. Now I know you can’t make that type of money on your investments at the bank or the stock market. If I make 5 to 7% on my money through the markets, I’m a happy camper, and that’s with the help of a financial advisor. The following is a list of some of our Best Bet winners since Dec. 26. Irish Heatwave – $18.20, Sensible Move – $12.80, A Mor Rey – $17.80, Valiancer $9.60, Dancing Rinca – $9.20, Spirit of Makena – $10.60, Time to Party – $10.60, Vantastic – $8.40, Ancient Peace – $8.40, Thirsty – $8.00, Shocking Grey – $7.80, and Vantastic (again) – $7.60. We have had a positive ROI on our two Best Bets in 12 of the last 14 race meets at Santa Anita and Del Mar. Remember, it’s not bragging if you can back it up.