Before touching on a great weekend of racing, let me start out by stating six sweet words that should have racing fans around the nation jumping for joy:
Santa Anita is returning to dirt.
It's the best news we've heard from the California racing industry in a decade. Sure there are a few California-based trainers that prefer the disastrous Cushion Track/Pro-Ride concoction that has occupied the legendary track for the last few years, but believe me, the majority of the horsemen in California, as well as racing fans around the country, are thrilled with the decision by Frank Stronach to end the synthetic experiment. I'm sorry it took this long, but kudos to Stronach for making the right decision.
We could debate the synthetic vs. dirt argument for days, but these are the facts: A) Handicappers prefer dirt, B) Despite the research, there has been no proof that synthetics are safer than dirt for horses, C) The Cushion Track/Pro-Ride at Santa Anita has been a problem from the very start, D) East Coast horsemen don't like to run their horses over synthetics and are more likely to ship horses to Santa Anita now that it is returning to dirt, E) The Breeders' Cup is better off being run on real dirt for a number of reasons, and F) Dirt racing is a truer test of horses' real talent.
Returning Santa Anita to dirt is not the end of California's racing problems, not by a longshot. The Oak Tree-to-Hollywood mess is disturbing, as are the consistent small fields due to a declining horse population in the state, the industry's financial woes, lack of leadership, and the waning enthusiasm for the sport in general.
But make no mistake: This was a huge first step.
Before I get into the star-studded Alabama, which along with the Whitney may be the race of the summer, let me first say this: Win or lose, I commend Jerry Hollendorfer and the connections of Blind Luck for taking the 3-year-old filly on such an ambitious campaign. Hollendorfer, who for some asinine reason that nobody can explain is not in the Hall of Fame, has taken his star filly to five different racetracks in six races this year, showcasing her all over the country for fans everywhere to see. Imagine that.
Hollendorfer is someone that gets it. As he told me yesterday, the lack of 3-year-old filly races in California is a major reason why he decided to take Blind Luck on such an ambitious nationwide campaign, but he also does not back down from competition. He feels that he has the best 3-year-old filly in the nation and has set out to prove it--on the racetrack. Not by hiding her in California and taking the easy path. He wants a champion and he knows the best way to do it is to beat Devil May Care head-to-head--even if he has to fly over the Rockies and have her out of his barn for a few days to do it. He is a real sportsman.
Anyway, I wouldn't be disappointed if Blind Luck won the Alabama but I am not picking her. As I said on That Handicapping Show, I simply think Devil May Care is a little bit better. She also has the advantage of having two wins over the track and is probably better suited for 10 furlongs. The way she won her last two races was ridiculous.
For value, I will use Havre de Grace in my exacta. The improving Tony Dutrow filly was beaten a nose by Blind Luck in the Delaware Oaks and before that beaten a neck by another terrific 3YO filly, No Such Word. She is getting good and if she improves even a little, can pull an upset here.
Because I have already rambled on too long, I will keep my Arlington picks very brief. I like Tazeez to pull the upset in the Arlington Million, with Gio Ponti and Tajaaweed filling out my exacta; Hot Cha Cha in the Beverly D., with Acoma to hit the board; and a Paddy O'Prado/Wigmore Hall exacta box in the Secretariat.
Good luck everyone. Who do you like?