Santa Anita Horsemen: Get Out While You Still Can

I started to write this column a month ago but several friends said take it easy on Santa Anita after the Feb. 6 card was canceled. That amount of rain, they said, might have caused racing to be canceled at any track. But after the Feb. 27 program was scratched, it is time to say this: If you are a California trainer with an aspiring 3-year-old in your barn: GET OUT WHILE YOU STILL CAN!

First the Robert B. Lewis (gr. II) was postponed because the Pro-Ride synthetic track at Santa Anita would not drain properly after heavy rain. Then the Sham Stakes (gr. III) was delayed due to the same problem.

You didn't have to be Jay Leno to come up with the line that the only thing that was a sham at Santa Anita last weekend was the racing surface.
Trainers with horses they think might be good enough for a Triple Crown race should be on a plane for points east, be it Florida, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, or New York.

Or New Mexico. I agree completely with someone who suggested to me yesterday that the Sunland Derby (gr. III) will have a better field this year than the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I). A trainer can get a final prep over a dirt surface, which horses will run over at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Park for the Belmont Stakes (all gr. I).

As I wrote last week, this year the Sunland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico is worth a hefty $800,000 but more importantly is graded for the first time. The field for the Kentucky Derby is limited to 20 starters based on earnings in graded stakes.

Horse are not like a light switch where you flip it up and the lights come on and you flip it down and lights go off. Trainers point horses to certain races and trainers look at how many weeks are between races. Yes, trainers can adjust schedules, but that is not the preferred method of handling a horse.

As Steve Crist pointed out in a recent Daily Racing Form column, Santa Anita canceled four cards due to rain in its first 74 years of existence with a dirt track. The past three years, with a synthetic surface, 17 cards have been canceled.

By the way, the forecast is for 70% chance of rain at Santa Anita March 6, when the rescheduled Sham is to take place.


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