08/19/2010 3:33PM

Real Derby Preps Once More


One of the great things about Santa Anita going back to a dirt main track is what it does for the Southern California route to the Kentucky Derby.

You can debate all you want how much impact Santa Anita's Derby preps had the last three years when they were run on a synthetic surface, or if they even had any impact at all. The point is, now that races like the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe, the Sham, and others will be run on dirt - the same surface the Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown races are run on - there will no longer be a need for a California-based 3-year-old to flee his home base to get some experience on dirt before Derby Day. Now, with Santa Anita going back to dirt, it is hard to envision the Southern California route to the Derby being anything other than the viable and vital course it was before the synthetic track experiment.

GunBow More than 1 year ago
There is no question that the Pro-Ride surface forced many a good California horse to flee Santa Anita's prep program, as reflected in the fact that Cali shippers won all 3 of the Arkansas Derbys since Santa Anita went synthetic, as well as the 09' Wood, 09' Gotham, 09' Sunland Derby, 10' Rebel, 10' Southwest, and 10' Illinois Derby. Had all these horses remained in SoCal, races like the San Felipe, Bob Lewis, and SA Derby could have been stronger. However, the trend of Cali based 3 year olds shippeding out of town for preps is something that pre-dates synthetics, as the names Congaree, Lion Heart, Peace Rules, Medalgia d' Oro, Fusaichi Pegasus, Ten Most Wanted, Irgun, Olympio, Silver Ending and many other attest. There have always been too many good 3 year olds based in SoCal for the limited number of preps, forcing many to journey to other tracks. As for the impact of the Santa Anita Derby on the Triple Crown the last 3 years(since synthetics were installed), it is true that the Santa Anita Derby did not produce a Kentucky Derby winner during this span. Of course, between 2000 and 2007, the SA Derby only produced one Kentucky Derby winner, Giacomo in 2005, from what most handicappers considered a poor SA Derby field. In fact, the fields for the SA Derbys from 02-07, on dirt, weren't exactly vintage. Thus, it's hard to claim that the change to synthetic significantly weakened the fields for the SA Derby, given the fields over the last 3 years were as good as those the previous 6. Keep in mind, the 08' Santa Anita Derby winner, Colonel John, went on to win the Travers on dirt, 09' SA Derby winner Pioneer of the Nile ran 2nd in Kentucky, and 10' SA Derby 3rd place finisher, Lookin at Lucky, has won the Preakness and Haskell. Synthetic track and all, the Santa Anita Derby continued to feature top class 3 year olds, and any improvement with dirt will likely be marginal. One thing is certain, however, the change back to dirt will make it alot easier for handicappers to assess the Cali contenders for the Triple Crown(example Sidney's Candy, clearly a very good turf and synthetic horse but mediocre on dirt). And while other reasons for SoCal trainers to ship out for preps will continue to exist, they no longer will have to ship out before the Derby JUST to find out if their horse can handle dirt.
markinsac More than 1 year ago
I can understand you people's disdain for synthetics. But the art of handicapping is getting an edge or jump on the other bettors. When the synthetics first arrived, stretch runners started winning at a much higher rate than dirt. If you were ahead of the curve, you made money. Santa Anita and Golden Gate were my most profitable tracks. Bettors' love of front runners made them that way. The curve is now over. Bettors now back closers and the closers aren't winning at such a high rate because the jockeys are setting such a slow pace, the front runners have caught up to the stretch runners (if that makes sense). My question is: Aren't we at the track to make money? If all the tracks are the same and we all bet them the same way, how do we beat the 20% takeout?
molinel More than 1 year ago
I'll bet Zenyatta's glad she's retiring before the dirt track hits !!!
John S. More than 1 year ago
Does that mean Bay Meadows is coming back! The California Horse Racing Board should be disbanded.
Brian More than 1 year ago
I couldn't agree more. A great racetrack like Santa Anita deserves to have a main track that is dirt, NOT artificial junk. What a terrible call by the California Horse Racing Board to mandate the fake stuff in the first place, without sufficient studies being done. Talk about a knee-jerk reaction!! I second the "thank you" to Mr. Stronach for returning to dirt. Santa Anita can once again become a host to top-class racing, with a REAL main track. Can't wait for opening day on Dec. 26th!
RICHIE B More than 1 year ago
Thank you Mr Stronach. Now if we can find someone to buy him out of California and Florida tracks, racing might really start making a comeback. He has done more to destroy racing in the last few years than any person or group.
Deb Giglio More than 1 year ago
When Laz Barerra brought Affirmed to the West Coast in 1978 to train for the Kentucky Derby, he inaugurated a new era in California winter/spring racing by returning with the winner of the Derby, Preakness and Belmont...the Triple Crown! Seemingly overnight, the 3 year old racing program at Santa Anita suddenly became Kentucky Derby Preps and the crowds returned to the track in force. Long lines of young and old fans waited outside the Burbank printing press of the Daily Racing Form and numerous liquor stores from Walnut Creek to Carlsbad until 10 or 11 pm the night before that first Saturday in May so they could buy their "Form", spend the night handicapping the races at Churchill Downs and fully participate in the new Holy Grail. From Affirmed in 1978 to Giacomo in 2005, California training produced 12 Derby winners (I did not include War Emblem or Thunder Gulch), 8 second place and 8 third place finishers. Unfortunately, with the installation of synthetic tracks, the only California trained 1-2-3 finisher in the Kentucky Derby from 2006 to 2010 was Pionner of the Nile. His gallant battle for 2nd place seemed dramatic enough until you realized that the winner (Mine That Bird) was many lengths the best. Derby fever in CA fell off dramamticaly along with shrinking racetrack attendance, slower fractions and lackluster final times. Now, with the dirt track coming back to SA in time for the big winter/spring meet, the isolation may end and Californians can again look forward to the chances of CA trained horses in the Derby preps and Triple Crown races, reminding anyone who may not know that the last Triple Crown winner was trained in California!
Dave More than 1 year ago
After seeing Stronach in action for lo, these many years, it wouldn't surprise me if not getting his way, he picks up his toys and goes home. Welcome to The Santa Anita Mall!
Derby 134 More than 1 year ago
It seems nobody is putting the blame where it belongs-Richard Shapiro. He as chairman of the CHRB at the time, pushed for the installation of synthetics and then w/o any kind of long term study,mandated it. I'd love to see the 3Calif tracks sue Shapiro for installation of dirt tracks. It would prove the old saying, "What goes around comes around".
Laffit More than 1 year ago
2011, its time to make some real money!!! Like old times-real dirt racing.