Updated on 09/17/2011 8:51PM

Big Cap program gets bigger purses

Benoit & Associates
Garrett Gomez upset Sunday's Daytona Handicap aboard Royal Place.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Santa Anita is increasing purses for the seven overnight races on the March 5 Santa Anita Handicap program in an effort to attract full fields. Purses will be increased by as much as 34 percent.

A maiden race for 3-year-olds over 6 1/2 furlongs is being offered at $59,000. The same race was offered on Feb. 12 with a purse of $44,000. A two-other-than optional claimer over seven furlongs will have a purse of $67,000. The same race Feb. 9 had a purse of $52,000.

The March 5 program also features four stakes; the purses of those races have not been changed.

Ron Charles, who heads Magna Entertainment's California tracks, said the increase is part of an arrangement with the California Marketing Committee, which administers a fund intended to promote racing. It receives money from a portion of handle from offtrack betting.

"We want to make our big days better," Charles said. "The eyes of racing are on us, and it's a chance to showcase our best horses and large fields."

Last year, the Santa Anita Handicap program had 11 races with an average field size of 10.1 runners.

Even though it is only for one day, the purse increase is positive news on a subject that has been a source of disappointment over the last two years. In January 2004, Santa Anita announced a 6.5 percent purse cut because of poor handle. The reduction has never been fully restored.

Three sneak in quick works

Taking advantage of a brief break in the weather, the stakes winners Chandtrue, Hasty Kris, and Musique Toujours were given workouts in the early afternoon Sunday.

Chandtrue, the unbeaten winner of three stakes, worked five furlongs in 59.19 seconds before the first race. Trained by Bob Hess Jr. for Harold Greene, Chandtrue is preparing for a start in the $150,000 Swale Stakes over seven furlongs at Gulfstream Park on March 5. The race is expected to draw Lost in the Fog, the exciting winner of the Sunshine Millions Dash over that track on Jan. 29.

Chandtrue has not started since winning the Hollywood Juvenile Championship over six furlongs last July at Hollywood Park. He won two other sprint stakes last spring and summer, the Willard Proctor Memorial and the Haggin Stakes.

"We decided to give him more time because of his immaturities and partly because of the wet weather," Hess said.

Hasty Kris worked six furlongs in 1:11.80. He is nominated for Saturday's $150,000 San Carlos Handicap over seven furlongs.

Musique Toujours, the upset winner of the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 29, worked seven furlongs in 1:23.80. He is a candidate for the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on March 5.

Musique Toujours is one of nine candidates for the Santa Anita Handicap. The other probable starters are Borrego, Congrats, Imperialism, Lundy's Liability, Rock Hard Ten, Saint Liam, Supah Blitz, and Truly a Judge.

Hasty Kris and Musique Toujours are trained by John Sadler.

The workouts came just in time. By the fifth race Sunday, steady rain was falling.

The wet weather had a devastating effect on field sizes over the weekend. On Saturday, 25 horses were scratched from 10 races. Sunday, 16 horses were withdrawn from nine races.

Gomez regaining top form

Garrett Gomez is sixth in the jockey standings at Santa Anita with 21 wins, three of which came in stakes. More important to him, he has regained a balance in his life after struggling with substance abuse in recent years.

Gomez returned from a nearly two-year absence in September, and is now back in his best form. He won his third stakes of the meeting Sunday, when Royal Place pulled an upset in the Daytona Handicap for sprinters. Royal Place rallied from fourth along the rail to win by a length.

"I kind of waited on him," Gomez said. "At the three-eighths pole, he came up underneath me and I asked him to pick it up. I was worried the track was speed-favoring. I thought I'd have trouble getting to them, but he hit another gear. He's a cool horse. He's got some game in him."

Gomez credits the time spent with his wife, Pam, and their two children with helping his ongoing recovery. Unlike years ago, he said, he tries to separate racing from his home life.

"I feel good," he said. "I don't get caught up in my work. I try to enjoy life."

Gomez still attends substance-abuse meetings. In addition, he must regularly check in with California Horse Racing Board investigators and undergo testing.

"On my days off, I try to spend it with my family," he said. "I think when I was riding before, I made it my whole life. Don't get me wrong, I love my job."

Champ finds new life as pony

That was no ordinary pony accompanying race winner Dig For It to the start of Saturday's seventh race. It was Kona Gold, the champion sprinter of 2000.

Since his retirement in 2003, Kona Gold, 11, has been retrained to be a pony and to work with trainer Bruce Headley's young horses. Now based at Pomona with Headley's second string, Kona Gold made his racetrack debut Saturday.

Headley plans for Kona Gold to make only sporadic racetrack appearances, accompanying some of his horses to the start.