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Oak Tree roundup
Trainers Bob Baffert and John Sadler have drawn clear at Oak Tree, with 13 and 12 wins. Just to prove that sometimes when you're hot you're also lucky, Sadler's 12th winner, Ishmael, requires an asterisk. The odds-on favorite in race 1 on Oct. 22, Ishmael clipped heels after the start of the sprint. Track stewards ruled it was the horse who finished first, Cat Calloway, that shifted in and caused the incident, although it appeared third-place finisher Running Bear drifted out and was mostly responsible. Cat Calloway was disqualified while the Sadler-trained runner-up was moved up on a call that was dubious at best.
Mike Mitchell won two races and climbed to third in the standings with eight winners. His odds-on filly Raiding Party made her third start in 16 days and won a turf claimer Sunday. Trainer A.C. Avila, king of in-the-money longshots (seven runner-up finishes this meet), continued his first-off-the-claim hot streak. Kalookan Storm paid $20.40 on Oct. 25 winning a Cal-bred turf allowance, as bettors failed to recall recent Avila first-off-the-claim winners Magic for Magic ($43.40) on Aug. 26 and Coatcheck Girl ($10.40) on Aug. 14.
"Who's Hot" honorable mention goes to jockey Alonso Quinonez for a cool ride Oct. 23 on comeback maiden winner Seedless, whose $8 payoff might be the juiciest low-odds overlay of the meet.
A tough week for apprentice jockey Cosme Rivera only got worse. In race 6 on Oct. 22, he was trailing the field on longshot Tactical Talent and was unable to keep his mount on a straight path. When Rivera hit the horse right-handed, he veered inward and careened into the rail. One day later on Oct. 23, Rivera was bumped hard at the start of race 4, he bailed out and landed hard and was sent to the sideline with a dislocated right elbow.
The outstanding sports writer Rick Reilly took a stab at race calling when he filled in for track announcer Trevor Denman Oct. 24 in race 1. The publicity stunt was filmed and will be televised later. It is discouraging that an untrained celebrity is invited to call a race at a major track. It cheapens the game and creates a circus atmosphere.
Uncharacteristic autumn doldrums have hit the jockey colony. Victor Espinoza entered the week 5 for 74; David Flores was 4 for 43. Several top trainers also have a case of the "slows," including Rafael Becerra (1 for 25), Richard Mandella (1 for 22), and Peter Miller (0 for 18).
Small fields in mile races on Pro-Ride (7.2 starters per race) have decreased wagering value. Favorites won seven of the first 12; only two winners paid double digits; the high payoff was $12.20. That's what happens when field size decreases. The bad gambling is the product of a horse inventory stretched thin.
It seems California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is out to kill racing. He recently signed legislation that allows a tax increase on bettors that could lift the takeout rate to as high as 25 percent. Thankfully, the California Horse Racing Board has too much sense to allow such an exorbitant increase. California racing is already on life support. If a takeout increase is allowed, they might as well pull the plug.
The anti-speed profile has tempered somewhat, but these Pro-Ride sprint facts (through Sunday, Oct. 25) are worth considering.
At 5 1/2 furlongs, pacesetters are 0 for 16.
At six furlongs, pacesetters are 5 for 37.
At 6 1/2 furlongs, pacesetters are 0 for 19.
At seven furlongs, pacesetters are 0 for 12.
That's 5 for 84 overall, a win percent under 6 percent for pacesetting sprinters. But it's weird, because horses positioned right behind the leaders won many of those sprints. It is not accurate to call it an anti-speed bias. Strange.
Speed is holding well around two turns, due mostly to slow fractions.
The top two stables hold strong hands in six-furlong stakes this weekend. John Sadler-trained 2-year-old colt Privilaged is among the likely contenders in the $58,000 Jack Goodman on Saturday. Bob Baffert is expected to start impressive maiden winner Crisis of Spirit and allowance closer Miss Heather Lee in the $58,000 Anoakia for 2-year-old fillies on Sunday.
The Breeders' Cup will be held next weekend, Nov. 6-7. The six BC races Friday are expected to include Mastery (Marathon), House of Grace (Juvenile Fillies Turf), Informed Decision (Filly and Mare Sprint), Blind Luck (Juvenile Fillies), Forever Together (Filly and Mare Turf), and Music Note (Ladies' Classic). The eight BC races Saturday may include Gallant Gent (Juvenile Turf), Noble Court (Turf Sprint), Neko Bay (Dirt Mile), Lookin at Lucky (Juvenile), Goldikova (Mile), Zensational (Sprint), Dar Re Mi (Turf), and Zenyatta (Classic).
Racing fans that missed rock band Berlin when it opened for Pat Benatar at Fairplex Park last month have a second chance Saturday at Santa Anita. Berlin and dynamite female vocalist Terri Nunn play the Santa Anita infield. Nunn still belts it at age 48.
WORKOUT OF THE WEEK
It must have been a good workout by Breeders' Cup Classic candidate Regal Ransom, because Oak Tree clocker John Malone rarely hands out "breezing" designations. He did for Regal Ransom, who was impressive working five furlongs Oct. 26 at Santa Anita in 58.40, breezing.
The solo workout under jockey Richard Migliore took place in the dark at 5:15 a.m., and apparently, the drill was as good as the final time.
"I couldn't get him to go any slower," Migliore said.
While the drill was not necessarily an endorsement of his chances to hold off Zenyatta in the BC Classic, it proved Regal Ransom handles the surface.
"I'd be surprised if he didn't," Migliore said. "I'd be real surprised."
RETIREMENT OF THE WEEK
Black Mamba made her final start in Kentucky, but California will lay claim to the durable Grade 1 winner that was the yardstick of the West Coast female turf division over the past three summers. Now 6, Black Mamba went out the same way she came in, with a clear-cut victory.
Bred in New Zealand, Black Mamba raced mostly in Southern California, and won her U.S. debut on Aug. 5, 2007, in a first-level allowance at Del Mar. That was two years, 20 starts, and six wins ago. And on Oct. 25 at Keeneland, Black Mamba won her finale in the Dowager Stakes. It was seventh win from 30 starts. Her record for Sadler was 20-6-6-4 with earnings of $980,763.
"We raced her for three years. She does not know how to run a bad race," Sadler said. "She was just a hard-knocker. We're going to miss her a lot, that's a big hole to fill."
ALIBI OF THE WEEK
Kelly Leak, a good 3-year-old based in California, is a better horse than he showed Oct. 11 at Remington Park, where he finished sixth in the $400,000 Oklahoma Derby. He returned home the following morning and, sure enough, spiked a 104-degree fever that explains his effort.
Trainer Mike Machowsky said he believes the colt is better on grass than on the main track and expects to gear him up for a winter campaign that could start Dec. 26 in the Sir Beaufort for 3-year-olds at one mile on grass. Kelly Leak, winner of the productive Sunland Derby in spring, has won three races and $731,890 from 11 starts. He is a half-brother to graded stakes winning turf runner Dr. Park.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: David Hofmans
Last race: Oct. 23, 5th
Finish: 2nd by 1/2
A good-looking Theatrical filly, this first-time starter ran to expectations in a super debut that stamps her as a likely next-out maiden winner. Bet to 5-2 off a string of flashy works, she settled midfield in the turf sprint, angled outside for the drive, finished with run, and galloped out super past the wire. The 4-year-old was on her toes and brimming with confidence as she walked off the track. Expectations will be high and her odds will be low when she faces maiden fillies and mares second time out at Hollywood Park.
Trainer: Julio Canani
Last race: Oct. 23, 7th
Finish: 7th by 3 1/4
Favored at 5-2 and dropping into a N2X on turf, this improving filly ran much better than the line looks. She tucked just off the pace and was launching her kick at the head of the stretch when the hole she was going for suddenly closed. She checked, lost her momentum, got trapped behind runners the length of the stretch, and never had a chance to run. She will show up in a similar turf allowance at Hollywood, where she already has two wins.
Trainer: Howard Zucker
Last race: Oct. 24, 4th
Finish: 2nd by 1/2
Country-music singer Toby Keith owns this 2-year-old colt by Songandaprayer, who finally turned things around third time out. He switched trainers after two futile efforts and finally woke up in his third. He shot to the lead, set fast fractions over a track that produced quick times, and finished a creditable second behind well-regarded debut winner Majestic Afleet. Wayman should like the speed-friendly Hollywood surface when he faces maiden sprinters early in the fall meet.
A Royal Tizzy
Trainer: Jeff Mullins
Last race: Oct. 22, 5th
Finish: 1st by 2 3/4
A bottom-level claiming 3-year-old, this gray won clear in fast time (1:09.20) while earning a 92 Beyer Speed Figure that suggests he might handle a class raise. Mullins tends to aggressively place his claiming stock, so even if he shows up at the same $10,000 claiming level he will be tough right back.