02/11/2010 12:00AM

Santa Anita roundup

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SYNTHETIC PREDICAMENTS

Seven weeks into the meet, track surface continues to dominate the news at Santa Anita. In heavy rain, the Pro-Ride synthetic surface does not drain, and racing is canceled. It has happened four times this winter, including another washout Feb. 6 caused by 3 1/2 inches of rain.

The latest cancellation postponed three key stakes - the Grade 1 Las Virgenes with Blind Luck, the Grade 2 Strub with Misremembered, and the Grade 2 Robert B. Lewis with American Lion and Tiz Chrome. All three will be run Saturday, Feb. 13.

While the "all-weather" surface at Santa Anita is cynically referred to as a "fair-weather" surface, California has hardly cornered the market on cancellations. In fact, inclement weather has interrupted racing and training from coast to coast, and a short postponement of three stakes at Santa Anita is only a minor inconvenience.

Drainage issues on Pro-Ride are not the only concern, however. Otherwise, the circuit would simply weather the storm, so to speak. Complications arise when handicappers and horsemen attempt the difficult task of analyzing performance. It is not easy on this surface, and the nuances of Pro-Ride are having such a profound influence on races that it is increasingly difficult to fashion reasonably objective performance analysis.

Mast Track is a good example. A Grade 1 winner training well at Hollywood Park for his initial start of the season, Mast Track finished sixth in the on Feb. 7. Was it a bad race by Mast Track? It sure looks that way.

Considering the track profile, however, Mast Track had an excuse - front-runners do not win route races on Pro-Ride no matter how slowly they go. Mast Track set the pace, went slowly (48.94 and 1:13.02), and got swallowed. It has happened all meet with two-turn front-runners.

Only four of the first 64 main-track routes (through Feb. 7) were won by a horse who led at every call. Mast Track became the 60th pacesetter to surrender in a two-turn race on Pro-Ride. It is possible Mast Track has lost a step. But handicappers must give him another chance next time on a surface that is less biased.

Richard's Kid, meanwhile, won the San Antonio with an amazing turn of foot rarely seen on any main track. Positioned last of 11 at the quarter pole and more than five lengths behind at the eighth pole, Richard's Kid uncorked a monster kick to win by a head.

Was it a good race? Of course it was. Does it mean Richard's Kid is a better horse than Mast Track? He certainly is better on Pro-Ride and Polytrack. Richard's Kid won the Pacific Classic last summer on the Polytrack surface at Del Mar. On dirt, or Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, it might be a different story.

The question facing Richard's Kid when he runs March 27 in the Dubai World Cup is simple. Can a last-to-first victory, by a head over a modest field, on a closers-friendly track at Santa Anita translate to victory against an international field on the all-weather Tapeta surface at Meydan?

The anti-speed profile also complicates evaluation of local 3-year-olds. Perhaps the workmanlike Jan. 16 win by front-runner Conveyance in the should be upgraded. Technically, he did not lead at every call (second by a head at the quarter pole). But he did it the hard way, racing up front. Conveyance won despite running against the grain.

The pace dilemma is revisited Saturday in the rescheduled Robert B. Lewis. Tiz Chrome (2-1) and American Lion (5-2) were original program favorites. They are front-runners/pressers who have never run two turns. Early this week, trainer Bob Baffert toyed with the idea of shipping speedster Tiz Chrome to a dirt race. If he runs two turns at Santa Anita, Tiz Chrome will run smack into a track bias that taints two-turn races.

WHO'S HOT

Leading jockey Rafael Bejarano went 10 for 24 during the shortened week. Bejarano is winning at a 24 percent rate (39 for 161). Garrett Gomez and Victor Espinoza each had 27 wins, and Joel Rosario dropped to fourth with 24 wins. Trainer Bob Baffert won 2 of 9, including the San Antonio with Richard's Kid. Baffert entered the week with a 15-14 edge over John Sadler, who also won 2 of 9.

Trainer Jorge Gutierrez and owner-breeder Ben Warren won two races Feb. 4 - Warren's Jitterbug ($4.40) won a maiden turf route, followed by first-time starter Warrens Bigthunder ($48.20) in a $32,000 maiden-claiming sprint. Warren said it was the first time he had won two in day. The $48.20 upset by Warrens Bigthunder was the "Jackpot of the Week" and reaffirmed Silvio Amador as a top longshot jockey. Gutierrez, private trainer for Warren, has 5 wins and 6 seconds from 35 starters, mostly high prices.

Favorites continue to dominate 5 1/2-furlong races on Pro-Ride, winning at a 50-percent clip. When maiden-claimer Franjelica ($7.60) won Feb. 7, she increased the chalk-fest to 11 for 22.

The "Most Likely Repeater" award goes to Feb. 5 winner Blake, who toyed with $75,000 maiden-claimers Feb. 3, cruising by more than four lengths after setting a fast pace. The Vladimir Cerin-trained son of Eurosilver earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 88 and can fire right back against winners. For those keeping score, two MLRs have run back - Ventana finished second in a stakes at 11.50-1; Welken returned to win at $4. Four other MLRs have not run back - A Jealous Woman, Espresso Springs, Rose Catherine, and Red Sun.

WHO'S NOT

The Program won a first-level allowance route for 3-year-olds Feb. 3, a win that normally would warrant a shot in a stakes. But the race won by The Program was low-rated (77 Beyer) and went in 1:44.64 for 1 1/16 miles. On the plus side, the final five-sixteenths was run in a blazing 29.52 seconds. The Program was another slow-early, fast-late route winner that handicappers can go ahead and knock. Doesn't mean they will be right.

Graded stakes winner Pasar Silbano was scratched from the Wishing Well Handicap on Feb. 6 and will be sidelined three months. Trainer Jim Cassidy said a nuclear scan revealed a small fracture to a hock.

Have disrupted training schedules led to increased chaos, or is it a statistical aberration that favorites are winning fewer sprints than normal? From Jan. 15 to Feb. 7, favorites in sprint races at six furlongs and beyond are 8 for 52, a win rate of 16 percent that is half the norm.

CREAM OF CROP RANKINGS

Santa Anita Derby

1. Lookin At Lucky, 2. Blind Luck, 3. Tiz Chrome, 4. Make Music for Me, 5. American Lion, 6.oCaracortado, 7. Setsuko, 8. Alphie's Bet, 9. Kettle River, 10. Interactif.

Lookin At Lucky worked three furlongs Feb. 9, his first breeze since overcoming a minor illness. There are no concerns from trainer Bob Baffert, who plans to give the champion 2-year-old of 2009 only two starts before the Kentucky Derby. Blind Luck runs Feb. 13 in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes. Tiz Chrome and American Lion also run Feb. 13 in the Grade 2 Lewis. No changes on the list.

Santa Anita Handicap

1. Misremembered, 2. Neko Bay, 3. Zenyatta, 4.oRichard's Kid, 5. Life Is Sweet, 6. Dakota Phone, 7.oPhilatelist, 8. Rendezvous, 9. Pick Six, 10. Mast Track.

Mast Track drops to number 10. His disappointing comeback in the San Antonio showed that his front-running style is wrong for the Santa Anita main track. One idea for John Shirreffs-trained Mast Track is the Oaklawn Park Handicap on April 3, same day as the Apple Blossom, which Zenyatta will target. Richard's Kid won the San Antonio but is likely to skip the Big Cap. Misremembered is expected to start favored Saturday in the Strub Stakes.

HORSES TO WATCH

Blake

Trainer: Vladimir Cerin

Last race: Feb. 3, 1st

Finish: 1st by 4 1/4

A first-time starter from a stable that rarely wins first out, this 3-year-old by Eurosilver dominated a $75,000 maiden claimer with a huge number (88 Beyer Speed Figure). He cruised to the front, widened late, and won easily. He can win right back in a first-level allowance or sprint stakes.

Prince Rexy

Trainer: Neil Drysdale

Last race: Feb. 3, 3rd

Finish: 6th by 4 1/2

Making his first start in more than 15 months and first since being gelded, this lightly raced 6-year-old raced at the back of the field in a turf sprint, took hold late, finished with run, and galloped out in front of the field. This was a super prep race by the 3-for-5 Australian import eligible to a three-other-than. He can run long or short.

Cosset

Trainer: Bill Mott

Last race: Feb. 4, 6th

Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4

A 3-year-old filly making her career debut in a grass route, this Juddmonte-owned daughter of Mizzen Mast acquitted herself well. She broke running and showed surprising speed, seemed green and uncertain on the far turn when she apparently began to retreat, but her jockey Brice Blanc kept busy and the filly fought back between horses to hold the place spot behind the winning favorite. This was a good start to a career.

Licoricewhip

Trainer: Jerry Fanning

Last race: Feb. 5, 4th

Finish: 6th by 7 1/4

A low-level maiden claimer, this older gelding was eliminated when he broke poorly, his head hit the starting gate, and was away well behind the field. He dropped out of it by 19 lengths and was completely out of the race until the stretch, but he finished with run and probably was best in the maiden-25 route. He can win next time with a clean start.