A trio of familiar entities will be missing from Santa Anita when it inaugurates a new season Friday. Two are addition by subtraction. The other is not so positive.
The change that will be celebrated most by racing fans is a promise by new executive director of California racing Aidan Butler, who has decreed that post drags are a thing of the past.
Besides being annoying, the drags have outlived their usefulness. Fans have become savvy that races will go off five to six minutes past post and behave accordingly.
Even TVG cuts to commercial breaks when it is listed post time, confident there is plenty of time to come back for the live race.
Ideally, there will be no dropoff in handle and Gulfstream will soon follow suit. We do live with our dreams.
Also gone is the roulette bet, which put horses into three groups, labeled red, black and green. For betting purposes, it turned every race into essentially a three-horse heat. This was the worst gambit since NYRA’s Grand Slam. I have never met a soul who played the Grand Slam. A lot of simulcast sites don’t even bother handling it. But NYRA is pig-headed and refuses to jettison it.
Racing roulette was a not well thought out bid to attract fans familiar with casino games but not handicapping horses. It nothing else, the hope was the easier to hit bet would increase churn. But the pools were so absurdly low, there was little to churn.
The Stronach Group didn’t help by infrequently and not predictably displaying the odds. Maybe this was because two of the three props were odds-on as often as not. Hopefully, Gulfstream, which copied Santa Anita, will also follow suit with this change.
The negative deletions is the 6 1/2-furlong downhill turf races, the most picturesque events in American racing. Alas, they have fallen victim to the hysteria over the horse deaths last season, even though it was never proven or seriously contended that these races were any more dangerous than a sprint on the main track.
Supposedly this decision will be reconsidered in advance of the winter meeting. Let’s hope saner heads prevail.
‘Code gets’ his big chance
A big bauble, in addition to the bulk of the $750,000 purse, is hanging on the finish line of Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup. Code of Honor gets what is probably the final chance for any 3-year-old to vault over Maximum Security for divisional honors.
Beyond this weekend, the only stakes for sophomores significant enough to change the pecking order is the Breeders’ Cup Classic and none of the top tier candidates have indicated an intention to go to Santa Anita on Nov. 2.
Country House and Sir Winston, the official Kentucky Derby and Belmont winners, respectively, have gone to the sidelines. It would be almost cruel to send Preakness champion War of Will, who obviously needs a vacation. The second jewel of the Triple Crown is his only win in his last six starts and it came with a perfect trip against one of the shallower fields in Preakness history.
Streaking Mr. Money had his bubble burst in deep stretch of the Pennsylvania Derby. Four Grade 3 wins in a row dresses up a resume but doesn’t win Eclipse Awards. He might make a final longshot bid in the BC Classic.
Math Wizard, upset winner of the Pennsylvania Derby, appears to be headed out west but even another toteboard-rocker in the BC Classic would probably not be enough for an Eclipse. Nor should it be.
Adding the JCGC against mostly older foes to his Travers laurels, Code of Honor could become the only 3-year-old other than Maximum Security to win a pair of Grade 1 races. In their only two meetings, Maximum Security outran Code of Honor in Louisville, as well as the Florida Derby. However, Code of Honor was given a better finish by the Churchill Downs stewards.
Shug McGaughey has been hedging on whether Code of Honor will show up in California after the JCGC. Shug’s history leans toward a no-go. Owner William Farish says he would back that decision, no matter what is at stake.
Would a Travers-JCGC-Cigar Mile–the latter has been mentioned by Shug as a potential late season target–put Code of Honor over the top? Possibly.
Maximum Security could match that with a score in the Clark Handicap if he doesn’t make the Classic. Jason Servis has mentioned the Thanksgiving weekend stakes as a possibility.
If nothing else we could have a spirited debate at the end of the year. Nothing wrong with that.
First Code of Honor has to get the job done Saturday. The five-horse field won’t be one of the storied stakes’ most celebrated but it is well credentialed. A couple of other Grade 1 winners—Vino Rosso and Preservationist—are expected to be in the starting gate as well as Wood Memorial hero Tacitus, who has developed a knack for hitting the board in big races without finding the winner’s circle. Severely over-matched Olympic Village is filler.
Easy task for McKinzie
McKinzie has an easier task in his final BC Classic prep, Santa Anita’s Awesome Again. His five challengers would have to run career bests to warm him up but he would be a short price against the JCGC field, too.
He beat the main older Grade 1 winners facilely in the Whitney. Unless he stumbles this weekend, he’ll be a short price again on his home course in the BC Classic.
Beldame a workout for Bisou
When it comes to short prices, the only question in Saturday’s co-featured Beldame is how low the odds can go on Midnight Bisou? She’s a perfect six-for-six in 2019. (Monomoy Girl taking the year off could be a factor.)
Too bad Midnight Bisou’s people didn’t opt to take a shot against the males in the JCGC. She would have had a legitimate shot and a loss wouldn’t have hurt her status in her own division. Worst case, she would be turning back in the BC Distaff.
Fact is it was probably the mile and a quarter of the JCGC more than the competition that dissuaded them. As for the Beldame, the connections of what would have been Midnight Bisou’s most formidable rival, Elate, have seen enough of her. She’s going to the Spinster next weekend at Keeneland.
What’s more, Elate’s trainer, Bill Mott, is talking about also ducking Midnight Bisou in the nine-furlong BC Distaff and going instead in the Classic. Mott is not only a master at training horses, just like McGaughey he’s superb at managing their careers. The mile-and-a-quarter of the Classic is more to Elate’s liking and possibly a tad beyond McKinzie’s ideal distance.
Barring the unexpected Saturday, Midnight Bisou will be a shorter price in the BC Distaff than McKinzie is in the Classic.