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Santa Anita Makes the Grade

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A beautiful Saturday afternoon at Santa Anita. (LAist/Jimmy Bramlett)
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This was the first Saturday of the Autumn Meet for Santa Anita with the only clouds seen were thunderheads peeking out from behind the San Gabriel Mountains. With the food truck festival on the infield and an 80’s cover band playing to the customers of the Ragin’ Cajun, Grilled Cheese Truck, et al., the mercury got up to 92 degrees with customers taking shelter under the few bits of shade afforded. But that wasn’t the only place where things got fiery.

It also got heated on the track of the Great Race Place that featured the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Day: four Grade I races where the winners got automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic held on Nov. 4 and 5 at Churchill Downs.

Take the first “Win and You’re In” Challenge Race, the $250,000 Grade I Norfolk Stakes. In a slight upset Creative Cause took the race over 3-5 favorite Drill ridden by Martin Garcia. After the race, Drill’s trainer Bob Baffert could be seen at the finish line loudly telling Garcia what he thought.

“I think he just rode him with too much confidence and had him back there,” Baffert said after the race. “He rode him like it was a synthetic race.”

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Baffert did have to concede one point though. “The horse that won, he’s a really good horse.”

Mike Harrington, trainer of Creative Cause, agreed.

“He won a Grade II, he ran second in a Grade I, he won a Grade I. Yeah, he’s the best horse I’ve ever had.”

Don’t feel bad for the white-maned Baffert, however. He had two horses in Race 7, the $250,000 Grade I Goodwood Stakes: Game On Dude ridden by Chantal Sutherland and Coil also ridden by Garcia. While the obvious story would have been Coil to win, but Game on Dude took the early lead and hung on to win by a half-length. Sutherland gave credit to an outside force.

“I could hear Trevor Denman through the stretch, and I knew it was getting tighter and tighter,” Sutherland said. “I couldn’t see who was coming, but Trevor helped push me on.”

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In light of his press conference after the Norfolk Stakes, Baffert became outright puzzling after the Goodwood.

“I like a rider that has a lot of confidence in a horse,” Baffert said. So he likes a lot of confidence but not too much confidence.

Perhaps the most surprising result on the track happened during the Grade I Lady’s Secret Stakes. Coming into the race with a 12-7-2 record and never finishing out of the money, Blind Luck was the clear favorite. Whether fair or unfair, she was always compared with Zenyatta.

The comparison seemed appropriate out of the gate when Blind Luck started in the back of the pack. There she stayed around the first turn, the halfway point and the final turn.

Coming out of the final turn, the final straightaway saw Zenyatta at her most brilliant. Unfortunately for Blind Luck, there was no such brilliance. Blind Luck remained in the rear and finished 19 lengths behind Zazu and finishing out of the money for the first time in 22 starts.

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“I couldn’t keep up,” Blind Luck rider Garrett Gomez said. “That’s pretty much it.”

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer took the blame when asked if anything was wrong with her.

“I don’t know - bad training job.”

The clear winner of the day was jockey Joel Rosario who also rode Dubawi Heights to a Grade I Yellow Ribbon Stakes win on the 1 ¼ mile turf track by ¾ length. That gave him three wins out of four in the “Win and You’re In” races.

“I don’t think I’ve ever won three Grade I’s in one day,” Rosario remarked. “When you’re in a race you never know what can happen.”

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It really was a remarkable day of racing. It had been a couple of years since I stepped foot in the historic Santa Anita Park. But with the races being presented and the food truck fest, it’s hard to turn down that invitation.

However I made a big error. Given the rain we had on Friday, I assumed it would be a cool day. Without checking the weather reports I donned a dark green long-sleeved shirt. By the time I got to Santa Anita, I was sweating through my shirt.

Of course I decided not to drive opting to take public transportation. Through my own stupidity I missed a couple of connections and had to wait, but from the Artesia Transit Center off the 91-110 merge I took the Silver Line to Union Station to connect to the Gold Line to its terminus at the Sierra Madre Villa stop. From there the Foothill Transit Line 187 with their nicely cushioned seats and lovely air-conditioning dropped me off right at the parking lot. It’s not public transportation nirvana, but for Los Angeles it’s as close as we’re going to get.

After I got into the press box, got settled and took in the first race, I decided to head over to the infield to check things out. Like I said it was over 90-degrees. And outfitted very poorly, after ten minutes I was sweating through my shirt yet again. I scampered back to the press box for sanctuary and decided to head back out when things started to get cooler.

I went back at around 4:30 before the post for Race 8. It was still warm but bearable. I took in the one-mile turf race and went back to the press box to finish this.

Since it had been a while, I forget how nice a day of racing can be. Sure you have your degenerate gamblers, the scent of stale cigarettes and beer wafting in the air. But it is appropriate at a race track.

Santa Anita will be hosting another food truck fest on Nov. 5. They will simulcast the second day of the Breeders’ Cup while also hosting live racing.