Racing returns to the Great Race Place on Friday as the annual fall meet at Santa Anita Park gets underway and, for the next five weeks, racing at the most elite level will be conducted on a Thursday-through-Sunday schedule. Post time has been set for 1:00 p.m. PT on weekdays and 12:30 p.m. PT on weekends.
This season, turf performers will have the privilege of racing over the brand new turf course, which was installed over the summer and has turned lush and green and thick right on time. Though it’s only had a lone horse test it so far, the surface has been getting rave reviews in at least appearance from local horsemen, as well as the talented crew who installed it in June.
This year’s meet will offer an impressive 28 graded stakes and concludes with the 33rd running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, set for Friday Nov. 4 and Saturday, Nov. 5. Six of the stakes are grade 1s and are part of the lucrative Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifying program, and five of them will be offered on Saturday — the FrontRunner S. (GI) for 2-year-olds at 1 1/16 miles, the Awesome Again S. (GI) for 3-year-olds & up at 1 1/8 miles, the Rodeo Drive S. (GIT) for fillies and mares going 1 1/4 miles on turf, the Zenyatta S. (GI) for fillies & mares at 1 1/16 miles and the Chandelier S. (GI) for 2-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
The Arcadia, California, oval once again offers the nation’s lowest major track takeout of 15.43 percent on win, place and show wagers; and the popular 50-cent pick five and the iconic $2 pick six, which will continue to comprise the final six races each day.
Other exotic wagering options include a $500,000 guaranteed late pick four each weekend, $300,000 guaranteed late pick four each weekday and a $100,000 guaranteed pick six, offered on the last six races of the day, each weekend. Tickets with six winners will share 85 percent of the total net pick six pool, while winning consolation tickets share in 15 percent of the pool. The $.50 early pick four will cover four races, beginning with race two.
Wagering staples such as $.10 superfectas will be offered on all races with a minimum of six horses scheduled to start, $1 exactas on every race are also returning and, for the first time, trifecta minimums have been reduced to $.50 and will be offered on each race with a minimum of four starters.
Additional exotic wagers are the late pick four, covering the final four races each day; $1 rolling pick threes beginning with the first race; $1 super high five, which requires bettors to correctly select the first five finishers in each day’s final race (minimum of eight runners) with 100 percent of the net pool carrying over to the next day without a winning ticket.
Nine races have been carded for opening day, highlighted by the split Eddie D. Stakes (GIIIT), which has been carded as the day’s sixth and ninth. Worth $100,000, the pair of races for 3-year-olds and up will be contested on the downhill turf course at about 6 ½ furlongs and both divisions have drawn impressive full fields of 11 each.
The heat in Southern California is supposed to start cooling down, but not very much by post time Friday. The afternoon highs are expected to reach into the upper 80s and the main track will be fast with the turf course getting tested out for the first time under firm conditions.
In the first Eddie D. division, Kiaran McLaughlin — who hasn’t had a problem sending horses west to race at Santa Anita in the past — sends in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GIT) runner-up Lady Shipman, who is riding a two-race win streak. The only female in the field, the 4-year-old daughter of Midshipman drew the rail, which isn’t a huge concern considering that, on the downhill course, the first turn is actually a right-hand bend. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode her in several top performances last year and earlier this year, will also be in town for owners Renlo Thoroughbreds and the talented pair will be tough to run down from their likely position on the front end early.
The connections of Irish-bred Hunt are taking a deep sigh of relief after their charge drew an outside post position. The gray gelding, who likes to be forwardly placed, was buried down on the inside in the Green Flash Stakes at Del Mar last time and was not a factor. And even though post position down the hill isn’t as important, he will have the advantage of being able to be outside of horses as he crosses over the dirt and makes his final turn for the stretch drive home. He likes this distance (four-for-five) and the Mike House-owned runner has been training well for Phil D’Amato since returning from Del Mar almost a month ago.
Justin Squared started his career off with a bang, winning his first three races impressively before faltering twice in graded stakes company. After a two-month break from action, trainer Bob Baffert is sending the son of Zensational out for a first turf start and may have found a good spot to do it. Regular rider Martin Pedroza is back aboard and the pair will be setting sail for the lead right out of the gate.
Post time for the sixth-race co-feature has been set for 3:30 p.m. PT.
In the second division of the Eddie D., former claimer Guns Loaded will try for his fourth win on the downhill turf course. After winning the San Simeon (GIIIT) in April he was unsuccessful in two grassy sprint stakes in Kentucky and New York, so he was brought home to California where he got a breather and is now refreshed and ready in search of his second graded win. His connections are eyeing the Breeders’ Cup Turf Spring in five weeks, so a strong showing here is essential.
So Sweetitiz is the lone filly in the second division and is riding a three-race win streak heading into this race, including the Daisycutter at Del Mar last out. She definitely steps way up in this race for trainer Marty Jones, but she’s won two of three starts at this distance on this course and will again have the services of Flavien Prat in the saddle. She likes to be forwardly placed, but doesn’t necessarily need the lead and may be a tough customer in her graded debut.
Brazilian-bred Ohio shortens up after routing since shipping to North America late last year. He’s a winner of an allowance race here but hasn’t managed to make an impact in black-type company. He didn’t lose in two starts over the previous Santa Anita turf and has been training well for Paulo Lobo all year. If he likes the shorter distance, this son of Elusive Quality may have a say in the final order of finish.
Toowindytohaulrox is the tepid early favorite, likely off his record of 8-2-2-3 over the downhill turf. He was fourth (placed third through disqualification) a year ago and then won the Daytona Stakes (GIII) in December. He’s been training well for trainer Phil D’Amato and will love the anticipated fast pace in front of him to close on in the stretch and his best earns him a shot at the winner’s circle photo when all is said and done.
Post time for the ninth race second-half of the Eddie D. Stakes will be at 5:00 p.m. PT.