By Margaret Ransom
Live racing returns to Santa Anita on Friday with a nine-race card and an immeasurable amount of hope from the entire industry that last winter — which saw 30 horse deaths over the main track and intense international scrutiny from the mainstream media and animal activists, many calling for the end to horse racing entirely — is squarely in the rearview mirror.
Greeting horsemen and fans for the 23-day autumn meet will be an improved main track, which was dug up over the summer to replace the drainage system at the base, as well as improved safety protocols for horses both racing and working and the 36th running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, which will be held for a record 10th time at the Arcadia oval.
Highlighting the Friday opening-day are three stakes, including two Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win & You’re In” events for Racing’s Championship Day, which is set for November 1-2.
Post time every weekday through closing day, Nov. 3, will be at 1 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. on weekends, except for both Breeders’ Cup days. Post times for the Breeders’ Cup races can be found at: https://www.breederscup.com/races
A total of 43 black-type events, including the 14 Breeders’ Cup races, will be the highlight of the season and five stakes alone on opening weekend are “Win & You’re In” events – the $300,000 American Pharoah (G1) and the $300,000 Chandelier (G1) on Friday; the $300,000 Rodeo Drive (G1), and $300,000 Awesome Again (G1) on Saturday; and the $200,000 Zenyatta (G1) on Sunday.
Additionally, the $200,000 Eddie D. (GIIT) will be contested on Friday, while the $200,000 John Henry Turf Championship (G1T) and the $75,000 Unzip Me Stakes will be run on Saturday to complete the opening-weekend stakes action.
Santa Anita’s final two Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” qualifiers for the meet are the $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1), which will mark the highly anticipated return of fan favorite Omaha Beach on Saturday Oct. 5, and the $100,000 Speakeasy Stakes for 2-year-olds on Sunday, Oct. 6.
Safety protocols installed during the spring season in response to the 30 horse deaths during both racing and training over the winter will continue during the autumn meeting and includes enhanced veterinary scrutiny for all horses entered to run and all horses set to work. In addition to reviewing past performances, workout patterns and each horse’s medical records, a seven-member panel of veterinarians will continue to observe horses during their daily training routines, including entering and exiting both the one-mile main track and six-furlong training track.
All horses entered to run will be physically inspected and others will be subject to the 48-hour workout review process, which includes intent to work forms submitted by the trainers. The seven-member panel of veterinarians is led by The Stronach Group’s Dr. Dionne Benson and Santa Anita’s primary track veterinarian, Dr. Dana Stead, and under their direction the group will oversee every aspect of Santa Anita’s training and racing operation. They will be assisted by Dr. Laurie Bohanan (Santa Anita Senior Veterinarian), Dr. April Mauro, Dr. Jay Deluhery and Dr. Fernanda Machada and TSG Veterinarian, Dr. Robert O’Neill.
Jockeys and exercise riders will all be allowed to carry whips, but will continue to be monitored by outriders and track officials to keep any use to a minimum.
Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, who was asked to leave the Santa Anita grounds and vacate his stalls at Santa Anita back in June and was subsequently denied access to the entry box, remains banned from the facility. Though the reasons given for why he was banned are conflicting, Hollendorfer was the trainer of record for six of the 30 horses who died over the winter at Santa Anita.
Subsequent to his Santa Anita ousting, the veteran conditioner was initially denied any participation during the recently concluded Del Mar summer meet and his horses were training and running in longtime assistant Dan Ward’s name. However, a few days into the Del Mar season Hollendorfer filed for a restraining order allowing him to train and race, which was granted via an injunction issued by a San Diego judge. His runners won three of 27 races at the Del Mar oval during the summer season.
Earlier this month a judge in Alameda County in Northern California denied Hollendorfer’s request, which was backed by the California Thoroughbred Trainers, for a similar restraining order allowing him to participate at the TSG-owned Golden Gate Fields, the track where he saddled most of his more than 7,600 career winners. At the time, the 73-year-old conditioner’s attorney indicated they’d also be contesting the Santa Anita ban in court, but so far no action has been pursued.
In addition to being listed trainer, Hollendorfer is the co-owner of leading Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1T) Candidate Vasilika. He also conditions potential Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) runner Danuska’s My Girl, and Dirt Mile (G1) contender King Jack.
In addition to Kentucky Derby (G1) and Queen’s Plate winner Flavien Prat, who most recently captured the Del Mar summer riding title, the jockeys’ room at Santa Anita will be loaded with talent. Hall of Famers Mike Smith, Kent Desormeaux and Victor Espinoza have once again hung their tack, and are joined by top names Drayden Van Dyke, Joe Talamo, Rafael Bejarano, Martin Garcia, Mario Gutierrez, Aaron Gryder, Tiago Pereira, Edwin Maldonado, and relative newcomers Abel Cedillo, Ruben Fuentes and Jorge Velez.
Opening weekend, Hall of Famer John Velazquez will be in town to partner with the Bob Baffert-trainees Bast (Chandelier Stakes) and Eight Rings (American Pharoah Stakes), while Joel Rosario will ship in to ride the Steve Asmussen-trained Shoplifted.
Four Hall of Famers – Bob Baffert, Richard Mandella, Ron McAnally and Neil Drysdale – as well as a handful of future members of racing’s most elite club call Santa Anita home. Additionally, a large group of the top trainers in the country currently are based in Southern California, including John Sadler, Richard Baltas, Doug O’Neill and Mike McCarthy.
Other notable names who send out top runners regularly include Phil D’Amato, Mark Glatt, Dan Blacker, Simon Callaghan, Jim Cassidy, Jack Carava, Vladimir Cerin, Keith Desormeaux, Peter Eurton, Carla Gaines, Paddy Gallagher, Bruce Headley, Bob Hess, Jr., David Hofmans, Steve Knapp, Brian Koriner, Eric Kruljac, Andrew Lerner, Craig Lewis, Steve Miyadi, Kristin Mulhall, Jeff Mullins, George Papaprodromou, Leonard Powell, Shelbe Ruis, Gary Sherlock, John Shirreffs, Bill Spawr, Gary Stute, Eddie Truman, Jonathan Wong and Tim Yakteen.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.
After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.
In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law known as the “Borell Law.”
Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time. She lives in Pasadena with her longtime beau, Tony, two Australian Shepherds and one Golden Retriever.