By Margaret Ransom
The long wait is over for the return of live racing at Santa Anita Park.
For the first time since Santa Anita was shut down by the Los Angeles County Health Department after the March 22 card due to the coronavirus pandemic, live racing is set to resume on Friday at the famous Southern California oval.
After weeks of negotiations between track management and state and county officials, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kathryn Barger gave the green light for Friday’s nine-race card with 97 entered to run.
For two months, horses have only been allowed to train at Santa Anita. If all runs smoothly, Santa Anita will run Friday through Sunday, except Memorial Day, May 25, through Sunday, June 21.
For the foreseeable future, racing will operate under strict protocols, including mandatory face masks and social distancing, as well as isolating jockeys and other staff in temporary housing (recreational vehicles) on site during the racing week.
Additionally, jockeys and key staff underwent mandatory COVID-19 testing on Wednesday and all racing participants on site will continue to undergo mandated daily health checks, including temperature checks. Once racing ends on Sundays, those in isolation will be free to leave, but the process will continue every Friday for as long as necessary.
“We are very grateful for the open and continuous communication with both the Health Department and Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office,” Aidan Butler, Executive Director of California Racing Operations for The Stronach Group, said. “Supervisor Barger in particular, understood the importance of live racing to support thousands of individuals, and that we are able to accomplish it safely under these protocols.
“We also want to thank our stakeholders, including the Thoroughbred Owners of California, the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Jockeys Guild, our Santa Anita Park team and our fans for their patience during this pandemic. This has been a difficult time for all. Now we are focused on getting back to work in a safe and secure manner.”
Starting Friday, in an effort to limit the number of people in the walking ring, grandstand and on the apron, all horses will be saddled in the receiving barn adjacent to the horsemen’s parking long nearest the top of the stretch and not the usual saddling enclosure by the paddock. Horses then will be led to the walking ring and handed off by their regular grooms to “association” grooms employed by the track. Those grooms will then take the horses to the track where they will be handed off to the ponies for the post parade.
After each race, the “association” grooms will help valets and trainers unsaddle the horses and walk them to the testing barn or to another area if they’re not being tested where they will then be met by their own grooms employed by trainers and brought back to their barns.
It’s unclear how long these unusual protocols will last, but most participants are in agreement with them in order to resume live racing.
The Stronach Group’s other California racetrack, Golden Gate Fields, has also been shut down for several weeks but was given the OK to resume racing for a Thursday card.
On Friday’s return-to-action card, several races stand out, including the first one. Ten 3-year-olds will dash 5 ½ furlongs over the turf course in an $80,000 allowance/optional claiming event that carries a purse of $51,000. The Andrew Lerner-trained Rager is the 7-2 morning-line favorite and returns to the turf and a cross-country trip to Oaklawn Park in Arkansas, where the son of Into Mischief picked up a fourth and a third-place finish before returning home to California.
The third race is also an $80,000 allowance/optional claiming event, this time for for 3-year-olds and up, set at 5 ½ furlongs on the turf. The event marks the long-awaited return of the highly regarded Tale of the Union, who was purchased as a yearling for $925,000, made one start at Del Mar in August of 2018 and won by eight lengths, but hasn’t been seen since. Drayden Van Dyke rides for Bob Baffert and the son of Union Rags is the 8-5 morning-line favorite.
In the same race, John Sadler sends out the three-time California-bred stakes winner Galilean, who is the 2-1 second choice on the morning line under jockey Flavien Prat, in what is his first start since late February. Seven others will head to post looking to upset the top two.
Fillies and mares will race a mile on the turf course in the fifth and the eighth, split first-level allowance races which boast 11 runners in each vying for the winner’s share of a $51,000 purse. The Leonard Powell-trained French import Gypsy Spirit drew the unattractive far outside in the grassy co-feature in what is both her American and 2020 debut, but will be in the capable hands of Prat. She is the 7-2 morning-line favorite in the fifth race.
In the eighth, the Sadler-trained Quick will lead the field to post in her search for a first North American victory after two third-place finishes under similar conditions in February and March. The British-bred daughter of Olympic Glory was labeled the 5-2 morning line favorite and will be ridden by Umberto Rispoli.
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