On Track with Johnny D: Stocking Stuffer

This time of the season, in Thoroughbred racing, things generally are a bit slow on the racing front. Sure, Laurel, Aqueduct, Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Los Alamitos and many more tracks are in action, but the product doesn’t compare to the quality that will be available to horseplayers in another six weeks or so.

However, this Saturday before Christmas is an exception to the norm and more ‘ho ho ho’ than ‘ho hum.’ That’s because at Los Alamitos, California Chrome, the number two ranked dirt horse in the world, will face 11 foes at a mile and one-sixteenth in the $180,000 Winter Challenge Stakes. The event is scheduled to go as the final heat on a nine-race card with a post time around 7:30 pm ET.

If one assumes that the Winter Challenge has been created especially for California Chrome, one would be 100% correct. No one’s kidding anyone. The anticipated handsomely paid workout for ‘Chrome is track proprietor Dr. Ed Allred’s way of thanking the horse and his connections for putting the small Cypress, CA oval on the world’s Thoroughbred map. Chrome has trained there pretty much the entire time he’s been in southern California and used Los Alamitos as his base of operation to claim multiple Grade 1 races, including two of the world’s most desirable: Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup. ‘Chrome is expected to use Saturday’s paid leg-stretcher as a springboard to the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park.

Plus, the joint ought to attract plenty of Chromie’s through the turnstiles and they figure to wager on other events and, perhaps, eat and drink enough to make the Winter Challenge worth a few dollars and cents.

Surprisingly, horsemen have responded well with runners to face ‘Chrome in what, on paper, seems a fool’s errand. That’s mostly because even if one were to concede the race to ‘Chrome—and with Los Alamitos results about as predictable as a recent presidential election no one is doing that—there’s still $30,000 to second, $20,000 to third, $15,000 to fourth and fifth…and $10,000 to sixth on down.

$10k for finishing last? As they say, that ain’t hay!

Los Alamitos Race Course STAKES

Purse $180,000. For Three Year Olds And Upward. By subscription of $100 each to accompany the nomination, closed with 33. $1,500 additional to start with $180,000 estimated of which $50,000 to First, $30,000 to Second, $20,000 to Third, $15,000 to Fourth and Fifth and$10,000 to Sixth on down. Three year olds 122 Lbs. Older 124 Lbs. Winners of two stake races of $60,000 in 2016, to carry 2 lbs additional. Non winners of a stake of $60,000 in 2016 allowed 2 Lbs. $60,000 in 2015 allowed 4 Lbs.; two races other than maiden, claiming or starter in 2015 allowed 6 Lbs. High Weights Preferred. A trophy will be presented to the winning owner.

 

Santa Anita’s traditional December 26 opening remains one of the industry’s leading signposts. Even though it’s technically a few days before the New Year, Santa Anita’s calendar giveaway kickoff always has functioned as an unofficial launching point for the new season.

Gulfstream, the gem of east coast winter racing, already is in motion. They kicked things off in a big way with the Claiming Crown card December 3. As additional trainers and horses ship south for the winter, the Hallandale Beach meet gains steam throughout the championship season and culminates with the Florida Derby April 1.

During nap time, a few recent news items piqued interest and both tidbits involve Hall-of-Fame jockeys.

Gary Stevens, the 53-year-old reinsman who piloted Beholder to the narrowest of victories over Songbird in a thrilling BC Distaff, soon will undergo hip replacement surgery. No big deal, really. Plenty of folks have hip replacement surgery and continue to lead active lives. Don’t know of any who ride racehorses for a living, but as a post-op Stevens might quip with a tilt of his head, ‘Now you do.’

Those who figured Stevens would walk off into the retirement sunset with Beholder at the other end of shank obviously don’t know Gary Lynn Stevens very well. He isn’t going anywhere soon, except to physical therapy to rehab that hip. He’ll be back in the saddle before most of the racing world realizes he was gone.

‘Why?’ you ask. ‘Why not,’ he answers. It’s clear competitive fires still burn inside the Caldwell, Idaho native and he’s not quite yet finished.

You will remember that Stevens already has done the ‘retirement’ thing. That lasted seven years during which he enjoyed a successful acting career and again, anyone who needs an answer to ask that question doesn’t know Gary Lynn Stevens.

That’s not much of surprise. He’s already had knee replacement surgery back in the summer of 2014, so a hip job two years later sounds about right.

Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens will undergo hip replacement surgery next week, according to the jockey. Stevens had signed on to be first call rider for Ruis Racing before his hip gave out. Stevens was trying to ride through the spring meet at Santa Anita but after MRIs and XRAYs yesterday, he realized that was not possible. Stevens willremain on with Ruis Racing as an advisor and assistant during this time. No decision has been made if Stevens will return to the saddle after the surgery.

Stevens underwent a successful knee replacement in the Summer of 2014. He returned to the saddle to win the 2015 Pacific Classic and the Breeders Cup Distaff this past fall on Beholder.

After Beholder retired, many suspected Stevens would as well. “I wasn’t ready to hang it up and I still don’t know if I’m ready. I’m going to have the procedure done next week and I’ll play it by ear. I’m in a great position with Ruis Racing and I don’t want to lose that. Luckily, I can continue on as part of the team and see what happens in a few months.” said Stevens.

Stevens will have his hip replaced by the same group that successfully replaced his knee.

“Look,” Stevens said, “All I can do is have it done and hope for the best. I hope I’m in a position in a few months where I can make the choice if I want to go back to riding or not. In the meantime, I am going to continue to help Ruis Racing develop their stock and see where it takes us.

On Track with Johnny D: Stocking Stuffer

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