On Track With Johnny D: The Great Race Place, Again

When the word ‘Great’ is used as an adjective to describe you, you’ve got to be better than the rest. Way better.

‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky didn’t just score goals. He created them, like works of art. Lots of ‘em, too. Nearly 900. More than anyone else, ever. Instead of blank canvases Gretzky used sheets of ice. Sticks instead of brushes. Pucks not paints.

‘The Great Escape’ isn’t just a 94% Rotten Tomatoes-rated movie. The 1963 film is based on Paul Brickhill’s 1950 nonfiction book of the same name. No doubt, it would have been wonderful if merely one or two Allied POWs had escaped Stulag Luft III. But what elevates the caper to ‘great’ status is that an amazing 76 prisoners tunneled into the night.

Astonishing escapes also were the domain of ‘The Great Houdini.’ To earn that lofty moniker, Harry had to do more than just pull rabbits out of hats. Pretend to magically ‘remove’ his thumb. Pull quarters from behind ears. No, he had to defy the odds. Accomplish the impossible. Escape from straightjackets and coffins.

They call Santa Anita ‘The Great Race Place’ and there’s no more beautiful racetrack vista than the one presented beneath the majestic San Gabriel Mountains. None! But Santa Anita’s not just a pretty face. The roll call of horses that have performed on its stage is legendary.

What’s also legendary is what occurred worldwide in 2020: COVID 19 arrived and drastically altered lives. Millions have suffered. And the anguish isn’t over. Not by the classic distance.

To any of us that, gratefully, have remain relatively unscathed by the pandemic, resumption of racing at Santa Anita offers a valued distraction.

Since late March, when afternoons at the Great Race Place were silenced, there have been no costumed Jay Cohen bugling calls to the post. No crowd roars through the stretch. No cashed and discarded mutuel tickets. No clubhouse corned beef sandwiches (without butter or pickles).

Those that have experienced Santa Anita in person once yearn to visit again…and again. And we will. Eventually.

Meantime, to those of us ‘safe’--cooped up in homes while sharing this novel experience ‘apart and together’--the resumption of spectator-less afternoon activities at The Great Race Place will be a welcome diversion. We gleefully will lose ourselves in evaluations of past performance running lines, construction of optimistic wagers, and watching as matters unfold a furlong at a time.

Toward that end, here’s one man’s opinion of the late pick four Saturday at Santa Anita:

Santa Anita Pick 4 –Saturday, May 16, 2020

As racing returns to Santa Anita, this initial late pick-four sequence appears to be difficult. Not that they’re ever simple, but because of the recent racing shutdown handicappers must navigate previously uncharted waters. Trainers, jockeys and horses are in the same boat. They haven’t been in action for a while either and it will be challenging for us all to get to full speed. Thanks to Thoro-Graph and Daily Racing Form for access to statistics quoted below.

7th Race
Just seven runners line up for this filly and mare turf allowance/optional claiming race and we’ll attempt to get through this first leg with three runners.

#2 She’s Our Charm—Has inside speed to make the lead and the last two times she’s done that she’s won. She’s made only 4 starts (least of anyone in the field) and won 2 of them. A :59 3/5 bullet best-of-40 catches the eye.

#5 Desert Oasis—Has won 2 in a row (out of 3 US starts) and both were with blinkers. She’s got great connections: trainer Drysdale and jockey Flavian Pratt. She’s also got enough speed to be in a solid striking position and has won off a similar short layoff.

#7 Dogtag –Has to be respected off a 2019 Preakness Day stakes victory and a solid second last out. That race was her first start for trainer Richard Mandella from Chad Brown. She’s got speed to stalk and Rispoli is a plus in the saddle.

8th Race
This is a real handicapping puzzle because so many of these are switching surfaces…either from turf or synthetic to dirt. There’s plenty of speed topped by #5 Bulletproof One and #6 Speedy Gigi. And they are not alone. If things heat up too much up front, look for #9 Warren’s Showtime to be closing late.

#1 Smiling Shirlee—Ran the best race of her short career last out. She’s had time to recover, can be expected to improve and adds Hall-of-Fame jockey Mike Smith. The rail sprinting never is a bargain, but the filly has a solid closing charge. She should run well.

#5 Bulletproof One—Has plenty of speed and has won 2 of 4 fast dirt races. She’s also a two-time state-bred stakes winner—both at 2. If she repeats her last couple over synthetic at Golden Gate, she’ll be tough.

#9 Warren’s Showtime—She wins races—4 of 7—but is 0-2 on fast dirt. She’s also untried at six furlongs. Her game is a mile on turf. Can she transfer turf form or is this a prep for longer, later?

9th Race
Many ways to go in this mile turf test for maidens. Here are a few options.

#1 Heywoods Beach—Closed well for second last out at a mile and one-eighth. The cut back shouldn’t be an issue with Rispoli in the irons for trainer Sadler. The rail ought to be a ground-saving advantage.

#4 Leprino--Did better last out at 42-1 and now adds Lasix for trainer Mandella.

#6 Lemonade Stand—First-time starter for trainer Tim Yakteen lures top jockey Pratt (22% together). A steady series of works, including 2 notable moves add intrigue. Trainer batting just 3% with last 61 maiden 3-year-old first time starters and sire is 11% with first out starters.
#11 Fire Polish—Has a nice series of training track workouts and draws dangerous Van Dyke to ride for trainer Neil Drysdale. Drysdale is 11% last 124 with first out maiden 3yos but 4 for 11 with debut turf runners the last five years. Sire Hard Spun is 9% first out and first-time turf. Outside post not a bargain but worth a look.

10th Race
A state-bred maiden claiming sprint for $50k winds things up Saturday. This, also, is a difficult heat to narrow down to a handful of contenders.

#1 Hoop Dream—First time for a tag for 4-yearold off two lifetime races. The first was ok and fits in here. Blinkers go on.

#2 Bodega—Sire’s offspring win at 20% with 80 starters. Trainer Brinkerhoff just 6% with first time 3-y-o maiden claimers.

#5 Sorriso—Showed speed against state-bred maidens going 5 ½ furlongs on turf.
#6 War Maker—Cuts back from six to five furlongs, he adds blinkers for his second start at this level.

#11 Desert Swarm—Has been at contender odds in both starts and improved last out when moved to turf. Was that improvement the surface or is he getting better? Trainer Koriner is good with this kind and a cozy outside draw should put this one in a prime stalking position.

#12 Jungle Roar—First timer from Jeff Mullins barn deserves respect in this weak field based on some solid works. Sire Animal Kingdom’s stats are better going long. Mullins is 10% out of 137 with first out 3-y-o maiden claimers.

$.50 Pick Four Ticket ($67.50):
7th Race –2, 5, 7
8th Race—1, 5, 9
9th Race—1, 4, 6
10th Race—1, 2, 5, 11, 12

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: The Great Race Place, Again

On Track with Johnny D |