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Santa Anita's Opening Day

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    Santa Anita's Opening Day

    In Los Angeles, the day after Christmas used to be synonymous with Santa Anita's opening day. When I first got here 30 years ago, the track would blanket the airwaves with radio spots and the LA Times had full page ads and 50,000 people would show up for gambling and a calendar.

    Of course, 2019 hasn't been a typical year for the Great Race Place and when the skies opened up on the 26th and snow closed down the Grapevine, Santa Anita postponed opening day to yesterday. It was a great decision.

    I went over there early for Clocker's Corner. It was cold for Los Angeles (low 40s) and there were quite a few families and tourists sipping the complimentary coffee and watching the horses along with the racetrackers. If they looked closely, they saw elements of the New World Order. The track got ripped, it got probed, it got sampled and then mixed like some grand science experiment. I saw it fluffed up, tamped down, and leveled with precision. They had specialized equipment I've never seen before out there or at any racetrack. The renovation break took at least twice as long as normal which makes me wonder how they will streamline this for everyday use.

    The races started really early to cram them in before sundown and the track was a little empty around 11 AM which made me wonder how successful the day was going to be. Then around 12:30, people started to stream in in earnest. The final tally was around 35,000 (or as the LA Times put "only 35,000 where racing is under a cloud"--yadda yadda yadda).

    After seemingly abandoning the track to its fate, the Racing Gods turned and smiled. The weather was crisp, clear and glorious and the mountain backdrop looked like a postcard. The racing was wonderful. In the American Oaks, favorite Lady Prancealot was blocked all the way into deep stretch and then showed her class by diving through a tight hole at the rail and winning by three quarters. In the Grade 3 Frankel Stakes, Mirth did her one better and lost the lead in deep stretch and then battled back to win by a nose. I'm not sure Castellano knew what hit him. Gift Box, who has to be one of the best looking horses I have seen for a long time, showed them how it is done with an authoritative win in the San Antonio while the one eyed Hard Not to Love gave John Shirreffs a win over heavy favorite Bellafina in the La Brea. Omaha Beach demonstrated why he is probably the best three year old colt this year although I am sure Maximum Security will get the nod.

    Now how much play will this get in certain circles which are predisposed to think of Thoroughbred racing as the Great Satan of horse sports and which lumps Santa Anita in with some bush track in Louisiana? My guess is probably as much as when Del Mar pulled off the miracle of no afternoon deaths this summer. But the tide has turned and it feels different. For one thing, the politicians have shut up. I haven't heard any threats from Gavin Newsom for a few months now. The common belief here is that someone took the Governor aside, showed him the economic impact of the sport on California and told him to cool it. Besides the calendar will turn and even PETA looks moronic trying to lump every accident in with what happened a year ago.

    What happened this year will probably go down as a turning point. The question remains as to the way forward but I think racing in this state was due for a shake up. This is a billion dollar industry and we need to be more professional. We also need to remember that without the horses, we are nothing and people who don't live that creed need to go.

    But first things first--it was a wonderful day.

    Pronzini, thank you for the wonderful report!

    Even from afar, it was a great day of racing.


      Yes, thank you. That was so well written. If I weren't so snug at home during the holidays, a day at Santa Anita would be a beautiful place to be. The snow covered mountains in the clear crisp air are something beautiful to behold.

      I hope your optimism is borne out and this is a safe year of racing.
      "Random capitAlization really Makes my day." -- AndNirina


        Thanks for the report! I watched Omaha Beach on the internet, but that was just the one race. Ah, what might have been.
        Now available in Kindle as well as print: C-Sharp Minor: My Mother's Seventeen-Year Journey through Dementia. 10% of my proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association.


          Pronzini, thanks for such a great in-person report

          Held my breath from my couch all day hoping every race would be successful and all would come home.

          You highlighted some of the great races yesterday! I watched from my couch and yes, excellent racing.

          Held my breath as Lady Prancelot took that hole to squeeze through with the win.

          Cheered on Mirth as she lost and then regained the lead. To me, a sign of a great horse... the ones that come back after loosing the lead.

          Loved Mike Smith tying Jerry Bailey and then setting a new record for the number of G1 wins with a great ride on Hard Not to Love. Not sure where she came from to take that win,.

          Omaha Beach. Watched him settle nicely on the back stretch and then start his move around the far turn. Mike just sat pretty all the way down the stretch in a hand ride for the win. Nice to see the 'good' Roadster show up. Wish the field had been larger.

          Congrats to Mike S on his record. I loved how he gave a nod to all the great horses that got him that record

          Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; John Gilliespie Magee, Jr


            Original Poster

            I was hoping someone would write about the day in general. Nice piece by Ed Golden.



              Well, weird

              Virtually same article is in BH. BH credits the story to BloodHorse Staff while PR credits the story to Ed Golden/Santa Anita.

              I agree, loved the article. What I enjoyed about the BH article is about 2/3rds of the way down, there is a photo of Mike on Omaha Beach (Benoit Photo). Just the two of them, Mike is leaning over and just looks to be talking to Omaha Beach. Photo, to me, showed a real connection between Mike and Omaha Beach.

              Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; John Gilliespie Magee, Jr


                Nice report, thank you. I live near Santa Anita and thought of that beautiful day as perhaps a new start to a new season/year/era.


                  A moment I saw online and loved: When Mike returned and the connections were going up to meet them, the groom kissed Omaha Beach on the nose.
                  Now available in Kindle as well as print: C-Sharp Minor: My Mother's Seventeen-Year Journey through Dementia. 10% of my proceeds will be donated to the Alzheimer's Association.


                    Great to hear it was a good day. Hopefully a new year for SA and some much needed attention to detail is finally done. Stronachs needed a nice dose of reality to slap them upside the head. Just sad it had to get to that point.

                    Nice to see Omaha Beach out there. He really is impressive. So effortless.


                      Gave me goosebumps OP!

                      I can't wait until Saratoga opens back up and I can get a taste for myself.

                      Thank you for posting this!
                      Kick On


                        Have been away for a few days and was happy to return to this lovely report about opening day at SA. Thank you Pronzini - really enjoyed reading this.