August 13, 2022

Game Winner, Improbable, Instagrand work as Santa Anita surface comes under scrutiny

Instagrand works with Javier Castellano up at Santa Anita February 25, 2019 (c) Cecilia Gustavsson/ Horsephotos.com

The unbeaten trio of Game Winner, Improbable, and Instagrand geared up Monday for their projected showdown in the March 9 San Felipe (G2) on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail. But the workouts took place against the backdrop of recent fatalities on the Santa Anita surface, and impending closure of the main track for evaluation.

Battle of Midway’s tragic demise was not the only one during Saturday morning workouts. According to the Blood-Horse, the unraced four-year-old Just Forget It also sustained fatal injuries, and on Monday, the number was raised to three with the loss of once-raced sophomore Charmer John.

On Sunday, officials called for a thorough evaluation of the main track beginning Monday. Before the closure took effect, a procession of high-profile horses took to the track to get in works.

Champion Game Winner, last seen landing the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), drilled in company with older stablemate Dr. Dorr. The Bob Baffert pair clocked six furlongs from the gate in 1:13.60.

Fellow Baffert pupil Improbable fired the bullet in 1:12.00, fastest of 10 moves at the distance. Drayden Van Dyke was aboard the flashy chestnut, who capped 2018 with a romp in the Los Alamitos Futurity (G1).

Javier Castellano flew in to pilot Instagrand for fellow Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, and the Best Pal (G2) hero negotiated seven furlongs in 1:26.60 ahead of his two-turn debut.

Baffert’s McKinzie motored the same distance in 1:24.20 in advance of the March 9 Santa Anita H. (G1).

Other Baffert trainees recording works include three-year-olds Much Better (five panels in 1:00.40) and Dessman (half in :48.80).

For Hollendorfer, Rebel (G2)-bound Galilean zipped four furlongs in :47.40; promising sophomore Rowayton sped five-eighths in a bullet :59.40, best of 48 on the day; and filly stablemate Brill reeled off six in 1:12.80.

Extra Hope, a San Felipe candidate for Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, negotiated five panels in 1:01.20.

Doug O’Neill sent out Pavel to tour a half-mile in :49.60.

As the main track is scrutinized Tuesday, the training track will remain open.

Here is the Santa Anita release outlining plans:

In conjunction with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), Santa Anita Park has announced its main track will be closed for training beginning at 9 a.m. on Monday and all day Tuesday in order to fully evaluate sub-surface conditions such as moisture content and soil consistency.  If the results of these efforts indicate the track is in prime condition, regularly scheduled training will resume Wednesday morning and live racing will proceed on Thursday.

In order to accommodate horsemen tomorrow [Monday], the main track will open for training beginning at 5 a.m., with two regular renovations scheduled at 6 a.m. and 7:15 a.m.  Santa Anita’s training track will be open each morning as planned, at 4:45 a.m. and will stay open until 10:30 a.m.

Track Superintendent Andy LaRocco, in addition to performing all regularly scheduled maintenance on the dirt oval, will examine the entire track surface and if any issues are found, he will address those areas.

Although Santa Anita has experienced 11 ½ inches of rain and near-record cold temperatures this month, dry weather and more moderate temperatures are forecast for the next several days, which will enable LaRocco’s crew to “peel back” the track’s cushion to a depth of approximately five inches, where a thorough examination of the base can be undertaken.

Mick Peterson, PhD, who serves as Director of the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Equine Programs, and who evaluates soil samples from Santa Anita on a monthly basis, will be on-site in the coming days to review Santa Anita’s sub-surface and surface data.  Peterson will also be working with a newly formed committee consisting of Hall of Fame retired jockey Alex Solis, who is now a CHRB commissioner, one well-established Southern California trainer, one active jockey and one member of Santa Anita’s management team to fully evaluate all data and monitor feedback from horsemen, including trainers, jockeys and exercise riders.

Santa Anita’s main track surface, which is tested and evaluated on a daily basis by both Santa Anita and the CHRB, is one mile in circumference, with quarter mile and seven furlong chutes located to the southwest and northeast of the “course proper.”

Live racing will resume as planned, this coming Thursday, Feb. 28, with first post time at 1 p.m.