Well, you did it!Pat yourself on the back for making it through the darkest, coldest month of the year.It's onward and upward now! The first future-bet on the Kentucky Derby is only a week away and the first-ever February long-weekend happens in just two weeks.I hope my weekly posting above of musical hits and cars from 1958 is adding a little rock to your rollin' good times in this, the Downs' 50th anniversary year.And, speaking of good times, everyone who attended the first Tour d' Champs day in the Clubhouse last Saturday appeared to
Baze: 9,997 wins
have a blast.As promo gal Chelsea put it:"It was very festive!" Kudos especially to maintenance crews at Santa Anita for working through the night to re-surface the swampy Cushion Track so the Sunshine Millions races didn't have to be cancelled.Did you know you could have watched their feverish activity on a web-cam on Santa Anita's website?And that the newly-installed surface resulted in a world recordtime for a six furlong race that afternoon?More on that shortly.
What else is cooking on the last day of January?
• Is today the day?Winningest-ever Jockey Russell Baze is three wins shy of a staggering 10,000 lifetime wins heading into today's card at Golden Gate Fields. Post time is
• Resting place for a champion:Barbaro's ashes will be buried at Churchill Downs
• Locals hit big:Local players win more than $50,000 on two pick-6 tickets, including one ticket bought in Palm Springs where player was vacationing.
• How did Downs players fare in Vegas? Dan got a nibble
• Bittersweet memory:A local player remembers a weekend when he couldn't stop winning. That's right. Couldn't stop winning.
Out of respect for perhaps millions of the horse's fans world-wide, the owners of Barbaro have announced they will inter the horse's ashes at a very public location at Churchill Downs where the horse achieved his greatest victory, winning the 2006 Kentucky Derby.He broke down two weeks after that race in the Preakness Stakes and had to be euthanized after months of failed attempts to help him heal and overcome debilitating diseases in other legs.The owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, have also commissioned a statue which will be erected where the ashes will be buried--on a large raised area enclosed by bricks outside a main entrance to Churchill Downs.The unveiling will take place at a ceremony in 2009."After the Derby and then when he got injured, he really became America's horse," Roy Jackson said. "We sort of felt an obligation that his remains and statue be erected someplace where the general public could pay their respects."No other Derby horse is buried on the grounds of the Kentucky track.
Local players pick up more than $50,000
The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the U.S. on Monday lastweek proved to be kind to local horseplayers.Two chipped in $24 each to buy a pick-6 ticket at Santa Anita and picked up $25,000.Another local player vacationing in Palm Springs called to say he had won that pick-6 as well, playing it at a simulcast facility down there.The pair at the track bought a ticket that keyed four races, had three horses in another race and all eight horses in another leg.The first two keys won: an $11.60 horse in a difficult 6 1/2 furlong down-the-hill turf race (hot jock Garrett Gomez was the reason the horse was keyed) and a $13.40 horse in a Maiden Special Weight race. The payoffs on the other four legs were:$7.20, $5.60, $12.40 and $5.80.The two winning tickets accounted for about 9 per cent of the North America-wide pick-6 pool that day.
SANTA ANITA'S TOPSY-TURVY WORLD
Soap opera continues with scrape-and-dump in the dead of night
Who needs soap operas and mysteries on TV when there's action and drama aplenty at Santa Anita's polyunfortunate race track?In the dead of night last Saturday morning, about , veteran local horseplayer and candy-maker Jack Tapper was sitting at his computer, tuned in to the livecam on Santa Anita's website. "They were dumping truckload after truckload of something onto the track," he told fellow horseplayers at the track Saturday morning. "The trucks just kept coming and coming."Two days of rain had turned the synthetic Cushion Track into watery porridge and the racetrack was just hours away from the huge Sunshine Millions races which pitted California-breds against Florida-breds at Santa Anita and Gulfstream. Would scraping two inches of the sludge off the surface and dumping tons of dry material on the remaining mix allow the big day to proceed--or would they have to cancel racing for the third day in a row?
Fingers were crossed.Breath was held.A huge sigh of relief greeted Allan Gray's announcement in the Clubhouse shortly after that, yes, racing would proceed--and proceed it did, at a record-shattering pace.Downs track announcer Darren Dunn couldn't believe what he was seeing. Bob Black Jack set a world record for 6f in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash, a delirious 1:06:53, seven-hundredths quicker than the previous record, 1:06:60, set in 1995 by stakes winner G Malleah at Turf Paradise--and there were lightning fractions in other races, too, on a surface jockeys politely described as "hard."
But wait, as they say in TV commercials, there was another plot twist.Rains returned Saturday night, leading to the cancellation of Sunday and Monday cards.The new plan is to race today through Sunday, if possible, and then work on the track around-the-clock for four days next week adding Australian-touted polymers to the synthetic concoction, supposedly to bind the waxed rubber/fibres/silicone particles into larger chunks to allow water to drain.Santa Anita president Ron Charles, the most embattled race track manager on the planet, issued a statement that must have been done with a hope and a prayer:“Once we get it in, everyone is very confident that we won’t miss any more days for the rest of the meeting." Soap opera fans know that firm statements like these only invite unforeseen consequences.
"MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT"
Winningest weekend produces bittersweet memory
Alden Wiebeat Race Book carrell
It was late July, 1989, and Alden Wiebe, 35 at the time, couldn't lose."I was in a zone," he recalls. It started on a Saturday when he won every race and pocketed $3,600--"more than I ever won before"--including a race won by Nifty from acclaimed trainer Bert Blake's barn.But that was small potatoes compared to what was yet to come.Sunday began with a bang.He immediately nabbed $400 in a triactor and had accumulated $3,400 on the day when a chance for really big money came along--the twin-triactor, a bet which included a carryover pool requiring a player to win back-to-back triactors.No problem for Alden. He even recalls the winning numbers of the second tri, 3-1-2, and the monster payoff of $62,000, which he could have collected all by himself but he shared with a friend.He recalls his thoughts at this point turning to his father, a church minister, "who was a week from being kicked out of his house."Alden invited his father to a Dim Sum Chinese buffet the next day and handed him $10,000.His mother was in tears. It saved the house. But, Alden said sadly, his father never ever thanked him for that gift right to his death four years ago. "All he said was: 'I knew the Lord would look after us.'"That left the best horseplaying weekend of his life a rather bittersweet memory.
QUICK BITS:Black gets a $$$ nibble:None of the four Assiniboia players finished in the top 100 of the 800 people entered in the Coast Casinos $1 million Horseplayer World Series at the Orleans in Las Vegas last week.But Dan Black got off to a great start in the three-day contest, finishing in sixth place after the first day.That placing was worth $900 in prize money for the manager of Black's Vintage Books and Antiques!Winner of the annual tourney was Ken Hopkins who picked up $307,000 .......Deathbed Pick-6:Krys, wife of Downs regular, Lol, who died three weeks ago, said her feverish husband was muttering pick-6 ticket combinations from his hospital bed in the days leading to his death from complications from pneumonia.She said he was calling out:two by two by two by one, etc., to indicate the number of horses he wanted in each leg of his ticket.A true horseplayer right to the end!
WHO WON?Lots of giveaways on Sunshine Millions weekend
Show parlay challenge:No winners again last Friday so $50 is carried over to tomorrow, meaning $75 is up for grabs.Simply pick "show" horses at Sam Houston, races 3 to 5.
$1,000 poker tourney:Art Solvason beat nine other players, picking up $100 in betting vouchers and a seat in the $1,000 finale on Friday, March 28.Get poker details here.
Flanked by tropically-clad Chelsea (left) and Allan (right), the top three race-pickers Saturday: Norm Fraser, Weldon Hiebert (tied for first), Manny Medeiros (third)
Elite Eight:Two of the 58 entrants in the Elite Eight contest last Saturday--predicting winners of the eight Sunshine Millions races--scored an excellent six of eight!Weldon Hiebert and Norm Fraser picked up $175 each for the first-place tie.Manny Medeiros received $75 for finishing third for predicting five winners.
Death by Golden Gate:Mel Davidson outlasted 40 entrants to the sixth race at Golden Gate Saturday and picked up $100 in betting vouchers.He also had his name drawn to win a beautiful burgundy fleece pullover and 1934 burgundy cap from Santa Anita.Mel was a standout walking around the Race Book in that classy combo. "This is the first time I ever won anything," he said happily.Watch for draws every Tour d' Champs day, the next one being this Saturday.
Other winners in a draw for Santa Anita garb:Chuck Whalen, Ron Zurba.
TIP O' THE WEEK:How to sniff out capable first-timers
How will a first-time starter perform?Clues:(1) Trainer stats.Good trainers have their horses ready.Note stats in the Daily Racing Form under the horse's listing.(2)Breeding location.Anything bred in Kentucky should be given a closer look, then Florida, California, New York, Ontario.(3)Workouts:If you see two identical workout times in the last three works, that's an excellent indication the horse is ready for a big effort.Also, look at bullet workouts, regular equally-spaced-out workouts and workouts as long or longer than the race they're running.(4)Sire stats (look for this in comments in the DRF) first-timer from a sire who produces 14 per cent first-out winners or more is well worth adding to tri and superfecta tickets. A few years ago, I picked up $21,000 in a Woodbine superfecta by noting that a first-time starter had an "excellent" debut sire.The horse won the races at odds of 13-1.
DELICIOUS DINING:Enjoy French-inspired cooking tonight in the popular all-you-can-eat buffet from to in the Terrace Dining Room for only $14.95.Menu.Next Thursday's theme:a nice winter escape--Hawaiian.
THIS WEEKEND:Tour d' Champs continues
Friday:Play $1,000 poker.Plus $75 up for grabs in "show parlay challenge"
Saturday:Tour d' Champs day #2. Get your card stamped to win a trip to the Breeders' Cup and receive an entry for classy merchandise draws. The big feature is the $500,000 Donn Handicap for older horses at Gulfstream.Watch for Student Council, a longshot surprise in beating Lava Man in the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar last summer.A full field of 14 in the 1 1/8 mile race should produce an exciting event.The Strub Stakes at Santa Anita should also be a good one.
Saturday:Death by Golden Gate and popular Magna Pick-5 continue.First pick-5 leg from Laurel at Magna Pick-5 programs are free.
Super Bowl Sunday:Note earlier post times for many tracks so most racing is finished before the Giants take to the grid-iron and scuttle the Patriots' perfect year. TurfwayPark kicks off racing at Full schedule.Happy hour bar prices all day in the Clubhouse!
COMING SOON:Derby future bets start next Thursday
• Racing from Bay Meadows begins next Wednesday--on dirt! • Future bets on theKentuckyDerby:See special Daily Racing Form listing 3-year-olds, available next Wednesday (on-track only). Advance-wager on Derby and
Oaks next Thursday to Sunday.
• Something new and exciting on Saturday nights!Watch for details in next Insider.
•NEW! Tournament of Champions:Top three winners from each month's horseplayer tournament, in addition to winning usual cash prizes, will be invited to a $1,000 winner take all game in May.Next monthly contest: Saturday, Feb. 16.