WINTER THOROUGHBRED SEASON SHOWS

INCREASES IN HANDLE, FIELD SIZE;

CALIFORNIA CHROME’S CALIFORNIA FINALE HIGHLIGHTS  TRACK’S FINAL 2016 MEET

      The final start in California – and first at Los Alamitos – for California Chrome Dec. 17 and Grade I victories by Mastery and Abel Tasman one week earlier highlighted the Winter Thoroughbred meet, which concluded Sunday.

The eight-day season also saw notable increases in both all-sources handle and field size. Although complete business figures won’t be available for several days, Brad McKinzie, vice president and general manager of the Los Alamitos Racing Association, said late Sunday afternoon all-sources handle was projected to be up about 16% over the 2015 Winter meet.

Meanwhile, field size rose to an average of 7.89 starters per race from 7.13 over the previous Winter. The 7.89 figure is the highest for any meet since thoroughbred racing returned to Los Alamitos in July, 2014.

“I think the key to everything was our field size was up and the racing was very competitive,’’ said McKinzie. “(Racing secretary) Bob Moreno deserves all the credit. It’s quite an accomplishment to get almost eight starters a race without a turf course.

“This was a serendipitous meet for us as we had everything fall our way. But even before California Chrome ran, we were up 13% after the first week of the meet. We’ve been up substantially every day over last Winter and the only thing I can point my finger to is field size.

“We put on a better show and California Chrome just kicked us into another stratosphere.

“Watching how people reacted to California Chrome was heartwarming. The meet couldn’t have gone better.’’

Based at Los Alamitos since early in his 3-year-old season, California Chrome delighted an enthusiastic and appreciative on-track crowd and a legion of his loyal fans – better known as Chromies – with a 12-length victory in the $180,000 Winter Challenge, a race created to serve as his prep for the upcoming $12 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park.

In the process, California Chrome, despite an extremely wide trip and without being asked for anything close to his best by jockey Victor Espinoza, broke the track record for 1 1/16 miles. The 5-year-old’s final time of 1:40.03 bettered the previous mark of 1:40.82 set by Uncle Lino in the California Chrome Stakes April 30.

Owned by Taylor Made Farm and co-breeder Perry Martin and trained by Art Sherman, California Chrome, who is the world’s richest active thoroughbred with earnings of $14,502,650, is scheduled to begin his stud career in Kentucky after he competes in the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup.

The next-to-last day of the Winter meet also saw record handle in the Players’ Pick 5, the early and the late Pick 4 as well as the Pick Six.

Buoyed by a three-day carryover of $308,191, the Pick Six attracted $1,250,238 in new money. The total pool $1,558,329 easily eclipsed the previous record of $612,408 Dec. 7, 2014.

The Dec. 17 pool for the Pick 5 – an extremely popular wager with a low takeout rate of 14% - was $410,783, bettering the $370,539 wagered May 1, closing day of the 2016 Spring meet.

The pool for the early Pick 4 was $166,416, surpassing the $159,988 total Dec. 13, 2014 while the late Pick 4 – which ended with the Winter Challenge – handled $597,105, easily bettering the $470,930 bet July 11, 2015.

There were also record payoffs in the Pick 5 and the early Pick 4. There was one perfect ticket in the Pick 5 Dec. 11. Purchased through Television Games Network for $2,520, it was worth $265,806.10 while the Pick 4 on races 2-5 that day returned $74,003.30.

Mastery’s victory in the Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity was a record ninth for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert and his third in a row since the race was moved from Hollywood Park to Los Alamitos in 2014.

An undefeated 2-year-old son of Candy Ride, Mastery, who was ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith,  prevailed by a Futurity record 7 ¼ lengths, edging the previous mark of seven lengths set by Matty G in 1995.

About an hour after Mastery’s dominance, Abel Tasman scored a 12-1 surprise over favored American Gal in the Starlet. Supplemented to the race for $10,000 by trainer Simon Callaghan, the 2-year-old Quality Road filly responded with a one-length victory under jockey Joe Talamo for owner-breeder Clearsky Farms.

Baffert, Peter Miller and Mike Puype shared the meet training title with four wins apiece. It was the fourth time Baffert has either led or shared the crown at Los Alamitos since July, 2014.

Talamo earned his first riding title at Los Alamitos, finishing the brief meet with seven victories, one more than Tyler Baze. It was Talamo’s first championship in Southern California since he led the 2012 Autumn season at Santa Anita.

For the entire year – which also includes the 12-day Spring meet (April 14-May 1) and 12-day Los Angeles County Fair season ( Sept. 8-24) – Baze and Stewart Elliott shared the title. Both had 20 wins, two more than Tiago Pereira.

For the second consecutive year, Doug O’Neill was the leading trainer. He finished with 14 victories, one more than Baffert. “That’s great,’’ said O’Neill. “We love it here.’’

Thoroughbred racing will return to Los Alamitos for three meets in 2017.

The eight-day Summer Thoroughbred Festival will begin Thursday, July 6 and continue through Sunday, July 16. The Los Angeles County Fair meet will begin Thursday, Sept. 7 and conclude Sunday, Sept. 24 while the Winter season will commence Thursday, Nov. 30 and wrap Sunday, Dec. 17. The final two meets are each 12 days long.

 TRACK RECORD FOR CALIFORNIA CHROME IN 12-LENGTH VICTORY IN WINTER CHALLENGE;

ENTHUSIASTIC CROWD ON HAND TO SEE POPULAR 5-YEAR-OLD IN FINAL CALIFORNIA RACE

 

       Before an enthusiastic on-track crowd of 5,023, California Chrome put on a show in his first start at the track where he has trained since January, 2014 in the $180,000 Winter Challenge Saturday at Los Alamitos.

The overwhelming 1-20 favorite in his final race in California, the 5-year-old son of Lucky Pulpit cruised past nine outclassed rivals in his prep for an anticipated rematch with Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate in the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Jan. 28 at Gulfstream Park. Outrun early after breaking from the outside in the field of 10, California Chrome was kept in the clear and extremely wide by jockey Victor Espinoza, wanting to avoid any possible traffic problems.

Fifth after the opening half-mile, the 2014 Horse of the Year and world’s richest active thoroughbred moved up to join the leaders without urging, swept to the lead with about 2 ½ furlongs to run as the cheers and noise level from his loyal supporters – affectionately known as Chromies – began to increase.From there, it was just a matter of what the margin of victory and the final time for the 1 1/16 miles would be. California Chrome’s 16th win in 26 starts saw him finish a dozen lengths in front of 21-1 second choice Point Piper. He stopped the clock in a track record 1:40.03, breaking the old mark of 1:40.82 set by Uncle Lino April 30 in – ironically – the California Chrome Stakes.

Trained by Art Sherman for Taylor Made Farm and co-breeder Perry Martin, California Chrome paid $2.10 in a race that featured only win wagering. The $50,000 payday pushed his earnings to $14,502,652.

“I was pretty nervous before the race,’’ said Sherman amidst a throng near the winner’s circle. “You know your horse is better than the others running in the race, but it is a horse race and anything can happen. (Espinoza) rode him with a lot of confidence.

“You could see he was much the best. I told Victor keep him in the clear and don’t get him in any trouble. He rode him like he was about 10 lengths the best horse. It was just perfect.

“Now I can relax and get ready for the Pegasus. I want Arrogate bad. I have something in my heart that says Chrome can beat him.

“The atmosphere here was just wonderful. It did my heart really good to be able to see him run in front of Orange County people. They are such loyal fans. This was a great day for racing. You can see what happens when you have a star.

“Let’s hope he pulled up well. He looked fine when he came by. I know with his record he will be Older Horse of the Year, but I’m rooting for him to be Horse of the Year. That would be a great way for him to go out.’’

Espinoza was also pleased with how the race will set California Chrome up for his finale in Florida. California Chrome is scheduled to begin his stud career in Kentucky after he competes in the Pegasus World Cup.

“When I got on him today he was stronger and it really surprised me,’’ said Espinoza. “When that happens I have a lot of confidence.

“I played it by ear coming out of the gate and when I saw some horses inside of me go, I just decided to sit off them and keep him in the clear. He’s very tactical and doesn’t need the lead. It was just perfect.’’

Point Piper, who was an easy winner of the Grade III Longacres Mile Aug. 14 at Emerald Downs, banked $30,000 for finishing second while winding up 3 ¼ lengths in front of  98-1 shot Papacoolpapacool, who was making only his second career start on dirt. Papacoolpapacool, a 4-year-old Temple City gelding, earned $20,000. Ain’t Misbehavin collected $20,000 for finishing fourth and Avanti Bello, the third choice at 22-1, earned $15,000 for his fifth place effort. The remaining five – Presidentsky, Howdy, Wrightwood, Lucky J Lane and Unusual Meeting - in the field earned $10,000 apiece. In the day’s other stakes event, Sircat Sally, who was stretching out after an impressive debut winner, was also a 12-length winner, leading virtually throughout as the 1-2 favorite in the $100,000 Soviet Problem.

Trained by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer for owner-breeder Joe Turner, the 2-year-old daughter of Surf Cat quickly assumed control from  17-1 shot Cash Prize, then simply improved her position the rest of the way in dominating five other California bred fillies. Ridden by Drayden Van Dyke, Sircat Sally, who is out of the In Excess mare Sister Sally, completed the distance in 1:35.42, the fastest clocking for the Soviet Problem since the race was lengthened to one mile in 2014. It was run at seven furlongs in 2012-2013 at Hollywood Park.

Sircat Sally, who won by five lengths in her debut at six furlongs Nov. 20 at Del Mar, has earned $88,200. She paid $3, $2.60 and $2.20. Cash Prize, the second longest shot in the field and a winner at Los Alamitos in her Sept. 17 initiation, returned $9.40 and $6.20 while finishing 1 ¼ lengths in front of 7-1 shot Bella Luma. The show price on Bella Luma was $3.60.

“The first time we didn’t expect that kind of performance and got it so we were a little spoiled,’’ said Don Chatlos, Hollendorfer’s assistant trainer. “Jerry was very confident today. The way she had galloped out in her race at Del Mar we didn’t think the distance would be a problem. She’s been here for several months so we thought she had the home court advantage. We’re excited about her future.’’

Racing resumes Sunday at Los Alamitos. Post time for closing day of the Winter Thoroughbred meet is 12:30 p.m.

The feature event on the nine-race program is the $100,000-guaranteed King Glorious Stakes. The one mile race is for 2-year-olds bred or sired in California.

California Diamond is the even-money favorite on Russ Hudak’s morning line. The Harbor the Gold colt is already a four-time stakes winner this year and was most recently second behind the undefeated  - and recent winner of the Grade I Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity – Mastery in the Grade III Bob Hope Nov. 19. Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux will ride California Diamond for Gary Hartunian’s Rockingham Ranch and trainer Peter Miller. The King Glorious goes as race 7 and has a scheduled post time of 3:28 p.m.

BRYAN CARNEY CRUSHES IN LOS ALAMITOS WINTER QUALIFIER

Congratulations to Bryan Carney of Santa Clarita for winning the Los Alamitos Winter Qualifier to the NHC. Carney outdueled a strong field of 99 entrants to earn a guaranteed seat to the NHC 2017 in Las Vegas plus a $4,950 cash prize. Samuel Alipio finished second and David McCarty third to also earned NHC seats. Danny Chavez and Jon Cianci rounded out the top five.  

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