It's no hyperbole to say there was much more riding on Monday's Fasig-Tipton Santa Anita 2-Year-Olds In Training Sale Under-Tack Show than what numbers showed up on the stopwatch.
Santa Anita's place in the eye of a public relations hurricane following a rash of breakdowns is well known, and tasking a catalog full of juveniles to go all-out in a breeze was a proposition with potentially disastrous consequences if every horse that stepped on the track didn't come back on all four legs.
If you're reading this just to see if any horses broke down on the track during the under-tack show, they didn't. In fact, the workouts were abundantly slower than what's been seen throughout the rest of the juvenile auction season in recent memory.
Monday's under-tack show produced 57 horses who breezed an eighth of a mile in :11 seconds flat or slower. That's just 13 fewer than the 70 combined workers at the distance to clock similar times at the five other major 2-year-old sales put on this year by Fasig-Tipton, Ocala Breeders' Sales Co., and Keeneland. Those five auctions accounted for over 2,600 cataloged juveniles before scratches. The Santa Anita sale nearly surpassed them all with a catalog of just 169.
Many of the reasons given by the breeze show's participants for the overall slower times stem from changes enacted by track management in response to the multi-faceted scrutiny it has endured this season.
One of the key factors was an especially deep, slow main track. The surface has been slow throughout much of the current Santa Anita meet, as evidenced by Roadster winning the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in 1:51.28 over a mile and an eighth, the slowest winning time for the race since 1940.
“The track was a full second slower than a lot of the other tracks that we've been breezing on, like Gulfstream, OBS, and Maryland,” said consignor Bruno DeBerdt of Excel Bloodstock. “You'll see a lot of them, especially at Gulfstream where the times are a little bit slower than, say, at OBS, but the track was definitely a little bit slower because it's been conditioned differently, and it's been conditioned to where it's maybe not as speed-oriented, and that's okay, because it's a level playing field for everybody. If you have a very good-moving horse, they'll skip across it and show themselves.”
Santa Anita's whip policy during workouts also contributed to Monday's efforts, to varying degrees of success. Consistent with the track's guidelines, riders were able to carry a crop in hand for safety purposes during the breezes, but they were not allowed to cut loose on the reins, reach behind, and whip on the flank.
DeBerdt and consignor Andrew Havens of Havens Bloodstock Agency each said they were informed that the morning whip rule would transfer to the breeze show about a week ago, and the level of preparedness in the wake of it differed from seller to seller.
“That really affected two or three of mine really significantly,” Havens said. “They'd been trained to break off with inducement from the stick, and without that, a couple of them just didn't break off. Otherwise, I thought it went fine.
“In these previews, you can't use them up too much because they're not that fit, so you can't start them way early,” Havens continued. “You've got to get them to break off so they'll use that distance completely without having to move into it, which is not the way people train [to race], but it's what we have to do for these sales and we just need to find another way to do it. Maybe verbal cues.”
Havens was quick to note that he was a supporter of Santa Anita's whip policy for training, but confirmation of the guideline came so late in the proceedings that it was difficult to adapt.
Adrian Gonzalez of Checkmate Thoroughbreds shipped the horses in his consignment to trainers at Santa Anita a few months ago, meaning they had plenty of experience breezing under the track's guidelines. This took a level of adaptation on Gonzalez's part, too, but he was able to see the writing on the wall well ahead of time.
“When we were asking those trainers to breeze them a certain way, I'd come down here to watch the works, and they weren't using the whip, and I was frustrated,” he said. “I said, 'Hey you guys, this isn't how we do it,' and they said 'That's the rules here. We can't use the whip.' From that point on, I had a really good idea that we weren't going to be able to use the whip, so we just prepared our horses differently to where we weren't relying on them, so it didn't really affect us.”
Though his horses got used to training without the whip, Gonzalez theorized that its absence was a contributor to the overall slower times of the Santa Anita breeze show.
“It's the difference of a half-second,” he said. “It's one of those things where if it didn't work, we wouldn't use it. But at least it's fair. It's not like one consignor can use it and another can't. If none of us use it, that's fine because it's even for all of us.”
Another unique adjustment for the Santa Anita sale was additional veterinary scrutiny beyond the buyer's examinations; another safety measure implemented by track management with the hopes of taking some of the risk out of the breeze show.
“We had the state vet come in and look at them about four days ago, and then we had a private practitioner that Santa Anita hired look at the horses yesterday morning,” DeBerdt said. “I just thought it was a good idea, because now you've not only got the consignors' eyes on the horses, but you now have two individual groups who don't have any stake in the horses, and they're able to give an objective opinion. God forbid something should happen, but it takes some of the onus off of us.
“As consignors, no one wants to see a horse get hurt, so certainly, I thought it was a good precautionary measure,” he continued. “It was well-implemented, and gave us plenty of time to have the horses examined with no hardship to the horses. It was a five-minute examination. I was there for the examination for our horses, and I thought it was done very professionally.”
While the added veterinary measures were generally welcomed, their implementation was met with mixed reviews.
“Everyone's trying to find something wrong with these, and there wasn't really a lot of communication,” Gonzalez said about the veterinary exams. “They'd look the horses over and they wouldn't tell us what they were seeing, so you lose sleep at night thinking, 'Gosh, are they going to scratch my horses?' Thankfully, my whole barn, we went into it sound and they're coming out of it sound.”
With so many horses working slower than the industry norm for a national-level juvenile sale, there were some concerns that the buying public might dismiss the entire lot without the head-turning times they're used to seeing.
Given all the measurements put in place almost specifically to curtail horses from breaking the stopwatch, and themselves in the process, Havens was hopeful the breeze show and its times might be the spark for a paradigm shift in shopping for 2-year-olds in training.
“To be honest, I've always wished these people looked at the horses more than they did the clock anyway, so maybe this'll be the beginning of that kind of program,” Havens said. “I'd be in favor of that.”
The bay filly is out of the winning Dansili mare Elbe, who is the dam of two winners from three foals to race. Grade 1 winner Antonoe and French Group 1 winners Mutual Trust and All At Sea are in the extended family.
Kings Equine consigns the filly, as agent.
The dam's two foals to race are both winners, including multiple stakes winner The Money Monster. Consigned by Tom McCrocklin, agent, the colt is from the family of G1 winner Steve's Friend and G2 winner Christmas Boy.
To view the full results from Monday's under-tack show, click here.
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