A day without Baltas at Santa Anita is like a day without sunshine, and while there has been more than enough erratic weather during the 12-week old Winter Meet, trainer Richard Baltas has been a constant, a racing secretary's dream with 125 starters, second only to three-time Santa Anita training king Doug O'Neill's 150.
Baltas couldn't recall the number of days he did not have a starter from his barn of 83 head based at Santa Anita and San Luis Rey Downs, but added with a laugh, “There haven't been many, maybe a couple. That's what I'm here for, and it's hard to win at 18 percent when you run 125 horses.
“Yesterday I thought we'd win two but we only won one, and we had one second and one third, so all three horses hit the board.”
The fact is, Baltas has missed only one of 45 racing days without entering a horse this meet, that being Feb. 11.
Baltas, who turns 56 on May 30, could add to that ever-expanding number with at least two more starters next weekend, Inordinate in Saturday's San Luis Rey Stakes for older horses at a mile and a half on turf and Kiss At Midnight in Sunday's $100,000 Dream of Summer Stakes, part of the Golden State Series for California-bred or sired horses, this for older fillies and mares at a mile on dirt.
Inordinate, a five-year-old full horse by Harlan's Holiday, ran second in an overnight race at a mile and a quarter on turf Feb. 25 in his only start for Baltas, who obtained the Kentucky-bred bay out of the November Fasig-Tipton Sale. Bred by Juddmonte Farms and previously owned by the internationally acclaimed Thoroughbred operation, Inordinate had been trained by 2016 Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown.
“He ran well for us first time out and I believe he probably needed the race (his first since last Aug. 27),” Baltas said. “He's come back to train well. He worked (six furlongs) in 1:12 and two on March 14. It looks like he might have a chance in the race. We'll see.”
Inordinate will be ridden by resurgent Corey Nakatani, who has enjoyed noticeable success with Baltas, winning nine times in 26 tries for the trainer.
Kiss At Midnight was claimed for $25,000 in April of 2015 and has been second in four Cal-bred stakes, including last year's Dream of Summer. The five-year-old Decarchy mare has earned $357,793, most of that under the direction of Baltas.
Baltas, a native of Gary, Indiana, hometown of Tony Zale, the great middleweight champion of the 1950s, has had great success with claims. He posted his first stakes win with $32,000 claim Freedom Crest in the Grade II San Pasqual Handicap in 2001 and also the Grade II, $488,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap in which Freedom Crest defeated 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow. On the bargain list as well is Big Macher, who was taken for $20,000 in 2013 and gave Baltas his first Grade I win, in the Bing Crosby Stakes in 2014. Big Macher was on the work tab Sunday morning, going three furlongs in 36.80.
Baltas, who now resides in Los Alamitos with his wife, Debby, moved to Huntington Beach when he was nine, graduated from Marina High School in 1979, attended the races with his late father, Gus and fell in love with the sport.
“I started going to the races when I was 13 with my father,” Baltas said. “My mother was at the races the other day. She's 88. My Dad died when he was 74.”
At 21 and wanting to break into the game, in 1983 Baltas moved to the heart of the Blue Grass country in Lexington, Kentucky, attended the Kentucky Equine Institute and began working at Spendthrift Farm where resided Triple Crown winners Seattle Slew and Affirmed.
He rubbed yearlings and worked as a groom, learning the business “from the ground up,” through trainers such as Tom Skiffington, Eric Guillot, Barry Abrams, Craig Dollase and Richard Mandella.
Baltas took out his trainer's license in 1991 and won his first race at HollywoodPark with Latchburn.
His wife, Debby, the “Julia Child of Racing Repast,” calls the shots at the track kitchen on Santa Anita's backstretch. Her family ran the track kitchen at Hollywood Park until the track closed in December of 2013.
Debby's Mom, Norma, serves hungry patrons at the Fresh Gourmet, “a great stop for lunch or dinner” on 2004 Huntington Drive in San Marino, a few furlongs from Santa Anita.
The San Luis Rey is expected to draw a full field. Probables include Ashleyluvssugar, Gary Stevens; Buster Douglas, Santiago Gonzalez; Flamboyant, Brice Blanc; Inordinate, Corey Nakatani; Itsinthepost, Tyler Baze; Liam the Charmer, Victor Espinoza; Papacoolpapacool, no rider; Site Read, Stewart Elliott; Some in Tieme, Tiago Pereira; Syntax, no rider; Texas Ryano, Joe Talamo; Up With the Birds, no rider; and Wanstead Gardens, no rider.
Liam the Charmer and Site Read worked in company for Michael McCarthy Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:00.60 and 1:00.80, respectively. Asked how he liked the works, the on-the-run trainer said, “Loved ‘em.”
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