Santa Anita’s 75th anniversary winter/spring meet comes to a conclusion today, with reflections on past hardships and expressions of optimism for the future. While there have been bumps in the road, the hope and intent is for a smoother journey ahead.

Five days were lost when the synthetic Pro-Ride main track failed to drain properly in isolated areas, and dwindling horse population at times made for less-than-ideal field sizes. But Thoroughbred heroes Zenyatta, Sidney’s Candy, Tuscan Evening and Bourbon Bay buoyed fan enthusiasm, creating memories of yesteryear on days that they performed their magic.

“The cancellations and horse population made it a challenging meet, but we did our best, and for the most part, with the exception of a few weekdays, we had fairly decent cards,” said Santa Anita Director of Racing Mike Harlow. “Obviously, we would have liked them to be a bit better, but considering the horse population, I think we held our own.” Average field size this meet was 7.8 horses, compared to 8.23 last meet.

Harlow was realistic when asked to access the future of racing in the Golden State.

“It all boils down to the cost of doing business and purse levels, as far as the horsemen are concerned,” he said. “Right now the expenses for the horsemen here are very high, and our purse levels are struggling in light of the competition and the economy throughout the country, so our horse population is diminishing.

“Some owners are looking at the pure economics of the game, and I think what we have to do is focus on the good points in California. The quality of our facilities is second to none and we offer many advantages. But we need to find a way to enhance purses to keep us competitive.”

Added Racing Secretary Hammerle: “Number one, we want to thank the fans both on-track and across the country for their support during the entire meet. These haven’t been the greatest of times, but the California horsemen have a lot of pride, and they showed it this meet by dealing with the adversity of the rain, the track and the situation in general.

“They really worked with us in helping to fill the races every day. Some days were better than others, but we’re proud to say we came through on the big days.”

Whether the Breeders’ Cup is held at tracks on a rotating basis in the future or finds a permanent home such as Oak Tree-at-Santa Anita, remains undecided at this point. Oak Tree hosted racing’s championships the last two years with great commercial and artistic success. Churchill Downs hosts the Breeders’ Cup this year on Nov. 5 and 6, but no host site has been announced for 2011 and beyond.

“It’s the Breeders’ Cup belief that their best opportunity to enhance their revenue is to race here on the first weekend of November,” said Oak Tree Director and Executive Vice-President Sherwood Chillingworth. “It’s their desire to come here, and Oak Tree’s position is, if they want to come, we’ll be happy to accommodate them.”

At Thursday’s California Horse Racing Board meeting, Chillingworth said discussions recently were held with MI Developments officials and that Oak Tree’s lease agreement with Santa Anita would be presented to a bankruptcy court in Delaware on Tuesday. Chillingworth said he had a recent conversation with MI Developments CEO Dennis Mills affirming the lease, which Chillingworth “assumes runs through 2016.”

Addressing the status of Santa Anita’s synthetic main track, which could possibly be taken out after this meet and replaced with traditional dirt, Chillingworth was ambivalent.

“Right now, the track is as good as it’s been,” he said of the Pro-Ride surface. “The only problem is the drainage. It’s not really Oak Tree’s call, but I would assume Santa Anita doesn’t want to risk another year with cancellations. So rather than try and find another synthetic surface that works, they may be thinking of going back to dirt.

“The good historical news is that we ran 306 horses here in the last two Breeders’ Cups, 14 races each year, without a single injury. I don’t mean catastrophic injury. I mean any injury of any kind.”


Alex Solis, a successful fixture on the Southern California circuit for more than two decades, will begin riding full time in Kentucky today, agent Brian Beach said Saturday afternoon.

“He’ll ride out the Keeneland meet and the entire meet at Churchill Downs, which ends July 4,” Beach said. “Then we’ll see where we go from there, maybe Saratoga. It depends on how many Kentucky-based trainers run there. After that, we plan to stay in Kentucky through the Breeders’ Cup.

“It was kind of a last-minute decision. Alex had been looking in the back of his mind to ride in Kentucky before he retired. We didn’t want to miss an opportunity to ride there now with the hope of landing mounts for the Breeders’ Cup there this fall. (Trainer) Ken McPeek is putting us on a few of his good horses, so we’re looking forward to that.”

Solis has 20 riding titles to his credit, 16 in Southern California. The 45-year-old native of Panama won Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1997 and the Bill Shoemaker Award as outstanding rider on Breeders’ Cup Day in 2003, when he won two races, including the Classic aboard Pleasantly Perfect. Solis won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on champion Kona Gold in 2000, and has been nominated to racing’s Hall of Fame several times, but has yet to be elected.

“I’m leaving today,” Solis said Saturday after finishing second aboard General Consensus in the Santa Barbara Handicap. “I’ll be in Kentucky tomorrow (Sunday). I’ve been riding here for 25 years, but I’ve never ridden (regularly) back East. I’m very happy with all the support people have given me in California—the owners, trainers, you guys (media), everybody. I had a great career here but I’d like to try something different and I have a good opportunity back there, and I’m going to try it.

“I’m looking forward to it. I’m very happy with my life and enjoy riding more than ever. I want to ride a little bit more and continue to enjoy what I love doing. I feel like I’m riding good, and having fun at what I’m doing. That’s the main thing, so I’m going to keep doing it.”


Santa Anita Horsemen’s Liason Ami Atkinson, wife of jockey Paul Atkinson, has been named Santa Anita Employee of the Year for 2010. A native of Vancouver, Washington, Ami was raised on a dairy farm east of Portland, Ore. “We learned how to work, have fun and deal with people,” said Ami. “I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

Ami has served as Santa Anita’s Horsemen’s Liason for the past 15 years and her duties range from early-morning communication with trainers to late afternoon customer service with owners, celebrities and jockeys.

“I really enjoy the mornings,” said Ami. “Being out there early lets the horsemen know that we’re here for them and that we’re here to help in any way we can. I make sure everyone who has horses racing on that particular day have a program and if they have any questions they need answered from the Racing Office, I take care of that as well.”

The mother of two young daughters, Makenzie (12) and Sarah (5), Ami has found a balance between family and work. “The racetrack is our extended family and my kids are comfortable here. They know a lot of the jockeys, trainers and agents and just about everyone in the Racing Office.”

Ami met her husband while working as an assistant trainer to Don Collins at Turf Paradise in Phoenix in 1990 and the couple relocated to Southern California in 1992, marrying in ’95.

“Racing is an up and down sport and Paul’s business has been down the past few years, but this meet has been extra special for me because he’s had a really good horse to ride, Caracortado. Winning the (Robert B.) Lewis Stakes (Feb. 6) was a great day. Our kids were here and I got the chills when Paul turned for home . . . I cried, it was just very emotional knowing that we had a chance to get to the Kentucky Derby.”

Santa Anita salutes Ami Atkinson and her entire family on being selected as Santa Anita’s Employee of the Year. (And good luck to Paul and Caracortado in the Preakness Stakes on May 15)!

FINISH LINES: Still sore from a riding mishap Friday, Mike Smith took off his scheduled three mounts Sunday . . . Trainer Jim Cassidy said Ashland Stakes winner Evening Jewel will be pointed to the Kentucky Oaks on April 30. Kent Desormeaux retains the mount. . . With the conclusion of the Santa Anita meet, program morning line maker Jon White will resume full time duties as an analyst on HRTV.