New season, new natural surface, renewed hope.

Such are the elements Santa Anita Park hopes will produce an elixir for horses, horsemen and fans alike as The Great Race Place embarks on its 74th season of world-class racing Sunday, Dec. 26.

The much-anticipated winter/spring campaign, which runs 76 days through April 17, 2011; a return to an all-natural dirt main track consisting of 90 percent sand and 10 percent clay; plus an expected 25 percent increase in purses from last season, has generated a welcome spike in a grand and glorious game that has ebbed in recent years. They are major reasons superstar trainer Steve Asmussen has sent a portion of his sizeable and high-powered stable to compete on a regular basis at the Arcadia track.

“With Santa Anita going back to dirt and the increase in purses, it’s generated a spark of interest, and we wanted to be a part of it,” said Asmussen from Clockers’ Corner Thursday morning. Asmussen is a two-time Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s outstanding trainer in 2007 and 2008 and conditioner of the Horse of the Year the last three years: Rachel Alexandra in 2009, and Curlin in 2008 and 2007. Asmussen also led the nation in number of winners in 2002, 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.

“We’re very early in the process,” continued Asmussen. “What will determine whether we will be able to measure this a success or not for us is how well our horses come out of here and what kind of year we have with them, because the majority are young horses.”

Among them are soon-to-be 3-year-olds Astrology and Tapizar. “If they’re two (year olds), they’re Triple Crown hopefuls for me,” Asmussen said with a laugh when asked if they were on his short list for the 3-year-old classics.

“Astrology is out here and he’s a relatively accomplished 2-year-old,” Asmussen said. “Tapizar is out here as well.” Astrology, a bay colt by A.P. Indy, won the Grade III Iroquois Stakes at one mile on Oct. 31 before finishing second in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes on Nov. 27.

Tapizar, a son of Tapit, broke his maiden by 10 ½ lengths going a mile and a sixteenth at Churchill Downs on Nov. 27.

Asmussen had no word on breeding partners for Rachel Alexandra or Curlin, who are at Stonestreet Farm near Lexington, Ky., and Lane’s End Farm in Versailles, Ky., respectively. “I wasn’t in that meeting,” said Asmussen, who has some 150 horses in training nationwide at five different venues. The 45-year-old native of Gettysburg, S.D., is approaching 500 wins this year and is more than 200 in front of his nearest competitor. He set the record with 623 victories in 2009 and is one of only six trainers to reach the 5,000 plateau in his career.

“The surface seems good so far,” said Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi, who is directing operations at Santa Anita. “We’ve breezed several over it and they all got over it well. There are some unknowns, as far as how it will take water and such, but I think it’s been very consistent.”


Kathy Walsh gave two thumbs up when asked about Santa Anita’s new, all-natural dirt main track which opened for training on Monday, Dec. 6.

Santa Anita’s main track was comprised of synthetic material from September 2007 through Oct. 11 when construction began on the new surface.

“My help’s been very impressed with it, and everybody else seems to be,” said the veteran trainer who has been in the business more than four decades.

“It looks all positive to me at this time,” Walsh said. “I guess we have to be a little reserved, but I sure am happy with it. The horses seem to glide over it. I talked to some trainers who worked horses over it, and they’ve all come back good. Overall, it’s the happiest I’ve seen one group of people in a long time, and it’s rare to have that many people on the same page about one issue.”


Richard Tedesco, an integral member of the team that spearheaded installation of Santa Anita’s new dirt main track, is encouraged by feedback from horsemen with opening day drawing near.

“The horses are zipping over the track,” the veteran track superintendent said Thursday morning, when there were 97 recorded workouts. “You can’t even hear them; that’s the good thing. Yesterday we heard them a little bit, but I cut the track slightly on the inside, went a little deeper, and then I set it back up, and they’re doing fine.”

But Tedesco is not one to rest on his laurels. “We have the major work behind us, but now we’ve got a week of rain facing us,” he said. “That’s the unknown, We’ve had rain, and the track handled it well, but the latest weather forecast calls for maybe four or five inches.

“I would seal this track, just like we have other traditional dirt tracks. It won’t seal like concrete, but it will seal tight.”


Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, the regular rider of the great Zenyatta, and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, will appear at the ESPN Zone L.A. Live, in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday, Dec. 22, from 6 to 8 p.m. HRTV racing analyst Peter Lurie will join the distinguished duo. Opening day passes, Santa Anita T-shirts, posters and hats will be given away to those in attendance.

For further information, contact Tim Whiteman or Jeff Freedman at ESPNZONE@LALIVE, or or They may be called at 213 765-7078 and 310 871-8317, respectively.

The show will feature a special pre-opening look at the upcoming Santa Anita meet that starts Dec. 26.

FINISH LINES: Agent Ron Ebanks has booked Joel Rosario on three horses for John Sadler in opening day stakes: Twirling Candy in the Grade I Malibu Stakes; Sidney’s Candy in the Grade II Sir Beaufort Stakes; and Switch in the Grade I La Brea Stakes . . . Garrett Gomez rides Thiskyhasnolimit for Steve Asmussen in the Malibu and Bogie for Paddy Gallagher in the Sir Beaufort, agent Ron Anderson said. Other Malibu probables include the undefeated Alcindor, Rafael Bejarano; Caracortado, Joe Talamo; and Setsuko, no rider. Alcindor worked six furlongs Thursday for Bob Baffert in 1:12.20, while Setsuko and Twirling Candy went the same distance in 1:14.20 and 1:10.80, respectively . . . Former Marine and long time agent Ivan Puhich appeared fighting fit at Clockers’ Corner Thursday morning. “I had surgery for colon cancer in September,” said Puhich, who turns 85 on Dec. 22. “I go to the gym almost every morning. I hope to reunite with Julio Garcia when he comes in. He’s a great rider and a nice guy.” . . . Aaron Gryder will be on hand at Santa Anita for “a couple weeks” before moving to ride regularly at Oaklawn Park. “While I’m here, I’ll be working horses for Steve Asmussen,” Gryder said . . . California-bred stakes winner La Nez worked five furlongs Wednesday in a bullet :58.80 for trainer Eric Kruljac. Victor Espinoza was aboard. “We’re looking at either the La Brea, the Monrovia or the Kalookan Queen,” Kruljac said. “She worked very well.” . . . Thanks to contributions from Jerry and Ann Moss, which were matched by the California Thoroughbred Trainers, the Zenyatta Women’s Lounge will open Sunday, 11 a.m., on Santa Anita’s backstretch for female backstretch personnel. “We want to thank Santa Anita, which was very helpful in getting this project completed,” said Aase Headley, wife of trainer Bruce Headley . . . Jan. 26, 2011 marks the 32nd year Hostess with the Mostess Rosie Yberra will be welcoming guests at the popular Clockers’ Corner eatery.