Holy Lute wins the second heat of the Eddie D. Stakes (gr. IIIT)

Holy Lute wins the second heat of the Eddie D. Stakes (gr. IIIT)

Benoit Photo

New Santa Anita Turf Course Passes First Test

Jockeys were pleased overall with the new grass course.

One day in, and four races down, the Southern California jockey colony had positive comments about Santa Anita Park's brand-new turf course with just more than a month to go until the Breeders' Cup.

The Southern California racetrack ran four races on the grass Sept. 30—three over the downhill turf course and one at a flat mile—and riders came back with glowing reviews.

"It's like a carpet right now," said Kent Desormeaux, who won two races on the turf course. "It's pristine. It's incredible. But we'll see how it holds up."

As much as the jockeys liked the opening turf session, the underlying sentiment was concern regarding how the course will be managed leading up to the Breeders' Cup.

"The horses have been running well and hopefully they maintain the way it is right now," said Victor Espinoza. "As long as they don't run too many races. If they run too many races, it's going to be a problem for the Breeders' Cup."

The finishing times and fractions were noticeably very fast in comparison to recent turf races in the region, but the jockeys didn't find fault with that aspect. Fritz Johansen, who won a mile claiming race under Desormeaux, covered the distance in 1:33.66. Three races down the hillside—including two heats for the Eddie D. Stakes (gr. IIIT) all ran in 1:11 and change for about 6 1/2 furlongs.

"I know the times are pretty quick, but it feels good and it's even all the way around," said Joe Talamo. "It's got a little bounce to it. It's safe, and that's more important than the time."

In comparison to the previous turf course, which was a different type of grass and had significant issues to force Santa Anita to cancel the final three weeks of turf racing during its spring meet, the riders drew a stark comparison. Some called the previous course "uneven."

"It's a big difference," Espinoza said. "The other one was pretty much garbage compared to this one. The other one was pretty much a disaster."

"The last course was done," Desormeaux added. "The grass wasn't responding to anything they were doing, to where horses weren't getting over it well. They had to do something, and so far, so good. This surface, there's nothing to abbreviate a horse's stride. There's no undulation. There's no divots."

The only incident on the turf Friday was in the final Eddie D. heat, in which Secreto Primero was pulled up in the turn by jockey Norberto Arroyo and eased in the stretch. Arroyo jumped off the gelding just past the wire, but said after the race that he didn't feel Secreto Primero's potental injury could be attributed to the turf course.

“He felt bad in behind, like he broke down," Arroyo said. "I tried to pull him up, and he gave me a hard time, but he’s hurt somewhere. I don’t think (it had anything to do with the turf course).”