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Workers urge legislators to keep Santa Anita open

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Backstretch workers who walk, groom and care for racehorses at Santa Anita urged state legislators on Thursday to keep the Southern California track open after the deaths of 29 horses since December.

An estimated 500 workers gathered after morning training hours at the track, toting handmade signs emphasizing their love of horses and the importance of being allowed to continue their livelihoods.

“Horses are our lives” read one sign. Another read “We were born into this and it is our life.”

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said he is regularly approached by workers worried about their futures.

“A lot of jobs this industry has and we have to save them,” he said before the rally. “I can always pick up and leave, but they can’t. As an employer, I’ve felt more pressure worrying about them.”

The workers expressed their support for new safety measures put in place since the string of deaths that has cast a pall over the historic track sitting at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains in Arcadia.

“We do not like to lose one single animal. We love them all,” said Leandro Mora, a longtime assistant to trainer Doug O’Neill. “Those are our kids.”

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of track owner The Stronach Group, stood aside listening to the series of workers who stepped to a podium to speak. They were cheered loudly by their colleagues.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said in a statement that backstretch workers’ jobs are in jeopardy if more horses die.

“Safe horses mean safe jobs,” she said. “If these workers don’t already support continuing reform, they should get behind it right now.”

The Stronach Group later released a statement in which it noted that backstretch workers have been “a willing partner” in implementing safety reforms during the meet.

“We look forward to working with the hundreds of backstretch workers at Santa Anita Park as we continue to move the industry forward and educate Californians on how impactful horse racing is to the state,” track ownership said.

Racing at Santa Anita resumes Friday and continues until Sunday, the last day of the meet.

The circuit moves to Los Alamitos in Orange County from June 26-July 16. Del Mar near San Diego opens its major summer meet July 17.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent letters to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the owners of Los Alamitos and Del Mar urging them to expand the enhanced safety review Newsom ordered at Santa Anita.

“The extra layer of review you established to examine each horse’s medical records and racing history is a prudent step to ensure racehorse safety,” Feinstein wrote. “I urge you to implement it at racetracks throughout California for the remainder of the year.”

Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers, told the crowd, “Without the backstretch workers there would be no racing.”

The workers, who are hired by trainers stabled at the track, typically rise at 4 a.m. and toil seven days a week as grooms, stable attendants, watchmen and exercise riders. About 80% of them live on the backstretch, where medical and dental services are available as well as help with drug and alcohol problems.

“It’s emotional to see all the hard workers and their families out here to have a voice because they haven’t had a voice,” O’Neill said before the rally. “There’s so much uncertainty, yet here we are loving on horses and no one reports on that.”

Workers fear for their futures if the track would be forced to close as a result of the horse deaths.

“This job allows me to sustain my family,” said Alberto Lopez Mendoza, a 35-year worker who said two of his children received college scholarships from a foundation dedicated to helping backstretch employees.

“I feel like the horses under my care are like my family. I take care of them like they are my family.”

Rally organizer Oscar de la Torre said horse racing directly provides 77,000 jobs in California, including 3,000 at Santa Anita.

“We don’t want welfare, we don’t want unemployment,” a worker in the crowd shouted. “We just want to keep our jobs at Santa Anita.”

Higher Power wins $1M Pacific Classic

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DEL MAR, Calif. — With his top two horses elsewhere, John Sadler took a chance with a couple others in his barn.

Higher Power paid off.

The 4-year-old colt took command turning into the stretch and won the $1 million Pacific Classic by 5 1/4 lengths at Del Mar on Saturday, making Sadler the first trainer to win the Grade 1 race in consecutive years with different horses.

“The second time is just as sweet,” Sadler said.

In 2018, Accelerate ended Sadler’s 0-for-11 skid with a record 12 1/2-length victory in the West’s biggest race of the summer. Owner-brothers Kosta and Pete Hronis joined Sadler with consecutive victories.

“Winning it back to back is a tribute to John Sadler,” Kosta Hronis said.

Ridden by Flavien Prat, Higher Power ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.43 at the seaside track north of San Diego. Sent off at 9-1 odds, the colt paid $21.20, $9.40 and $7.40.

“When we entered the backside he really grabbed the bit and I was travelling really well,” Prat said. “Once the leader fell apart he really jumped into the bridle and did everything on his own, so I thought that was the right move.”

Draft Pick returned $17.40 and $10 at 13-1 odds. Mongolian Groom was another neck back in third and paid $7.20 to show at 18-1 odds.

Higher Power earned an automatic berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall.

Seeking the Soul, the 2-1 favorite, finished seventh.

“He didn’t try at all,” jockey John Velazquez said. “No effort. I don’t get it.”

Sadler’s top two handicap horses, Gift Box and Catalina Cruiser, weren’t in the picture. Gift Box won’t run again until this fall and Catalina Cruiser is tabbed to run next in a sprint race.

Not seeing a dominant horse in the race, Sadler entered Higher Power. The colt responded with the first stakes win of his career.

“It developed pretty much the way we thought,” he said. “We thought there would be some speed on the inside and the plan was to stalk. It came out the way we thought it would.”

Sadler’s other entry, Campaign, finished fifth.

The victory, worth $600,000, increased Higher Power’s career earnings to $800,648, with five wins in 13 starts.

Sadler didn’t get Higher Power in his barn until spring. The colt was with another trainer for the first six starts of his career and then transferred to a different trainer.

In other stakes:

– Acclimate won the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap by a length under Florent Geroux. The 5-year-old brown gelding earned an automatic berth in the BC Turf.

Trained by Phil D’Amato, Acclimate ran 1 3/8 miles on turf in 2:12.71 and paid $16.60 to win at 7-1 odds.

– Cambier Parc shipped in from New York and won the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks by 1 1/4 lengths for trainer Chad Brown.

Ridden by Velazquez, the 3-year-old filly ran 1 1/8 miles on turf in 1:46.75. She paid $4.40 as the 6-5 favorite.

– Fighting Mad cruised to an eight-length victory in the $100,000 Torrey Pines Stakes.

Ridden by Joe Talamo, the 3-year-old filly ran one mile in 1:38.61. Fighting Mad paid $6.60 as the 2-1 favorite trained by Bob Baffert. She’s owned by Gary and Mary West, owners of Maximum Security, disqualified after finishing first in the Kentucky Derby.

– Mr Vargas won the $100,000 Green Flash Handicap by 2 1/4 lengths.

The 5-year-old gelding ran five furlongs on turf in 56.15 seconds under Talamo. Mr Vargas paid $8.40 to win for trainer Brian Koriner.

Horologist upsets Jaywalk in Monmouth Oaks

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OCEANPORT, N.J. — Horologist upset Jaywalk, last year’s juvenile filly champion, in the $162,500 Monmouth Oaks on Saturday.

As expected, 1-5 favorite Jaywalk set the pace until Horologist made a strong run along the rail on the final turn. She slipped by to win by three quarters of a length in the stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Monmouth Park.

Horologist, bred in New Jersey, won for the fifth time in 10 starts for trainer John Mazza. Mazza said he was confident his horse would run a “bang-up race,” but he didn’t know it would be enough to beat a “champion like Jaywalk.”

Angel Suarez was aboard for the 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.44.

Jaywalk was coming off a nine-length win in the Delaware Oaks last month. She closed out last season by winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies to clinch the Eclipse Award.

Horologist – whose name refers to a maker or dealer of timepieces – paid 12.80, $3.40 and $2.10 as the 5-1 second choice in the five-horse field.

Jaywalk returned $2.10 and $2.10. Sweet Sami D paid $2.10 to show, and was followed by Lady Banba and Stay Smart.