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California trainers continue to battle wet weather

Monday, January 9th, 2017

ARCADIA, Calif. – Ian Kruljac follows the Southern California weather these days as avidly as some folks follow politics or the NFL playoffs.

Kruljac is the trainer of Finest City, the winner of the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Santa Anita in November. Finest City is nearing a comeback in the $200,000 Santa Monica Stakes at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on Jan. 21 but has had her preparation disrupted by wet weather in Southern California in recent weeks.

Finest City jogged Sunday at Santa Anita on the outside of the main track, the only section open for training.

“I might be able to work her next week for the Santa Monica,” Kruljac said. “We’re training every day but just jogging.”

Finest City is not certain to run in the Grade 2 Santa Monica, Kruljac said.

“I’d rather miss a race than miss a year,” Kruljac said. “If we can work next week, we’ll be okay.”

Kruljac is one of scores of Southern California trainers in a similar situation, dealing with weather that has prevented full training. In the first nine days of racing from Dec. 26 through Sunday, at least part of three programs have been run on fast tracks and one – Dec. 26 – was run on a firm turf course. There was no turf racing Friday and Saturday last weekend.

The recent weather pattern is a change from past years, when drought conditions prevailed, leading to minimal training interruptions. The conditions were devastating for the state’s environment but allowed racehorses to stay in peak condition.

There were 94 works Sunday on the infield training track, a significant increase from a typical day when that track is used primarily for joggers and gallopers and has about 10 to 20 workers. The workouts on a bright Sunday morning allowed some stables to stay on schedule before the main track is expected to be available for full use in the coming days.

“You’ve got to work around the weather,” said Vann Belvoir, who won 20 races in 2016. “When you see sunlight, you have to work. Last week, I had a lot of workers in the middle of the week.”

The wet conditions have affected entries. There are 55 horses entered in eight races Thursday and 53 entered in eight races Friday – an average of less than seven runners per race. In the first nine days of racing, fields averaged 8.23 runners per race.

Some trainers have taken a patient approach, with long-term goals.

“It’s a long year,” John Sadler said. “If you have good horses, you have to be careful. We’ve got to wait it out.”

Sadler trains Stellar Wind, the 2015 champion 3-year-old filly. She is currently jogging for a comeback in late winter or early spring. She jogged two miles Sunday, Sadler said.

Others in his stable will miss races in the coming weeks because of weather.

“The group hit the hardest is the turf horses,” Sadler said. “You miss some works, and you miss races.”

When brighter skies return, there will not be a rush to add turf races, according to Rick Hammerle, Santa Anita’s vice president of racing. He said Santa Anita will continue with a blueprint of running one or two turf races on Thursdays and Fridays and as many as three on weekends.

“I don’t see us picking it up too much until March or April,” he said. “We’ll be happy to get a week of dry weather.”

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Photo Credits:   Vassar Photography (Northern CA)  |  Benoit Photo (Southern CA)  |  Michael J. Marten (Southern CA)

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