Santa Anita's Star Destined For Derby Bust

No doubt, The Pamplemousse is the best three year old horse at Santa Anita.

He won the Sham Stakes in a record time, he will be the heavy favorite in the Santa Anita Derby, and he should be running in the Kentucky Derby the first Saturday in May.

And he will lose there.

That’s because the playing field isn’t level. Or isn’t the same at least.

Santa Anita runs on Pro-Ride Track, a synthetic turf made of used tires and heavens knows what else. Whatever it is it is not dirt. And that old-fashioned stuff that gets muddy when it rains is what early favorite Old Fashioned and the rest of the Derby contenders will run on.

It’s not The Pamplemousse’s fault, just as it wasn’t Colonel John’s last year. He won the Sham Stakes and looked impressive. He went on to win the Santa Anita Derby and had a lot of support at the Derby betting windows.

Colonel John finished 14 ½ lengths behind the Kentucky Derby winner.

If you think that was a fluke, you didn’t watch the Breeders Cup at Santa Anita last year. The best horses in the world gathered to run on Santa Anita’s new and expensive Pro-Ride surface, and five of the nine Saturday races were won by European horses shipped in. Raven's Pass and Henrythenavigator finished 1-2 in the Classic, beating out the best American horses.

Not because they were better, but because they were better at running on grass (which is all they race on in Europe). Pro Ride reacts like grass, at least as far as the horses are concerned. Trainers and owners are split on how much the surface does what it says it will do — reduce the number of horse injuries and deaths, something that really all is an issue more of breeding trends than surface.

This is not a Santa Anita issue alone, more and more tracks nationwide are going to this. Keeneland Race Course, the second most famous track in Kentucky, has Polytrack, as does Arlington Park outside Chicago. More and more are making the switch, it’s just that every track in California was forced to by the states body that oversees horseracing. They thought it would be safer, at least until a series of horses had to be put down at Santa Anita earlier this year.

The Pamplemousse will likely win the Santa Anita Derby April 4, he clearly likes the very expensive new track that Santa Anita put in. But unless he is the very rare horse that can take to dirt and turf, he is the next in what likely will be a long line of Santa Anita horses that go bust in Kentucky’s biggest race. At least until the dirt comes back to Southern California tracks.

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