Not your usual Texas shipper
ARCADIA, Calif. -- Saturday's $300,000 Strub Stakes at Santa Anita is an ideal opportunity for a shipper such as Dixie Meister to challenge the 4-year-old males based in Southern California.
Dixie Meister has won 3 of 16 starts and $311,120 in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. In his most important race, Dixie Meister was second at 32-1 in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at Louisiana Downs on Jan. 7, his only start this year.
Since that race, he has been acquired privately by Gary Tanaka from Millennium Farms and has remained with trainer Steve Asmussen. Dixie Meister, who has won two stakes for Texas-breds, is making only his third start for Asmussen, having been trained by Barry Germany until last summer.
Last November, Dixie Meister won the Star of Texas Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park in his first start for Asmussen.
"We've been fortunate to have him his last two races," Asmussen said Wednesday via telephone. "I thought he ran well the first time we ran him and better the second. I just hope the Dixie Meister that I'm used to shows up. He's in good form. He's very honest."
Typically, a gelding who has made most of his starts at Lone Star Park, Retama, and Sam Houston would not merit consideration in the Strub, but this year's running may be an exception.
Top contenders such as High Limit, Giacomo, and Wilko have questions surrounding their chances.
High Limit has yet to win at 1 1/8 miles, the distance of the Strub. Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo has not started since finishing seventh in the Belmont Stakes last June. Wilko is winless in seven starts since the 2004 Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Asmussen rarely runs horses in California. He fears that horses shipping to California can be at a disadvantage. As an example, he cited Saint Liam's sixth-place finish in the 2005 Santa Anita Handicap.
The Strub is expected to have a large field, but Asmussen is willing to take a chance. He has booked David Flores to ride Dixie Meister. Other probable starters include Actxecutive, Canteen, Distorted, Greeley's Galaxy, Hockey the General, Ice Cole, Top This and That, and Ulistnintome.
"The quality of the opposition is the biggest question," Asmussen said.
Rematch of Real Quiet foes in Sham
When Bob and John faces Genre in Saturday's $100,000 Sham Stakes, it will be the first time the pair has met since being involved in a controversial disqualification in the Real Quiet Stakes at Hollywood Park in November.
Bob and John, trained by Bob Baffert, won the Real Quiet over 1 1/16 miles by six lengths but was demoted to third for bothering Kissin Knight in early stretch. Genre, who finished a nose in front of Kissin Knight, was promoted to first.
The Sham Stakes, run over 1 1/8 miles, will determine whether Genre continues on the Triple Crown trail or reverts to turf, said his trainer, Ben Cecil.
Owned by David and Paula Mueller, Genre has already run 1 1/4 miles, having finished third in the Zetland Stakes in Newmarket, England last October. The minor stakes was his final start in that country, where he won 2 of 8 starts.
Cecil put Genre away after the Real Quiet, wanting to give the colt a chance to acclimate to California and mature.
"He'll run all day long. Distances shouldn't be a problem," Cecil said.
The Sham Stakes will have a small field. Bob and John, who later finished third in the Hollywood Futurity and won an allowance race here, will be a heavy favorite.
Good weather helps figures rise
Boosted by a record crowd for the Sunshine Millions program last Saturday, Santa Anita's winter meeting has shown sizeable gains compared with last year and is keeping pace with the 2003-04 meeting.
Through Sunday, the 26th day of the meeting, the average ontrack attendance was 9,454, a gain of 28 percent over the first 28 days of the 2004-05 meeting, according to figures released daily to the media.
The average ontrack handle of $2,303,068 was up 22 percent, while the all-sources average handle of $10,509,670 improved 21 percent.
The 2004-05 meeting was plagued by rain from shortly after Christmas until mid-January. One program was cancelled after one race had been run. This year, the meeting has had very little rain.
"It's been so much better than last year," Santa Anita president Ron Charles said of the recent weather.
Some figures from the current meeting are nearly even with the 2003-04 meeting, which was not plagued by rain. While the average all-sources handle of the current meeting is up 8.7 percent compared with 2003-04, the average ontrack attendance and handle are down by less than 1 percent.
This year's figures were helped greatly by the Sunshine Millions program. The track drew an ontrack crowd of 32,116, well above the previous mark of 18,888 for the 2004 Sunshine Millions.
The attendance was well above management's expectations for an ontrack crowd of 22,000 in the event's fourth year.
"It really surprised us," Charles said. "Everything came together."
The ontrack crowd was the second highest of the meeting, following the 34,590 that attended opening day on Dec. 26. Saturday's figure could be surpassed by other big days such as the Santa Anita Handicap program March 4 or the Santa Anita Derby program on April 8.
"It sets the standard pretty high," Charles said.
Jauregui recuperating from spill
Jockey Luis Jauregui was released from Arcadia Methodist Hospital on Monday night after breaking a vertebra in his lower back in a one-horse spill on Jan. 26.
Jauregui, 36, said Wednesday that he will learn more about how long he will be away after a doctor's visit this week.
"They've told me it will take some time," he said. "I've been walking around and lifting hand weights. The more I'm active, the quicker I'll heal."