By Ray Paulick
Spring is in the air, with temperatures topping 70 in Kentucky, and visions of Roses in the minds of many horse owners around the country. Today's Triple Crown preps start in New York with Aqueduct's Gotham Stakes and continue in California with last year's 2-year-old champion, Stardom Bound, the heavy favorite in the Santa Anita Oaks. But the capper for today's outstanding racing is the Santa Anita Handicap — the Big 'Cap — the race the great Seabiscuit won in 1940, the fixture that attracted an all-time record crowd to the Great Race Place in 1985 when Lord At War won in front of 85,527 fans.
Perhaps the Big 'Cap hasn't been quite as prominent since the Dubai World Cup took the spotlight away from winter racing for the handicap horses when it was inaugurated in 1996. It still carries a $1-million purse and carries Grade 1 status, along with a whole lot of prestige.
I'll be providing commentary for the next few hours, beginning with the Gotham Stakes, won with a huge performance by California invader I Want Revenge, who pressed Mr. Fantasy on the lead for the opening seven furlongs, then kicked away at the top of the stretch to score by a wide margin–my guess in nine lengths. Imperial Council got up for second, just edging Mr. Fantasy at the wire, with Masala fourth. Final time on a fast track was 1:42.65 for the 1 1/16 miles after fractions of :23.76, :48.45, 1:12.69 and 1:36.46.
This was the first “off synthetic” race for the Jeff Mullins-trained son of Stephen Got Even, who was coming off a third-place finish behind Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface. Joe Talamo has been in the saddle for the last five starts of I Want Revenge (pictured, left), who races for David Lanzman. It was I Want Revenge's second win in seven starts, but he's never been worse than third, after beginning his career at Hollywood Park last July and breaking his maiden in his fourth start in October at Hollywood Park, his first race around two turns.
Back to the Big 'Cap for a second. If you haven't seen the YouTube video of Seabiscuit's victory, check this out by clicking here.
4:46 p.m. (Eastern) …. Jeff Mullins is hot. His first-timer Leavenworth just aired in the fourth race at Santa Anita, a 6 1/2-furlong maiden event for 3-year-olds. Son of Forest Wildcast was ridden by Tyler Baze and drew down the stretch impressively. On to Nicarnor's second race…
4:51 p.m. … Well, that was more like it. Nicanor (Barbaro's full brother if you didn't know) finished a game second at 8-1 behind 4-5 favorite Custom for Carlos in a seven-furlong maiden race at Gulfstream Park. Under Jose Lezcano, Nicanor broke well from the nine post, took the lead while setting fractions of :22.83 and :46.57 for the half, then yielded at the top of the stretch to Custon for Carlos , who was just off Nicanor's outside flank from the beginning. It looked as though Nicanor might fade back as he did in his Jan. 31 debut (when he grabbed a quarter coming out of the gate) but he kept to his task, and was actually cutting back into Custom for Carlos' lead when they hit the wire. Custom for Carlos (a More Than Ready colt trained by Eddie Kenneally and ridden by Kent Desormeaux) won by about a length, getting the distance in 1:23.55 after a six-furlong split of 1:10.55.
All in all, a good race for Nicanor. I'd like to see him stretch out next time, though I'm certainly not going to second guess trainer Michael Matz. Chart.
4:58 p.m. … Here are the quotes from the New York Racing Association from the connections of Gotham Stakes runners. I particularly enjoyed Kiaran McLaughlin's comments wondering why Jeff Mullins and I Want Revenge didn't stay on the West Coast.
5:01 p.m. … Here's the chart of the Gotham, actual winning margin was 8 1/2 lengths and I Want Revenge paid $8.30 to win. Aqueduct's inner track appeared to be speed favoring for most of the day, with two big off-the-pace victories coming in the races immediately preceding the Gotham, including an exciting last-to-first win by Ah Day in the Toboggan Stakes. Here's that chart.
5:10 p.m. … Glimmerglass, I am “in the dark” about the blackout on TVG and HRTV of the live feed of the Gotham. I don't know if a New York regional sports network carried the race and had the rights, but it really seems ridiculous for both racing cable channels to have to show it on tape delay. I don't get it but I'll try to find an answer.
In the meantime, here's another great YouTube video featuring the first running of the Santa Anita Handicap from way back in 1935. Watch Azucar leaving the winner's circle. Does it make you wonder what the heck he was on that day? Video.
5:15 p.m. … Random Big 'Cap thought. I wonder how many Santa Anita Handicaps my mother in law, Helen, has attended in person, and how many Big 'Caps fell on her birthday, which is today. Next up… the Honest Lady, the first of four stakes on the Big 'Cap card.
5:20 p.m. … Here's the deal. When you see fractions of :22.08 and :44.10 on a synthetic track, start looking toward the back of the field for the winner. That's what happened in the Honest Lady, with Sweet August Moon and John Velazquez picking up the pieces after a too-fast pace, drawing off to win by about a length and a half over another closer, Foxy Danseur, with Coco Belle third,. The early leaders, Synnin and Grinnin, Moonshine Alice, Kallokan Dancer and Starry Pursuit, were all spent when the real racing began. Final time was a quick 1:09.10 after a five-furlong split of :56.58. This was the first stakes win for Sweet August Moon, a 4-year-old by Malibu Moon trained by Brian Koriner. She'd won three of nine previous starts and was stakes placed in the Grade 3 La Habra last year. Chart.
5:30 p.m. … A lot of early money on another Brian Koriner runner, Hannahs Classy Boy, in the sixth race, a downhill turf allowance. He is 15-1 on morning line and 9-2 early.
5:35 p.m. …. Regarding Edgar Prado not riding Nicanor at Gulfstream. As much as I'm sure he'd like to have been on the colt, when any jockey has a chance to win a $1-million race, money trumps maiden races. Prado is at Santa Anita riding that terrific card, including Monba for Todd Pletcher in the Big 'Cap.
5:40 p.m. … Here's the answer about why HRTV and TVG both showed the Gotham Stakes on tape delay. Fran LaBelle of the New York Racing Association tells us that “the rights to the Gotham are part of the Belmont Stakes agreement with ESPN/ABC. Although they chose not to broadcast the race, we did not get their OK for anyone else to show it live, so we asked both HRTV and TVG to show the race on a delay.” How's that for arrogance — not on the part of NYRA but by ESPN/ABC? They have the rights to televise a race live, but elect not to show it and don't want anyone else to, either. Who gets the shaft? You tell me.
5:42 p.m. … Jeannie, you are correct in your comment about Gomez picking up those mounts. My mistake. Prado was named to ride. Will have to see what happened.
5:45 p.m. … How's this for back-to-back Big 'Cap winners? Affirmed in 1979 (the first Santa Anita Handicap I saw in person), followed by Spectacular Bid, the best horse I've seen in my lifetime. Video of 1979 and 1980.
5:50 p.m. … From Gulfstream Park publicity department, here are comments on Nicanor's second-place finish from connections of the winner and Nicanor.
5:53 p.m. … Regarding Prado. According to a comment on Del Mar Forum, TVG reported Prado was sick and did not travel from California. This is not verified and I'm just passing the comment along.
6:10 p.m. … Santa Anita's pick six starts off tough with a 12-1 win from Apoplectic in the 6 1/2-furlong downhill turf allowance. Raingear was second, with Buck's Bro third. Winner is trained by Craig Dollase and coming off a nine-month layoff. That was a maiden victory going 1 1/16 miles on the Hollywood Park turf. The winner is a 5-year-old gelding by Nureyev stallion Unusual Heat, the red-hot California stallion who even has his own web page. Caution: if you click on his page, turn the volume down, unless you're a big fan of the “Rocky” theme song.
6:20 p.m. … Santa Anita Oaks coming up. HRTV does a nice piece introducing the importance to racing of Santa Anita Park and follows up with a pretty good feature on Stardom Bound, the 2-year-old filly champion and Oaks favorite. The comparisons to Winning Colors, winner of the Santa Anita Oaks, Santa Anita Derby and Kentucky Derby are unavoidable, and Gary Stevens on HRTV provides some insightful comments about both fillies, since he rode Winning Colors and is part of the IEAH team that now owns Stardom Bound.
Let's take another trip down memory lane and watch what it takes for a filly to win the Kentucky Derby. Video of Winning Colors in 1988.
6:30 p.m. .. The much-awaited interview with Michael Iavarone of IEAH, who has backed off a little bit on his ambition of running Stardom Bound against colts in the Kentucky, “My exuberance after the Las Virgenes might have been a little accelerated,” he says during an interview on HRTV. After that victory, Iavarone said the Kentucky Derby was the absolute goal. A good win will probably get her a chance against colts in the Santa Anita Derby, Iavarone says, but he's taking it one race at a time. Gary Stevens says the daughter of Tapit has been tough to gallop all week, and he hopes jockey Mike Smith can get her off the rail and relaxed in the race.
They are approaching the gate, with Stardom Bound 1-5 and no one else in single digits. Miss Silver Brook is second choice at 10-1.
6:38 p.m. … Wow….what a wild stretch run, with four noses on the line. Not sure if Stardom Bound got her nose up. Stardom Bound was last early and rallied about eight wide into the stretch.
Stardom Bound gets the head-bob photo. Third Dawn, a longshot by Sky Mesa who had just broken her maiden last out for John Sadler, was narrowly beaten…probably by a nose. There's a good chance Third Dawn would have been taken down, however, as she shifted out into the path of Stardom Bound with about a sixteenth of a mile to run. Also in the photo was Hooh Why, another nose back, with Nan about a head behind her on the rail in fourth.
There was a stewards inquiry but no change was made in the order of finish.
Burg Berg set the slow early fractions of :23.78, :47.54, and 1:12.12 for the first six furlongs, with Hooh Why and Robbie Albarado not far behind. Hooh Why moved to the front at the top of the stretch, but several fillies were on her heels. One of them, Miss Silver Brook, had to check sharply about 70 yards from the wire. Final time was 1:43.62 after a mile split of 1:37.17.
“Extremely wide, jockey error on my part,” Mike Smith said after the race when asked on HRTV how wide he went. “I was anywhere from 15 to 20 at one point,” he said. “I'm just so grateful that she's so talented.”
“I need a defibrillator right now,” Iavarone told HRTV a few minutes after the race was declared official. “I think she worked pretty hard today against the girls. She's going to really have to improve herself to be able to handle horses like Pioneerof the Nile. But I'm going to talk it over with the guys and see what they think. If they think that they want to go forward, then I'm willing to go forward. But she worked pretty hard against the girls today.”
This was Stardom Bound's fifth consecutive victory in a Grade 1 stakes. She lost her career debut sprinting by a nose at Del Mar, then was second in the Grade 2 Sorrento Stakes at Del Mar. She broke her maiden in the Del Mar Debutante, then reeled off wins in the Oak Leaf Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies and Las Virgines, the latter her first start of 2009. She raced for Charles Cono and trainer Chris Paasch through the Breeders' Cup and was sold for $5.7 million to IEAH at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky in November and transferred to Robert Frankel.
7:05 p.m. …. Santa Anita publicity department quotes…
MIKE SMITH, STARDOM BOUND, WINNER: “It seemed like she got lost out there early. We had a terrible trip. When I moved out with her turning for home, everybody else went out at the same time and we got caught really wide. From the sixteenth pole home, I thought we could grind 'em down, but I was worried. At the wire though, she put her ears up and she was playing with the pony coming back. Maybe this is the kind of race she needed. I guess you could say it was a not-so-heady ride.”
7:06 p.m. … Line of the day from Jeff Siegel of HRTV. “Not a bad warm-up race,” he said of the Oaks.
7:30 p.m. … While I quickly down a dinner before the Kilroe and Big 'Cap, thought I'd link to one of the best Big 'Caps I ever attended. Here's the video.
7:35 p.m. …. To answer an earlier question: Would Stardom Bound have won by more if not forced to alter course late? Yes, I think so, but she wouldn't have won by more than a neck. As Frankel said, she ran 10 lengths farther than anyone else.
What a nice tribute HRTV has put together in honor of the late Frank E. (Jimmy) Kilroe, the longtime director of racing at Santa Anita. He was from another era, when racing secretaries were opinionated in assigning weights to horses and stuck by their opinions. Times have changed, and with so many other opportunities handicaps are no longer relevant.
7:45 p.m. … Is Ventura really that good? The Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner is even-money in her second try against colts in North America, her first try resulting in a second-place finish behind Rahy's Attorney in the Woodbine Mile last fall on yielding turf.
7:50 p.m. … Ventura's trainer, Robert Frankel, said he wants her to be up close to the pace, in the first flight, behind Hewitts, in the Kilroe Mile. He told HRTV he was very proud of Stardom Bound, but I wonder what he might have said if asked about Mike Smith's ride. Probably something not fit for the family hour on television….which reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from a trainer about a jockey. Charlie Whittingham, when he trained Gato del Sol (in his later years), was stunned when jockey Sandy Hawley took the late-running Kentucky Derby winner to the lead early in a mile and one-half turf race. “If I had a rifle, I would have shot him out of the saddle,” Whittingham joked.
7:57 p.m. … It just doesn't get any better. Ventura looked like a sure winner of the Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at the eighth pole, opened what looked like a safe lead, but got nipped right on the money by the fast-finishing Gio Ponti, to lose by a nose…the photo makes it look like about two inches. Ramon Dominguez rode the winner for trainer Christophe Clement. Gio Ponti is a 4-year-old colt by Tale of the Cat whose biggest previous win came in the Virginia Derby when he beat Court Vision by a nose.
Jockey Garrett Gomez said Ventura “took a couple of steps in (at the sixteenth pole), and I had to straighten her back up.” Gomez took Ventura back to fifth off the early pace set by Hewitts, who laid down fractions of :23.26, :46.31 and 1:09.86 on firm turf. Hewitts was under pressure from Wise River down the backstretch. Dixie Chatter made the first run at the lead at the top of the stretch, but Ventura edged passed him inside the eighth pole and appeared to be en route to the win. But Gio Ponti (pictured, left) came flying down the outside to just get up, completing the distance in 1:33.65 after a seven-furlong split of 1:21.69.
Ramon Dominguez said he talked with Clemente earlier in the day for instructions on how to ride Gio Ponti, who was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Strub Stakes behind Cowboy Cal on Feb. 7. “He told me to try and save ground and wait as long as I could,” Dominguez said. “I was trying to follow Ventura, who seemed like she was getting a great trip, and from then on it was going to really be a horse race.”
8:10 p.m. … A couple more memories of the Santa Anita Handicap. The Bid 'Cap was always the biggest day of the Santa Anita meeting when I lived in Southern California, and it still attracts crowds of between 40,000 and 50,000 on-track. But I don't think anyone was prepared for the crowd that showed up in 1985, the year Lord At War won the race for Peter Perkins, trainer Charlie Whittingham and jockey Bill Shoemaker. That day, a total of 85,527 turned out, an all-time Santa Anita record. The atmosphere was incredible.
There were “only” 72,752 at Santa Anita three years earlier when John Henry went for his second consecutive Big “Cap win, and that was another truly exciting day. John Henry won easily the previous year (with good old Flying Paster among those chasing him home), but he was in for the stretch duel of his life (except, perhaps the Arlington Million against The Bart) against the Whittingham trained Perrault in the 1982 Santa Anita Handicap. Laffit Pincay Jr. used all of his strength to get Perrault to the wire first, but his left-handed whipping caused the horse to drift out significantly, impeding John Henry, who got the victory via disqualification. It's something you hate to see in a Grade 1 race, but the stewards made the only call they could.
Here's a recap of John Henry's two wins in the Big 'Cap, including the head-on of the stretch run between John Henry and Perrault. Video. Honestly, watching the replays and just thinking about the excitement of Santa Anita that afternoon sends shivers up and down my spine.
8:25 p.m. …. OK, Christine, because you mentioned Broad Brush's sire, Ack Ack, here's the video of his Big 'Cap win. Another win for Charlie Whittingham, the second of his eight Santa Anita Handicap wins. There was nobody that could train an older horse like the Bald Eagle could, and later in life he showed he could even win the Kentucky Derby a time or two! Video of Ack Ack.
8:30 p.m. … HRTV's ace handicapper Jeff Siegal picks longshot Monba in the Big 'Cap. I'm going with Court Vision, who hasn't been on a synthetic track since breaking his maiden at Keeneland. They are loading into the starting gate….
8:35 p.m. … Einstein wins the Big 'Cap under Julien Leparoux, getting a perfect trip from just off a very slow pace, winning easily under high weight of 121 pounds. Champs Elysees finished well to get second ahead of Matto Mondo, who set the pace, with Monba fourth. According to HRTV, the Helen Pitts-Blase runner was the first East Coast based horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap since Broad Brush beat Ferdinand.
Blue Exit was pulled up approaching the far turn with a fractured cannon bone, was vanned off and later euthanized, according to Santa Anita's publicity department.
“We got a good pace, not too fast, not too slow,” said Leparoux. “When you are behind horses like this it is very easy to relax, and he's a good horse.” “It's an unbelievable feeling,” said Pitts-Blase. “He means the world to me and it's my biggest win.”
Matto Mondo, who was co-favored with Court Vision at 9-2, set fractions of :24.52, :48.31, 1:12.93, and 1:35.59 under Rafael Bejarano. Einstein was never far behind and moved to the lead at the top of the stretch, gaining command at the eighth pole and drawing off to win by about a length. Final time was 2:01.93 for the 10 furlongs on the synthetic Pro-Ride surface. Colonel John, the morning line favorite, was scratched by trainer Eoin Harty when he spiked a temperature on Saturday morning.
Einstein was winning for the 10th time in 24 starts (his first time on synthetics). He races for the Midnight Cry Stable, which also owned two-time Horse of the Year Curlin when he broke his maiden and retained a minority interest in the horse for the remainder of his career. Pitts was Curlin's trainer when he broke his maiden.
Santa Anita Handicap chart. Will try to get an update on Blue Exit. But otherwise, that's it for Big 'Cap day.
RAFAEL BEJARANO, MATTO MONDO, THIRD: “We got a pretty easy lead, but I had to let him go running a little bit earlier than I wanted. Maybe if I could have waited a little bit longer, it would have been better.”
GARRETT GOMEZ, MONBA, FOURTH: “He ran a very respectable race. I was glad to see him get back on form. We know he's got a lot of talent. It's just trying to get him to use it. He seemed interested pretty much the whole race. But when the pace quickened, he's just pretty much of a plodder. But I was just glad to see him put some effort into it.”
HELEN PITTS-BLASI, EINSTEIN, WINNER: “I can't believe it. He (Julien Leparoux) rode him absolutely beautiful. They're a great team, those two. It's an unbelievable feeling. It just means the world to me.
BOBBY FRANKEL, CHAMPS ELYSEES, SECOND: “It was a good race.”
RICHARD MANDELLA, MATTO MONDO, THIRD: “No excuses. Everything went as well as we could plan.”
NOTES: This is the first $1 million victory for Pitts-Blasi.
Today's on track attendance was 31,496.
9:35 p.m. … Very sad to report that Blue Exit was euthanized, according to the Santa Anita publicity department, the result of a cannon bone fracture suffered in the Santa Anita Handicap. The 4-year-old son of Pulpit was pulled up on the far turn. Owned by the Blue Exit Partnership and trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, Blue Exit began his career in France and won one of four starts since returning to his native U.S. last year. He most recently finished a fast-closing second to Cowboy Cal in the Strub Stakes.
Copyright © 2009, The Paulick Report
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