Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Santa Anita President's Day Weekend Stakes Wrap-Up

Last weekend brought with it a three-day weekend as the nation celebrated Lincoln's and Washington's birthdays. Santa Anita ran 5 stakes over those three days, from a pair of 7 furlong sprints to a mile and a half marathon on the lawn. On Saturday, the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes and the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes were run, both with thrilling stretch-drives. Sunday brought the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes. Monday brought a couple of races on the grass, the Grade 3 La Habra Stakes and the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap. The stakes actions had some scintillating stretch runs, some devastating late kicks and a solid gate-to-wire performance.

On Saturday, The Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes at a mile and one-half continued the budding rivalry between arguably the two best turf horses in the country, Champ Pegasus (right) and Bourbon Bay. In the San Marcos Stakes last month, Bourbon beat Champ, maintaining a perfect record over the course. This race was affected by the inclement weather that hit the Southern California area on Friday and Saturday, forcing the start of the race to happen on the main oval of the turf course, and not on the downhill portion. The race itself managed to avoid the rain, as the sun was out. Unbridle’s Dream went out and set the lead, getting in front by, at some points, 10 lengths. Bourbon tracked the leader in 2nd, taking over the lead when the pacesetter faded in the stretch. (Unbridle’s Dream had to be vanned off after the race with a non-life-threatening injury.) Champ Pegasus came right up to Bourbon Bay, and they threw it down in the stretch, battling right down to the wire. In the end, the Champ won the battle, as he won the photo over Bourbon at the wire. After the race, Champ’s trainer Richard Mandella said that he will head to Dubai with his runner for a race on the Dubai World Cup night, and Bourbon Bay’s trainer. Neil Drysdale said he will take his charge there as well. It is a bit of shame that these two will not continue through the rest of the San Juan Capistrano series, as these two could have eclipsed the last big turf rivalry in Southern California, Kotashaan and Bien Bien. This blog wishes them luck in Dubai.

A few hours later, with a hailstorm in the interim, under much wetter conditions, the Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes at 7 furlongs ended up with 4 of the 6 horses finishing within a length of each other at the wire. The favorite was Smiling Tiger (right). He was looking to bounce back from his disappointing third-place effort in the Palos Verdes Handicap last month. Captain Cherokee, who finished second in the Palos Verdes, along with the Baffert duo of Mythical Power and Ventana, were among those who lined up against them. At the break, Smiling Tiger had trouble, and was in the unusual situation of having to come off the pace. Captain Cherokee and Ventana set the moderate fractions down the backstretch on a less than fast track, and held the lead until the final 1/16th. Mythical Power charged, as did Smiling Tiger. As they hit the wire, Smiling Tiger gamely went by the others, winning from well off the pace under a perfect ride by his jockey Joel Rosario. The connections for Smiling Tiger stated that their next goal is Met Mile at Belmont on Memorial Day.

On Sunday, 6 three year olds lined up in the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes going 7 furlongs. The favorite was The Factor (right), who was making his first start since his track-record performance on opening day. Second choice in the betting was Best Pal Stakes runner up Sway Away, who was making his first start since that race in August. Third choice was Hollywood Prevue winner and this blog’s choice to win the Kentucky Derby Premier Pegasus. The Factor went right out to lead, dueling with and eventually putting away City Cool by the time the field was turning for home under swift fractions. PrePeg stalked the blistering pace, but could not stay with the leaders and ended up a solid third. Sway Away rallied from well out of it, but could not catch The Factor, with the race finishing in a time similar to the San Carlos. Further analysis of this race will be provided in the next Drought Report post.

On Monday, the stakes action kicked off with the Grade 3 La Habra going about 6 & ½ furlongs down the hillside turf course, with the turf listed as good. This was a surprise to this blog that the race was on the turf, as the amount of rain SoCal received was not insubstantial. A Z Warrior and Bloemer Girl were both major scratches from the race. One of the betting choices was Cambina(right), who looked to put in a late run and build off her trouble-filled North American debut in the Sweet Life Stakes (which was a common race to many in here. The favorite was Cloneylass, who like Cambina, was severely impeded during the running of the Sweet Life, in which she finished second. Two of the also-eligibles drew in, with Quiet Oasis drawing some attention on the board, partly due to her 7th-placed finish in the Bredeers’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and her luring of top local jockey Joel Rosario. At the wire, a desperate photo separated Quiet Oasis, who took over in the stretch, and the on-rushing Cambina, who rallied from well out of it. Cambina won the photo over Quiet Oasis, with Cathy’s Crunches finishing well-back in third. These two could hook up next in the Grade 2 Providencia Stakes going a mile on the grass on the Santa Anita Derby undercard.

Two races later, 11 older mares hooked up in the Grade 2 Buena Vista Handicap. The field was evenly matched, with the morning line emphasizing that by making the morning-line favorite 4/1. However, the favorite (Evening Jewel) scratched out of the race, with the connections citing the post and the less-than-firm turf conditions. Favoritism fell to Malibu Pier, who was coming off a disappointing finish in the Grade 2 El Encino last month on the main track. Returning to the turf, where she previously won on, she appeared a solid choice, and looked great in the paddock. Briecat always is a threat to take a field gate to wire, and she attempted to do as much during the race. She won the front-end battle but lost the race as Cozi Rosie (right)rallied from way back to get up for the win, with Malibu Pier finishing third. Cozi was returning from a long layoff, and may be at her best at this mile distance, as this win was her third win at the distance.

So there is a brief recap of the stakes action that occurred at Santa Anita over the President’s Day weekend. It was filled with thrilling finishes, the 2011 debuts of some future stars and the continuation of a budding rivalry. Let’s see what the rest of the meet holds.


  1. For me, the San Luis Obispo and the Malibu have been the races of the meet. The San Luis Obispo looked like a 2 horse race between Champ Pegasus and Bourbon Bay going in, but rarely does racing go according to script. Well, it did in this instance as the 2 favorites lived up to their billing and turned in huge performances. It was an absolute classic, one that DRF writer Jay Hovdey ranked among the best ever on the Santa Anita turf. If only we could get them to stay for the San Luis Rey and San Juan Capistrano.

  2. Like baseball pitchers, thoroughbreds are now micro-managed by trainers, owners, and racing managers. Rather than build a solid foundation, it's all about having a "fresh" horse and "peaking" for a few limited performances while avoiding "the bounce". And if the conditions are not perfect, scratch and wait for another day. As fans, this careful approach means we see our stars far less often than fans of earlier generations.

    Ultimately, if a horse is to be great, it must run, and run enough to compile accomplishments.

    The San vicente provided an interesting case study of how micro-managing can sometimes backfire. Just 2 hourse before the running of the San Vicente, one of the morning line favorites for the race, Indian Winter, was surprisingly declared from the race. His trainer, Jerry Hollendorfer, believed the Santa Anita dirt surface too greatly favored front-running The Factor, and thus he made the unusual move of scratching the horse from a stakes just hours before post.

    Jerry Hollendorfer is a wonderful trainer, worthy of the Hall of Fame, but this move made little sense to me at the time, and even less now. Rather than sticking to plans and testing Indian Winter against quality prospects in a race that offered the colt much needed graded earnings, Hollendorfer choose instead to send the horse to Arizona and run in this past Saturday's ungraded $50,000 Turf Paradise Derby.

    Frankly, Hollendorfer's move smelled of poultry, as in chicken, and suggested that he didn't have that much confidence in Indian Winter, a horse I had liked as a Derby prospect. If the San Vicente is too tough, how will Indian Winter handle the Kentucky Derby?

    I never take it as a positive sign when a trainer makes last minutes changes in plans; the racing gods have a way of punishing connections for trying to dodge better competition, and they had their sights set on Indian Winter this Saturday at Turf Paradise. Made a heavy favorite in Arizona, Indian Winter struggled home to cross the wire 3rd before being moved up to 2nd via a dq. Suffice to say, I have removed Indian Winter from my list of Derby contenders.

    The Turf Paradise Derby was the final nail in the coffin for the form of the San Pedro, the race Indian Winter won last month. In addition to Indian Winter running a poor 2nd in Arizona, one of the favorites for the San Pedro, Arcadian, ran out of the money in this Turf Paradise Derby with San Pedro 4th place finisher, Mr Artisctic MD, running 3rd. San Pedro horses had already bombed in the San Vicente, with San Pedro runner-up City Cool finishing last in the San vicente and San Pedro 3rd, Sinai, running 5th in the San Vicente. The San Pedro has become a negative key race.