01/11/2011 4:34PM

Bejarano, Baffert make for hot team with Garcia away

Benoit & Associates
May Day Rose and jockey Rafael Bejarano win Sunday's Santa Ysabel for trainer Bob Baffert.

ARCADIA, Calif. – No jockey has benefited more from the lengthy immigration travails of Martin Garcia than Rafael Bejarano, now the go-to rider this winter at Santa Anita for trainer Bob Baffert, who celebrates his 58th birthday Thursday. The Bejarano-Baffert tandem won two more races together Sunday, and Bejarano won a third on the card, to extend their leads in the jockey and trainer standings, respectively.

“The difference a good rider makes is that he keeps a good horse from getting beat,” Baffert said. “He’s working horses for me, and we’re doing well. You’ve just got to find that winning combination.”

Bejarano and Baffert earned a stakes victory last Sunday with May Day Rose in the Santa Ysabel Stakes, and they will be aligned numerous times this holiday weekend. Of the six stakes from Saturday through Monday, Bejarano and Baffert will be teamed five times, including in all three stakes Saturday.

“I’ve got to keep riding this train,” Joe Ferrer, Bejarano’s agent, said over the weekend.

As for Garcia, he has not ridden since shortly after the Breeders’ Cup. Because of his immigration status, he was forced to return to Mexico while paperwork was processed. At first, according to his agent, Jim Pegram, that was expected to be wrapped up by opening day, but now Pegram said he believes Garcia should have things resolved by next week, though he admitted the situation is fluid.

Bejarano, Baffert said, “is reaping the benefits that Martin would have had.”

Last year, Garcia’s biggest victories for Baffert came with Lookin At Lucky in the Preakness and Haskell and Misremembered in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Perhaps the most significant race Saturday is the Grade 3, $100,000 Sham Stakes, because it is for Kentucky Derby prospects. Bejarano and Baffert will be aligned with Uncle Sam, winner of his debut going one mile Dec. 27. The prospective small field for the 1 1/16-mile race also is expected to include Anthony’s Cross, Grand Maneuver, Pride of Silver, and Tapizar, a well-regarded colt from Steve Asmussen’s barn.

Saturday’s best race, though, is the Grade 2, $150,000 San Fernando Stakes. Sidney’s Candy, the runaway winner of the Sir Beaufort Stakes on opening-day Dec. 26, should rule a heavy favorite against Do It All, Make Music for Me, Thiskyhasnolimit, Victory With Honor, and the Bejarano-Baffert entrant, the rapidly improving Tweebster who is seeking his fourth straight victory.

Also Saturday is the Grade 2, $150,000 Santa Ynez Stakes, for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs. Bejarano and Baffert are represented by Plum Pretty, who won her lone start against maidens during the Oak Tree meeting at Hollywood Park on Oct. 27. Others expected are Alec’s Moon, California Nectar, Teroda, Warren’s Flyer, and the likely favorite, Zazu, who was fifth in the Hollywood Starlet last time out but was a sharp second to Turbulent Descent in the seven-furlong Moccasin Stakes in her previous start.

Blind Luck returns in El Encino

Blind Luck, the heavy favorite to be named champion 3-year-old filly of 2010 at Monday’s Eclipse Awards, will make her 2011 debut Sunday in the Grade 2, $150,000 El Encino Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for 4-year-old fillies. Her expected rivals include Always a Princess, who goes for Bejarano and Baffert, along with Ancient Holiday, Champagne d’Oro, Malibu Pier, and, possibly, It Tiz.

On Monday, Bejarano and Baffert will have the horse to beat in the $75,000 San Pedro Stakes in Sinai, who was an impressive winner of his debut at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18. Others expected for the 6 1/2-furlong race for 3-year-olds are City Cool, Industry Leader, Mr Artistic MD, and, possibly, Arcadian. Baffert also has Classic Legacy and Free Pourin under consideration.

Baffert does not have anything Monday in the Grade 2, $150,000 San Marcos Stakes for older turf horses at 1 1/4 miles, leaving Bejarano free to ride Bourbon Bay, who is unbeaten in four starts on Santa Anita’s turf course. The San Marcos marks the first race for Champ Pegasus since his second-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Others expected for the San Marcos include Expansion, Haimish Hy, No Inflation, Philatelist, Sebastian Flyte, Unusual Suspect, and Where’s the Remote.

Strange betting pattern investigated

Santa Anita officials are looking into an odd betting pattern in Sunday’s sixth race regarding the favorite, Bad Boy. He had nearly $40,000 in the win pool with minutes to go before the race, but then more than half of that money came off as post time neared. On the final click, as the race went off, that money was back in the pool.

Randy Hartzell, Santa Anita’s director of parimutuels, said state auditors were looking into the situation, along with the tote companies that process Santa Anita’s bets from near and far.

“The tote companies are trying to find out where the money was taken out and where it was put back in,” Hartzell said. “It might have been something as simple as someone canceling tickets on the wrong horse and then putting it back in, but we want to make sure. Obviously, we don’t want anyone manipulating our pools.”