01/07/2017 8:42PM

Blue Tone relishes mud in San Gabriel

Benoit & Associates
Blue Tone scores by 1 1/4 lengths under Kent Desormeaux in the off- the-turf San Gabriel.

ARCADIA, Calif.- For years, Blue Tone has been a source of high expectations for trainer Bob Hess Jr., the sort of horse expected to develop into an important stakes winner since a maiden win at Hollywood Park in the summer of 2013.

In recent years, there were more disappointments than success, losses in 10 consecutive graded stakes from November 2014 to late November of last year.

The trend was emphatically reversed in Saturday’s $201,035 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita.

The race was switched from turf to a muddy main track because of morning rain, but Blue Tone took to the surface without difficulty. Sent off as the 6-1 fourth choice, Blue Tone led throughout 1 1/8 miles to prevail by 1 1/4 lengths over Intsinthepost.

Blue Tone was timed in 1:49.82. The lead diminished to a head on the turn and into early stretch before Blue Tone pulled away in the final sixteenth.

“When he gets to run freely, he runs very efficiently,” Hess said.

An 8-year-old, Blue Tone has won 7 of 25 starts and earned $558,870 for owners Beverly Engelberg, Schoeder Farms, and Jan Steeper. The San Gabriel Stakes was Blue Tone’s first stakes win since $102,250 Santana Mile here in March, 2015. The San Gabriel was Blue Tone’s 16th start in a stakes.

Hess has frequently given Blue Tone layoffs to preserve his form, hoping to emulate the Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.

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“He’s 8 going on 4,” Hess said of Blue Tone. “He’s super healthy. We’ve tried to take a page from the Dick Mandella-be-patient book.”

Kent Desormeaux rode Blue Tone and coaxed the gelding through a moderate pace of 23.16 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.17 for a half-mile, leading by a half-length over A Red Tie Day. There were four runners within a half-length of the lead at the end of the backstretch, with Itsinthepost and Ring Weekend contending with wide trips.

A Red Tie Day and Ring Weekend faded in early stretch. Itsinthepost tested Blue Tone to the wire.

Desormeaux was surprised Blue Tone was able to sustain the effort.

“He broke horribly,” Desormeaux said. “I didn’t think I had anything left from the half-mile pole. I nursed him to the quarter pole. He showed all the class he has.”

Itsinthepost, an 8-1 shot, finished 1 1/4 lengths in front of 7-2 Twentytwentyvision, who closed from last in a field of eight. Point Piper, second to California Chrome in the $180,000 Los Alamitos Winter Challenge on Dec. 17, finished fourth, followed by Ring Weekend, Perfectly Majestic, A Red Tie Day, and Quick Casablanca.

Ring Weekend was the 8-5 favorite. He won the Grade 2 Seabiscuit Handicap on turf at Del Mar Nov. 26.

Conquest Daddyo, Flamboyant, and Some in Tieme were scratched early Saturday when the race switched surfaces.

Blue Tone won an optional claimer here in October and was later third in the Grade 2 Marathon Stakes at 1 3/4 miles on Nov. 4, the undercard of the first day of the Breeders’ Cup races here.

Desormeaux was delighted with the win, and said he was somewhat surprised the gelding handled the off going. It seems Blue Tone is not keen on stepping in mud puddles on backstretch paths, Desormeaux said.

“He must be a mudder,” Desormeaux said. “He wouldn’t step in a puddle going to the track. When I walked him on the track today, he was playing in it like a child.”