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Dry track prods hundreds to work
ARCADIA, Calif. - Because of the relentless cycle of storms that have visited Southern California the past week, the main tracks at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park have largely been closed for workouts. With more rain forecast beginning Sunday night, and the tracks as reasonably dry as they had been in days, trainers knew Sunday morning was their one glimmer of hope if they wanted to get in a workout.
"Nobody thought the track was perfect, but it was like - this is your one chance," said trainer John Sadler.
It was a head-spinning morning, most notably for the association clockers, who recorded a mind-boggling 382 workouts at Santa Anita, and another 275 at Hollywood Park. That's 657 works if you're scoring at home.
Conspicuous by his absence, though, was the highly regarded Fusaichi Samurai, who was nominated to this Sunday's $100,000 San Miguel Stakes, but is unlikely to start because his training schedule has been interrupted by the weather.
"It's part of Santa Anita in the wintertime," said his trainer, Neil Drysdale.
Fusaichi Samurai, a $4.5 million auction purchase last February, was a dazzling winner of his debut on Dec. 11 at Hollywood Park. He has worked twice since then, but not since Dec. 24. There was an allowance race for which Fusaichi Samurai was eligible last Thursday, but Drysdale did not even bother to enter him because the track figured to be muddy, which it was.
Only nine 3-year-olds were nominated to the six-furlong San Miguel, and the other marquee name, Roman Ruler, will also pass the race. Roman Ruler, the winner of the Best Pal Stakes and runner-up to Declan's Moon in the Del Mar Futurity, re-aggravated a quarter crack on the inside of his left front hoof following a six-furlong workout in 1:13.40 on a sloppy training track Saturday morning.
"I'll probably wait and stretch him out," said his trainer, Bob Baffert. "I'll just play it by ear."
The San Miguel field will likely include Bushwacker, Devil's Bay, Seize the Day, and a couple of others whose trainers get brave once they realize the big guns are out. Bushwacker sped five furlongs in 58.60 seconds on a track rated good at Hollywood Park on Sunday. It was the fastest of 104 works at the distance.
Ready, set, clock
Gary Nelson, the head clocker at Santa Anita, knew he was in for a hectic morning Sunday. He had seen the light recent work tabs. He had seen the weather forecast for early in the week. And he knew the track would be open for works.
"It was nonstop from the time we put our face up to the glass at 4:45," Nelson said. "I don't think we've ever had a tab that big. But with the forecast we had, you knew it was going to happen."
Nelson and four others are responsible for timing the horses at Santa Anita. There is a fifth person in the press box booth who records the works on a tab, and another employee who is positioned at the quarter-pole gap and interacts with trainers to relay the names of horses about to work via a headset.
"I'm tired. It's not my thumb, it's my mind," Nelson said after the track was closed for training Sunday. "I'm beat. I'm going to stop and have a margarita on the way home. You can quote me."
Sweet Catomine tunes up for Sunday
In an effort to stay on schedule for Sunday's $100,000 Santa Ysabel Stakes, Sweet Catomine worked five furlongs between races on Saturday.
Working alone, Sweet Catomine went five furlongs in 59.81 seconds. She set fractions of 23.37 and 47.67 seconds, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:12.80.
Trainer Julio Canani timed Sweet Catomine in 59.40. He was very impressed with the workout.
"She galloped," he said. "It wasn't a work."
Owned by Marty and Pam Wygod, Sweet Catomine has not run since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies at Lone Star Park on Oct. 30, her third consecutive stakes win. She is almost certain to win the Eclipse Award as the nation's outstanding 2-year-old filly.
The Grade 3 Santa Ysabel is run at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-old fillies.
Canani had intended to work Sweet Catomine on Friday, but the work was postponed because of rain.
Since her win in the Juvenile Fillies, Sweet Catomine has remained in training.
"I didn't back off on her," Canani said. "She's been jogging. It's not like she went out for two weeks."
The likely presence of Sweet Catomine in the Santa Ysabel Stakes has scared away all but a few rivals, and even they are uncertain to run. Of the 10 fillies nominated to the race, only Island Escape, Northern Mischief, Revealed, and She Sings might run.
Baffert has both No Bull Baby and Quiet Honor nominated to the race, but when asked if either would run, he pointed at a printout of the nominees, circled Sweet Catomine's name, and shook his head.
"I don't want to run against her," he said.
Weather key in Saturday's stakes
Saturday's stakes are the Grade 2, $150,000 San Gorgonio Handicap on turf for fillies and mares, and the Grade 2, $150,000 San Pasqual on the main track for older males.
There has not been any grass racing at Santa Anita since Dec. 27, and if the 1 1/8-mile San Gorgonio is run on a wet course, or moved to the main track, the field would be severely affected. Ask for the Moon, Hoh Buzzard, Megahertz, Theater R.N., and Uraib are among those who are pointing for the race, but if it moves to the dirt, Baffert said he might jump in with Shake Off.
"If it rains, and it comes off, I might run her," he said.
Drysdale has nominated four horses - Beaucette, Conspiring, Musical Chimes, and Nadeszhda - but did not hold out much hope for good weather. "It depends entirely on the weather," he said. "I'm just anticipating it being muddy the whole week."
The San Pasqual will be the second race of its kind in a week. Last Saturday's San Gabriel Handicap was moved from the grass to the dirt, so several possible San Pasqual runners, including the victorious Truly a Judge, ran in the San Gabriel.
Expected for the 1 1/16-mile San Pasqual are Congrats, Formal Attire, Habaneros, Lundy's Liability, Sigfreto, and Total Impact.
Vikki's Honor scores emotional win
The exchange between Adam Kitchingman and Joe Steiner after Vikki's Honor won the sixth race on Saturday was not the typical winner's circle celebration between a trainer and a jockey.
Instead of a quick handshake, pat on the back, and a word of "good job," Steiner climbed off Vikki's Honor and gave Kitchingman a strong hug.
Vikki's Honor was named for Adam's late wife, Vikki Kitchingman, who died of breast cancer last July at 34.
"This was very emotional for me," said Steiner, a friend of the couple. Steiner wore silks with the familiar pink ribbon that represents breast cancer research.
In the winner's circle, Adam Kitchingman was surrounded by friends, most of whom knew Vikki. Rebecca Rose, Vikki's mother, was in attendance.
Vikki Kitchingman was involved in several aspects of racing. She was well known in the sales community as a longtime employee of Andy Havens bloodstock, and on the backstretch where she worked as an exercise rider. She owned a few runners in Adam's stable.
Vikki's Honor is owned by the partnership of Fred Sebold, Fred Jenkins, and Kelly Mikules.
"The partners have been with me from the start," said Adam Kitchingman, who trained several years ago, stopped for a while, then restarted his stable in 2003. "They were friends with my wife."
Kitchingman has had high hopes for Vikki's Honor since last summer. Saturday, in her career debut, the 3-year-old filly zoomed to the lead and outran eight rivals, finishing six furlongs in a quick 1:09.81.
"She ran about as I thought she'd run," Kitchingman said. "She's been nothing but professional all the way through."
Kitchingman said he would like to start Vikki's Honor in the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Oaks for California-breds and Florida-breds at six furlongs on Jan. 29. There is a concern that Vikki's Honor's earnings of $26,400 from Saturday's race may not secure her a berth if the race is oversubscribed.
"Hopefully we have enough money," Kitchingman said.
- additional reporting by Steve Andersen