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Espinoza to appeal suspension
ARCADIA, Calif. - Victor Espinoza will appeal a seven-day suspension he received following the Grade 2 Santa Ana Handicap on Saturday in which his mount, Megahertz, was disqualified from victory and placed last. Stewards Ingrid Fermin, Pete Pedersen, and Tom Ward suspended Espinoza for seven racing days, April 2-10, for "failure to make the proper effort to maintain a straight course in the stretch, causing interference that resulted in the disqualification of his mount from first to seventh position."
Espinoza's agent, Tony Matos, called the suspension "ridiculous" and expressed surprise that "stewards would know so little about race-riding." Matos said attorney Neil Papiano would handle the appeal.
Megahertz drifted in sharply at the head of the stretch of the Santa Ana, interfering with Arabic Song and Sweetshew. Megahertz, the 7-10 favorite, won by a length but was placed last, behind Sweetshew.
Trainer Bobby Frankel said it is not the first time Megahertz has drifted in.
"She has a tendency to do that when she hits the lead," Frankel said, adding that he warned Espinoza to "be careful, don't move too soon on her, don't hit the front too soon. But he didn't realize how fast she goes. He's never sat on anything that moves so quick."
Frankel thought the seven-day suspension Espinoza received was severe, and expects Megahertz's regular rider, Alex Solis, to offer support for Espinoza upon his return from Dubai. "When Alex gets back, if [stewards] talk to him, he'll tell them she's done that before," Frankel said.
Another lively one for Frankel
Some quirky European fillies, including Toussaud, have risen to fame in the U.S. for Frankel, and two more showed their peculiarity in weekend grass races at Santa Anita. One was Megahertz and the other was Intercontinental, who won her U.S. debut on Sunday despite pulling hard on her rider.
Intercontinental, a full sister to a Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner, Banks Hill, has some old habits to break, but her race Sunday provides a starting point for her. Intercontinental won a classified turf allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:34.74, after pulling hard on Espinoza the early part of the race. Frankel was satisfied with the result, adding that she has a few things to learn. "She ran good, she's just got to learn to relax a little," he said. "She [pulled] in Europe, too. If she relaxes, she can be a top-class filly."
Frankel worked Grade 1 winners Peace Rules and Sightseek on Sunday at Hollywood Park. Peace Rules worked a bullet five furlongs in 59.60 seconds and will run Saturday in the Oaklawn Handicap. Sightseek worked a half-mile, breezing, in a bullet 47.40 seconds. She will run in the Grade 2 Louisville Breeders' Cup Handicap on April 30, Kentucky Oaks Day. Sightseek won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff at seven furlongs last year on Kentucky Derby Day, but Frankel said this year he did not want to run her seven furlongs.
Sizzler of an allowance
It was not a stakes, but 3-year-olds Boomzeeboom and Minister Eric put on quite a show Saturday in a one- other-than allowance. Boomzeeboom shook loose on the lead in the 1 1/16-mile race and won by a length in a quick 1:41.97 under Corey Nakatani. Boomzeeboom earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 102, but Minister Eric served notice he may be a star this year.
Wide throughout under Espinoza, Minister Eric finished eight lengths clear of third in just his second start since his runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He has $350,000 in graded stakes earnings, currently eighth on the list of possible Derby starters, so trainer Richard Mandella conceivably could train him into the Kentucky Derby without worrying about him getting into the race if it overfills.
As for Boomzeeboom, his trainer, Vladimir Cerin, said, "He didn't look like a speedball, did he?"
The colt, by Explosive Red and produced by a mare sired by Unreal Zeal, was stretching out following a blistering sprint that earned a 106 Beyer Figure. He relaxed Saturday, setting easy fractions of 46.89 seconds and 1:11.37, and kicked home with a final five-sixteenths in a blistering 30.60 seconds. Cerin said two April 17 races are being considered: the $100,000 California Derby at Bay Meadows, or the Grade 2 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland.
Halfbridled tunes up for Ashland
Mandella and jockey Alex Solis won the Dubai World Cup Saturday night with Pleasantly Perfect, began their long journey home a few hours later, arrived home Sunday evening, and wasted no time getting back to work Monday morning at Santa Anita, when they sent last year's champion 2-year-old filly, Halfbridled, through a swift half-mile work in 47.20 seconds. She went so easily the clockers termed it "breezing."
The time was best of 33 at the distance, and was the final work Halfbridled will have in preparation for Saturday's Ashland Stakes at Keeneland. She is scheduled to fly to Kentucky on Wednesday. In her last start, Halfbridled suffered the first loss of her career in the Santa Anita Oaks.
"She went really nice," Mandella said. "I think she's really coming. She was too perked up going into her last one. She was climbing over horses. She's settled into a groove now and is ready to go."
Top stakes horses drill
A number of other top-class stakes runners worked Monday at Santa Anita.
Silent Sighs, who beat Halfbridled in the Santa Anita Oaks, zipped three furlongs in 35 seconds for trainer Julio Canani. She is scheduled to make her next start in the Kentucky Oaks on April 30 at Churchill Downs.
Preachinatthebar, the winner of the San Felipe Stakes, worked five furlongs in 58.60 seconds for trainer Bob Baffert. He runs next in the Blue Grass Stakes on April 10 at Keeneland.
Baffert also sent Congaree through a sharp six-furlong drill in 1:11.80. He also is scheduled to race April 10 at Keeneland, in the Commonwealth Breeders' Cup Handicap. Javier Santiago, who rides Preachinatthebar, will also ride Congaree, Baffert said.
Also under consideration for the Commonwealth is Olmodavor, who worked five furlongs in 1:01.20. Mandella, his trainer, said Olmodavor could also run in the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 10.
Smith sore after spill
Jockey Mike Smith apparently escaped serious injury in a spill in race 5 Sunday, when his mount, Chetak, clipped heels after crossing the dirt of the downhill turf sprint and went down, unseating Smith and tossing him hard to the turf. Smith said the filly was "having complications" in traffic, and that he was ready to ask her to run once the field spread out. He never made it.
"I remember them spreading out, then that's all I remember," he said.
The Dan Hendricks-trained filly jumped up immediately after the spill and appeared to be all right. Smith sat out the next two races, but returned to ride Bluesthestandard to a third-place finish in the spill-marred Potrero Grande Handicap. Smith was limping noticeably after the stakes.
"I'm going to be sore," he said.
Two down in Potrero Grande
Jockeys Martin Pedroza and Victor Espinoza went down in a spill in the Potrero Grande when Pedroza's mount, Casas Caballo, fractured his left front leg passing the five-sixteenths pole and fell. Espinoza's mount, Watchem Smokey, was unable to avoid the fallen horse and also fell.
Espinoza was "body-sore" but otherwise fine, according to his agent, Tony Matos. Pedroza was taken to Arcadia Methodist Hospital for examination. He was released Sunday night but was scheduled to see his private physician Monday afternoon for further evaluation, according to his agent, Rich Silverstein.
"They're taking more tests and want to take more X-rays," Silverstein said. "There's enough on the first X-rays that they want him to come back for more."
Harvard Avenue leads to Arkansas
Harvard Avenue has so far stayed below the Kentucky Derby radar, but the Doug O'Neill trainee is headed the right direction after his third-place finish March 14 in the Grade 2 San Felipe. A gelding by You And I, Harvard Avenue has had several rough trips in two-turn stakes, but finished well in the San Felipe, beaten 4 1/2 lengths. O'Neill said he will ship to Oaklawn Park to take on Smarty Jones in the Arkansas Derby on April 10.
O'Neill's top sprinter, Marino Marini, underwent a myectomy after displacing and finishing last on March 7 in the Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap. The 4-year-old Storm Cat colt previously finished second in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes, and second by a head in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes. Marino Marini worked five furlongs Saturday at Hollywood Park in 1:03.60 and will ship next to Keeneland to tackle Congaree in the Grade 2, seven-furlong Commonwealth on April 10.
* With Lion Heart now ticketed for the Blue Grass instead of Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, jockey Mike Smith can now ride Azeri in the Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, according to his agent, Bob Meldahl.
- additional reporting by Jay Privman