01/21/2016 2:56PM

Hovdey: Kyriaki rises up the ranks along with her trainer


The Santa Monica Stakes is one of those regional jewels that rarely makes a national impact but usually leaves an impression. If there are good older fillies and mares around, chances are they will show up for the Santa Monica’s seven furlongs. They always have.

Any race that counts Bug Brush and Silver Spoon among its earliest winners and is still going strong deserves credit. This racing fan began to appreciate the Santa Monica in 1969, in the days when local Los Angeles television broadcast the Santa Anita feature each week. I know, it sounds like cave painting now, but it really happened, and when Gamely and Time to Leave hit the wire lapped onto each other, they left the third horse six lengths behind and the crowd limp.

The next four Santa Monica winners were Manta (a 12-time stakes winner), Typecast (in the first win of her championship season), Chou Croute (the reigning sprint champion), and two-time Santa Margarita winner Tizna (the grandam of Tiznow’s sire). It was the 1975 Santa Monica that seared the brain, though, when Sister Fleet and Fernando Toro carried the day, just hours after Toro had watched his good friend Alvaro Pineda lose his life in a starting-gate horror.

Everyone’s got their favorite Santa Monica winner from a box of tasty chocolates: Serena’s Song, Past Forgetting, Pine Tree Lane, Exotic Wood, Intangaroo, Island Fashion, Gabby’s Golden Gal. Switch, the 2011 winner, was the most consistent female sprinter in the land for two solid seasons. Honest Lady, who launched the 2000s with a Santa Monica score, was arguably the best sprinter Bobby Frankel ever trained, while Ventura took the Santa Monica for the Frankel stable in 2009 while Bobby fought his fatal illness.

It was hardly a surprise, therefore, when the Santa Monica was granted Grade 1 status in 1990. The reaction out West was a resounding, “Well, duh,” but at least the computer-generated reality of a Grade 1 rating finally had caught up with the unequivocal perception.

Alas, in 2013, the Santa Monica was caught up in the steady downgrading of major California races by the American Graded Stakes Committee of the Kentucky-based Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. Thanks for nothing.

Since 2010, there have been 10 California Grade 1 races reduced to Grade 2 status, including the Las Virgenes at Santa Anita and the Eddie Read at Del Mar for the 2016 season. (Songbird is running in the Las Virgenes, but go ahead – you tell her it’s a Grade 2 race now.)

The only other circuit with a comparable number of Grade 1 races to Southern California is the New York Racing Association. Would anyone like to guess how many New York Grade 1 races have been demoted to Grade 2 since 2010? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Four. And one of those they got back.

We’ll save the rest of the rant for another day in deference to the field of fillies and mares lining up for the 59th running of the Santa Monica on Saturday. They would be running just as hard if it was graded on a curve.

Jerry Hollendorfer will try to win his third straight Santa Monica with Tara’s Tango. The Eastern invader Room for Me spent last year butting heads with the champion La Verdad. Jim Cassidy has entered his classy turf filly Prize Exhibit, while synthetic star Living The Life gets another chance on dirt, and Ben’s Duchess will try to erase the taste of her dull try in the La Brea Stakes on opening day.

Peter Eurton, coming off the best year of his training career, will counter in the Santa Monica with Kyriaki, a 6-year-old daughter of Scat Daddy. Call it a coincidence, but Kyriaki also had her best year in 2015, capping the season with a gritty win in the $200,000 Treasure Chest Stakes at Delta Downs on Nov. 21.

“Not bad for a horse who got there after a 32-hour van ride,” Eurton said.

And this was before gas prices plunged.

“The connections going by air were not good,” Eurton said. “Besides, I think horses travel much better when they’re able to put their heads down, walk around in the back end of the van, and eat comfortably. It’s a lot more natural than having to keep their heads up during a plane ride.”

Kyriaki, owned by Ciaglia Racing and Dominic Savides, qualifies as part of the scenery at the Eurton barn, where she occupies the first stall on the left as the trainer leaves his office. She is now in her fourth season, with four wins in 18 starts.

“We tried shipping her for stakes at 3, but she really didn’t travel well,” Eurton said. “Now, she’s just gotten better with age.”

Three of Kyriaki’s wins – by two noses and a head – came in a cluster in the last half of 2015, a period during which she also was thrown to Beholder in the Zenyatta Stakes at Santa Anita.

“That was her third straight race without a break,” Eurton said, as if he had to explain getting dusted by Beholder. “After the Delta race, I sent her to Sunshine Farm in Bradbury for two weeks, and it really helped her a lot.”

Eurton is allowing himself high hopes for 2016, based on an eclectic stable that has runners who fit a variety of levels. And he is not afraid to ship. In addition to Kyriaki’s Louisiana raid, Eurton also won the Commonwealth at Keeneland last year with Kobe’s Back, owned by Lee Searing’s CRK Stable.

“We haven’t been able to delve into all the horses we acquired from Mr. Searing yet,” Eurton said. “There are a lot of very nice 3-year-olds coming up this year, and hopefully 2-year-olds to follow.”

Eurton toyed with shipping Kyriaki to Sam Houston for a date next week – goodness knows she favors that part of the world – but the trainer likes the way the Santa Monica shapes up on paper. Kyriaki drew post 8 and gets her favorite jock, Mario Gutierrez.

“I don’t see a lot of pace in the race, but whatever there is, her post position should let her lie in a good spot,” Eurton said. “We haven’t sprinted her in a long time, although seven furlongs isn’t like dropping back to six, so she should be tactically close. I think it should be fun.”