12/28/2010 1:30PM

Jeranimo looks to fill void in California handicap division

Benoit & Associates
Jeranimo wins the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes on Monday at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Jeranimo showed Monday that he belongs in the conversation regarding California’s top handicap horses. His timing could not be better.

The 4-year-old colt’s win in the $150,000 San Gabriel Stakes was his second Grade 2 win this year and was a prep for two lucrative stakes in coming months.

Owner B.J. Wright has the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf for California-breds and Florida-breds on Jan. 29 as a short-term goal, with the $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap on the main track March 5 as a late-winter goal.

Changing surfaces is not an issue.

So far, Jeranimo has won Grade 2 races on a synthetic track – the Strub Stakes last February – and on turf in the San Gabriel. Wright says the best is yet to come.

“He’s even better on dirt,” Wright said.

In the San Gabriel Stakes, Jeranimo, the 4-1 second choice, rallied from fifth in a field of seven to win by 2 1/2 lengths, widening his lead in the final sixteenth under jockey Rafael Bejarano.

Bejarano rode Jeranimo to a fourth-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap last March, but the colt emerged from the race with a tibia injury that led to a layoff of more than seven months. Since his return in October, Jeranimo has won 2 of 3 starts.

Trainer Mike Pender is anxious for a start in the Big Cap, hoping to win the track’s most prestigious race.

“We ran in it last year, and it would be great to go back there and seek a little revenge,” he said.

Jeranimo has never raced on dirt, but that does not concern Pender. In recent weeks, Jeranimo has trained on Santa Anita’s new sand-and-clay track and has drawn positive reviews from his trainer.

“I think this horse can run over anything,” Pender said. “That’s how good he is.”

Jeranimo is part of an older horse division that lacks a clear leader.

Richard’s Kid, who won the Pacific Classic in August and Goodwood Stakes in October, was sent to Dubai in late October.

Dakota Phone, the surprise winner of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6, could only finish fourth behind Aggie Engineer in the Grade 3 Native Diver Handicap at Hollywood Park earlier this month. They are scheduled to meet again in the San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 8.

Trainer John Sadler has two outstanding 4-year-olds for 2011 in Twirling Candy and Sidney’s Candy, who won the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes and $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes on Sunday’s opening-day program. Twirling Candy is being pointed to the Strub Stakes on Feb. 5, while Sadler has the Frank Kilroe Mile on turf on March 5 as a goal for Sidney’s Candy.

Three others will return from layoffs with something to prove. Awesome Gem, winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup in July, is expected to race in 2011 as an 8-year-old but was comprehensively beaten in his last three starts of 2010.

Crown of Thorns, scratched from the BC Dirt Mile because of injury, also is expected to race in early 2011, as is Misremembered, winner of the Santa Anita Handicap last March who has battled injury since that race.

Haimish Hy, the winner of the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in November, will start in the $150,000 San Fernando Stakes for 4-year-olds on Jan. 15.