Updated on 03/15/2016 9:14AM

Melatonin pulls off improbable victory in Santa Anita Handicap

Barbara D. Livingston
Melatonin scores a front-running victory at 16-1 under Joe Talamo in the Santa Anita Handicap.

ARCADIA, Calif. – The late columnist Jim Murray loved racing, and it rubbed off on his widow, Linda. Years later, she married the trainer David Hofmans, and on Saturday at Santa Anita, a story Murray would have loved unfolded when Hofmans sent out Melatonin for a 16-1 upset in the Grade 1, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

 With the likes of California Chrome and Hoppertunity bypassing the Big Cap, the meet’s championship race for older horses was ripe for an opportunistic, aggressive move. Hofmans and jockey Joe Talamo thought that, under the circumstances, Melatonin belonged, based on his victory in a second-level allowance last month. He had never run beyond 1 1/16 miles, had sprinted in nine of his 10 starts, had run in just one graded stakes race, and had never run in a graded stakes on dirt, but was 2 for 2 at Santa Anita.

 “Last time when he made the lead he was waiting on horses,” Talamo said. “His last race was so impressive. It was easier than it looked.”

 They rolled the dice, and cashed.

 Melatonin ($34.60) led from start to finish and was drawing away at the end to prevail by 4 1/4 lengths over 22-1 Hard Aces, who outfinished favored Effinex by a half-length for third.

 Imperative was fourth and was followed, in order, by Point Piper, Class Leader, Donworth, Cyrus Alexander, and General a Rod.

 Melatonin also survived a stewards’ inquiry into an incident into the far turn when Donworth – who was rank to that point -- clipped the heels of Melatonin, causing Donworth to stumble badly. The stewards rightly ruled that Donworth and jockey Mario Gutierrez had caused their own issues.

 Talamo said he felt Melatonin get clipped, but said he wasn’t hit hard.

 “It’s not like it stopped his stride,” Talamo said.

 No, nothing was stopping Melatonin. He set fractions of 22.82 seconds for the opening quarter, 46.28 for a half, 1:10.81 for six furlongs, and 1:36.47 for a mile before crossing the wire in 2:02.01 for 1 1/4 miles on the fast main track. He carried 115 pounds, eight fewer than the highweight, Effinex.

 “I need some melatonin to calm down,” said Talamo, who had never won the Big Cap. “I had goosebumps crossing the finish line.”

 Hofmans also was winning the Big ’Cap for the first time. He said this victory compared with two of his favorites – winning the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Alphabet Soup in Cigar’s final start, and winning the California Cup Starter Handicap in 1994 with His Legacy, who won the race as a 9-year-old in his 47th and final start for his third win in the race in four years.

 “This is right behind His Legacy,” Hofmans said.

 Melatonin, 5, is a gelding by Kodiak Kowboy. He has now won four times in 11 starts, and is 3 for 6 since Hofmans took over as his trainer. He is owned by the Tarabilla Farms Inc. of Susan Osborne.

Effinex underwent a precautionary examination for hives by three veterinarians Saturday afternoon and was cleared to start, according to track stewards.

Effinex was inspected by California equine medical director Rick Arthur; state veterinarian Tim Grande, and track veterinarian Dana Stead shortly after 3 p.m., about 90 minute before the scheduled post time for the race. The veterinarians told stewards Scott Chaney and Kim Sawyer that Effinex could run in the Big Cap.

Effinex had not raced since winning the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November. He was second to American Pharoah in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland last October.

- additional reporting by Steve Andersen