Updated on 03/15/2016 10:14AM

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




Susan Farah More than 1 year ago
What the racing officials did Sunday at Santa Anita was even worse, they are on a roll, the wild wild west coast of racing. In the San Luis Rey there are 11 runners, This deep field has four runners trained by N. Drysdale and three trained by P'DAmato, thats right my friend, 7 of 11 runners are from two barns. I'm not done yet, ask me the outcome, go ahead ask me...OK I'll just tell you, first went to the nine and paid 144.80 for the win,second went to the TWO at 10/1 and third by a 30/1 shot six horse. The Tri paid 6,197 for a dollar, and the super 87,409 for a dollar, pic three 2,897, pic four paid 9,750 for just 50 cents with almost a million in the pool, Do you think that these two trainers had anything to do with the outcome? I don't know. But if you allow me and my friend to run 7 out of 11 horses in the feature race of the day with the big polls that S.A. gets.....Well it would make a man think, especially if I was desperate. You compromise everyone at Santa Anita by allowing anyone to have that much control in a race. Both of these races(the Big Cap and San Luis Rey) weren't fair to anyone, especially your Gamblers. WAKE UP and use your brain stewarts. I really feel for Tod and Jimmy.
Susan Farah More than 1 year ago
TDTommyTote, I don't know, and surely can't figure out how in the @%&#%#@ do the racing officials allow a horse like Melatonin in a Grade One, 1,000,000 race like the Big Cap? I guarantee you I will pay the nomination fee on every Graded Stake ran at Santa Anita Park. And as long as my horse has at lest broke his maiden and maybe one other than I will be fine, or I better be. By letting Melatonin in and meeting the conditions they will have to pass me to the start, or I will own S.A.
Bill More than 1 year ago
Poor field for a race of this magnitude. If the DWC continues to deplete the field of this race, they need to move it further from that race. Same distance, same surface, 10 million vs. one. I don't see how it can compete. The ride on Donworth could make one cry. Melatonin was the most improbable winner, but congrats. I've never thought Effinex was among the elite older horses and surely nothing yesterday changed my mind.
Mikeb1961sports More than 1 year ago
I don't know what was worse by a same year Derby-Preakness winning rider, Super(?) Mario yesterday or the Ragin Cajun on Big Brown in the Belmont.
Mikeb1961sports More than 1 year ago
Oh I forgot also the virtual bug boy on the Bid
Kyri Freeman More than 1 year ago
Stories like this make me feel better about what seemed like a very disappointing result. We have a handicap division out here that's about an inch deep. When one horse (Donworth) gets a disastrous trip and another (Effinex) doesn't run his best race (it was suggestive that this quirky horse wasn't in the mood when he didn't want to load; I also heard a rumor that he had hives earlier in the day but I have no idea if it is true), then we get a longshot walking on the lead. It's good to be reminded that there is a bright side to the "outclassed" winners.
Bob More than 1 year ago
The East Coast shippers were clearly over-rated. Sadler who wins maybe one or two Grade 1 races a year. The 'Dorf's horses have been under-performing since the meet started....and then you have Imperative, who has made a career and a nice bankroll competing over his head and settling for second money... So who does that leave? Melatonin....a 5 year-old sprinter whose first two-turn race was his last start off the bench and Donworth, a $550,000 Keeneland bust whose best race by far was a $50K stake race at Delaware Park.
Darren More than 1 year ago
Shouldn't calling this race the 'Big Cap' be false advertising? Absolutely the worst field I have ever seen in a $1M race....
DoctorDerby More than 1 year ago
Then you haven't watched much racing
David Clark More than 1 year ago
I have and that's the worst field ever...That's a Grade 3 at best. The grading committee needs to down grade this race.
cg4parts More than 1 year ago
I second that. The worst.
Ricky Rionda More than 1 year ago
Smith can no longer deliver in big races, he let an allowance runner beat him when he had the superior horse; he did not let Effinex run his race, a really bad ride.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
maybe you should start riding and see how you do
Ricky Rionda More than 1 year ago
no I'll stick to handicapping and staying away from horses ridden by Smith, why don't you handicap and see how you do
Stephen Lareau More than 1 year ago
not as bad as on Zenatta
Adam More than 1 year ago
Smith had a bad ride? Watch gutierrez on donworth
Jim Eggers More than 1 year ago
Agreed, that was brutal...
Gary Garland More than 1 year ago
Completely agree one of the worst ever he should have been on the lead I wouldn't let him ride my bike
Joe Rockhold More than 1 year ago
Looked just fine to me on Danzing Candy a couple races earlier at a decent price.
Ricky Rionda More than 1 year ago
The ride on Bolo was just as bad, sat last for a half mile with a colt that has early speed and should have been on or near the lead, read Watchmaker's comments and he said just the same, truly a head scratcher.