03/24/2010 11:00PM

Santa Anita roundup



Neither the female nor male turf division is particularly deep this season in Southern California, but that does not detract from the dominance of two good local winners who affirmed their top ranking with Grade 2 wins March 20 and 21.

Bourbon Bay and Tuscan Evening both won again. Both are 3 for 3 at the meet. Tuscan Evening, a good 5-year-old turf mare, was expected to maintain her role as the circuit's top female turf miler, and she delivered this winter. She won three graded stakes, from 6 1/2 furlongs, to 1 1/8 miles in on March 21.

A forthcoming question: Is Tuscan Evening good enough to win outside California, or has she only looked good in a shallow local female turf division? Tuscan Evening's win last weekend was her easiest. She was loose on the lead, setting a slow pace over a turf course kind to speed. Handed the race, she took advantage like the good turf mare she is - 9 wins and $809,408 in earnings from 24 starts.

Tuscan Evening will aim toward the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile on May 1, followed by the Grade 1 Just a Game in June at Belmont Park. The distance will be perfect in both. Tuscan Evening, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, is best at one mile.

As for doubts about the quality of competition Tuscan Evening faced, she could have proved her top class had she run in the Grade 1 Santa Monica or Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile. She scratched from both. Instead, Tuscan Evening is currently queen of a shallow division of filly-mare turf runners in Southern California. She still has something to prove.

In January, Bourbon Bay won for the first time this meet in a first-level allowance at 1 1/2 miles. Aggressively placed afterward by jumping to a Grade 2, he won twice more. His victory March 20 in the San Luis Rey cemented Bourbon Bay as the top marathon turf runner in California.

"I think he's getting the hang of it," trainer Neil Drysdale said, adding that he thought Bourbon Bay "settled better" in the San Luis Rey than he had winning on Feb. 21.

In his next start, Bourbon Bay will be a short price in the longest race of winter - the Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at 1 3/4 miles on closing day, April 18.

But if Bourbon Bay ventures outside California, he will face the same question as the mare Tuscan Evening: Is Bourbon Bay good enough to defeat international competition? The fields he has defeated have been suspect.


Ron Ellis fell short in the final race last week when he lost a photo in race 9 on March 21, but the effort was a mere example of an amazing Ellis run. From Feb. 26 through March 21, Ellis's 16 starters produced 8 wins and 6 seconds.

Ellis's winners included Mr Gruff, whose easy comeback victory March 19 came over the same downhill course on which he won the Grade 3 San Simeon last year. Mr Gruff won geared down in his comeback, and the 4-for-7 turf sprinter looks like the favorite to repeat in the San Simeon this year. Mr Gruff is this week's "Most Likely Repeater" after his 2 3/4-length victory in his first start in 11 months earned a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 97. He won geared down, plenty in the tank.

First-time starter Neva Masquerade, a Siberian Summer gelding trained by underrated Gregg Matties, came out firing March 18 with a front-running debut win at $20.60 under Christian Santiago-Reyes. The gate-to-wire win earned a 68 Beyer. His payoff was the highest of the week and "Jackpot of the Week" for a good stable that is always worth a second look at a price in Southern California.


With more than three weeks remaining in the winter meet, the jockey race is all but over. Rafael Bejarano (75 wins) has opened up a 27-win lead over Joel Rosario and Victor Espinoza (48 each). Bejarano entered the week winning at a 23 percent clip (75 for 326). Despite his superiority, Bejarano-ridden mounts have produced a virtual break-even return of $1.99 for each $2 win bet.

Can a 2-for-44 trainer be anything other than cold? In the case of Peter Eurton, yes, he can. Eurton won for only the second time this meet March 21. But despite a single-digit win rate, his horses are firing - Eurton has 11 seconds and six thirds.

Jockey Chantal Sutherland entered the March 25 card having not won a race at Santa Anita since Feb. 21, a streak of 0 for 55.

Grade 1 sprinter Bob Black Jack was retired after suffering a suspensory injury in a March 19 workout at Hollywood Park. Bob Black Jack, who won the San Carlos following a 14-month layoff caused by a tendon injury, won 5 of 11 and earned $684,915 for owner James Kasparoff. Who's left in the California main-track sprint division? M One Rifle and Canonize.


1. Sidney's Candy, 2. Lookin At Lucky, 3. Caracortado, 4. Skipshot, 5. Alphie's Bet, 6. Setsuko, 7. Thomas Baines, 8. Posse Power, 9. Who's Up, 10. Cardiff Giant

The 3-year-old division will be settled one week from now, when the Santa Anita Derby is expected to include Sidney's Candy as one of the favorites in a probable field of 10. Early this week, there remained a possibility Lookin At Lucky also could run. Either way, Sidney's Candy is the lone speed. Winner of , Sidney's Candy maintains top ranking.

Lookin At Lucky has returned home to train at Santa Anita after a big comeback win in at Oaklawn Park. His next start will be in either the Santa Anita or Arkansas Derby. The addition of improving Skipshot to the expected Santa Anita Derby field gives Sidney's Candy token pace company. But there is not much speed in the field. Early indications are the Santa Anita Derby will be a murky race that will be difficult to analyze because of a slow pace.

This year's California 3-year-old group seems average. Sidney's Candy was fast at seven furlongs but was handed the San Felipe on a silver platter when he stretched to two turns.

As for the closers in the Santa Anita Derby, they could be compromised by a soft pace. That includes Setsuko, Alphie's Bet, and Caracortado. With the exception of Lookin At Lucky, the whole California group could be up against it when it gets to Kentucky.


Tamarack Smarty

Trainer: Mike Puype

Last race: March 17, 6th

Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4

This improving Smart Strike colt ran into a traffic jam in a first-level allowance at a mile on turf or otherwise might have won. After saving ground throughout, he got stopped cold at the eighth pole before gathering himself and re-rallying for second. He is the one to beat next time in a similar N1X.


Trainer: Julio Canani

Last race: March 17, 8th

Finish: 5th by 5 1/4

An import from New Zealand, this lower-class mare failed to show her expected speed stretching from a sprint to a route and merely ran around the track. She is believed to have more speed than shown and likely will be properly spotted next time.

Eclair de Lune

Trainer: Ron McAnally

Last race: March 18, 7th

Finish: 4th by 2 1/4

This well-regarded European import ran better than the line looks in her U.S. debut versus second-level allowance foes at a mile on turf. She trailed the slow pace, finished with run, and can improve at longer distances. Her best races overseas were 1 1/4 miles or more.

Afleet Cowboy

Trainer: Bill Spawr

Last race: March 19, 4th

Finish: 3rd by 2 1/2

A $32,000 maiden-claiming firster, this gelded son of Northern Afleet was best in his debut. He walked out of the gate and trailed by 11 after the opening quarter-mile, made a strong move into the lane, then flattened out. With a clean break, he wins for fun.