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Santa Anita roundup
Jockeys Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez, and Joe Talamo were absent most of last week in order to ride in Dubai. Leading rider Rafael Bejarano was already dominating, and their absence left him by far the big fish in the pond. However, Joel Rosario reminded him he's not the only big fish in the sea. Rosario had a super week, posting 9 wins for a total of 57 to put him in control of second in the rider standings. Trouble is, Bejarano still notched five wins of his own for a total of 80. Espinoza (48) and Gomez (43) are next. Martin Garcia clicked four times on the week, taking him to 37, in a tie with Talamo. Tyler Baze also had a four-pack and is just in behind at 35 wins.
Chantal Sutherland ended a 55-race winless streak Wednesday when she guided favored Major General to victory in the fifth race for trainer Mike Mitchell. Sutherland hadn't won since Feb. 21.
Sutherland's last day here was to be Thursday. She has three days of suspension to serve (and planned to do so Friday through Sunday) and then will return to her primary base of Woodbine as that meet starts.
John Sadler continues to set the pace among trainers, and four more winners this week pushed him further ahead of Bob Baffert, 35-26. Doug O'Neill is next with 24. Mike Mitchell, who was a little quiet earlier this meet, has perked up and also notched four winners to move up the standings into fourth place with 20 wins, followed by Jeff Mullins (19) and Julio Canani (18).
Apprentice jockey Inoel Beato has had a tough time trying to break into the jockey colony here. He isn't the first bug boy to have such a problem. With so many established riders and, let's face it, some field-size issues, he hasn't really had the opportunity to make a statement. After failing to win a race at the meet, he's moving his tack to Emerald Downs in Washington, a potentially smart move - he will get more mounts, more experience, and will still have to deal with some other quality riders so he could learn a lesson or two.
Bilo was to be the heavy favorite in Friday's fifth race for Marty Jones after the 10-year-old rattled off four straight near-miss seconds after a layoff of nearly 26 months (beaten a half-length, nose, half-length, and half-length). The bad news this time, however, was that he was a vet scratch.
The main track played quite fair all week as winners were produced from all styles and from all paths. Times did pick up as the week progressed, but that did not affect style.
The only two grass races Wednesday, one a downhill sprint and the other going a mile, were both won wire to wire, but before getting too worked up about a speed bias, remember both winners were heavy favorites, so they were the best horses anyway and style may not have been an issue. In fact, while the one-two finishers of the sprint held those positions from the start, the runner-up in the mile grass race came from last.
The two turf races were both won by stalkers, but style again may not have been critical as each was highly regarded (8-5, 9-5).
Mr Gruff, who returned from an 11-month layoff to win a third-level allowance race on the downhill turf course March 19, will apparently come back April 17 in the Grade 3, $100,000 San Simeon Handicap, a downhill turf sprint that the 6-year-old won last year before going to the sidelines.
"He's going to defend his championship title and try to be crowned 'King of the Hill,' " trainer Ron Ellis said. "He was ready to come back a month ago, but with all the rain, the races kept getting taken off the grass."
Mr Gruff has won 4 of 7, with all four wins coming in five tries on the downhill turf course. The one loss on the hill came by just a nose.
Ellis also has high hopes for Golden Itiz, a 3-year-old son of Tiznow who was an impressive maiden winner in his second start March 20. Ellis said the goal for the $240,000 sales buy is Hollywood's Grade 2 Swaps Stakes this summer.
"We're going to put him on a track towards the Swaps, because I think he's that kind of horse," Ellis said. "It's just a matter of how we get there."
The Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby complexion changed with word early last week that Lookin At Lucky, the 2-year-old champ and impressive winner of in his first start of 2010 a few weeks ago, will probably stay here for the meet's top prize for 3-year-olds.
That's still not scaring away the opposition - a field of 10 was entererd on Wednesday. A new shooter is the Northern California-based Skipshot from the Jerry Hollendorfer barn.
Distorted Dave may try to come in through the backdoor for the Kentucky Derby. A son of Distorted Humor (sire of Kentucky Derby/Preakness winner Funny Cide), Distorted Dave won a nice allowance route here Friday, and Sadler said he may next try Keeneland's Grade 2 Coolmore Lexington on April 17 to see if he can earn himself a trip to Louisville two weeks later.
Unbeaten 4-year-old filly Witty, nominated to the Grade 3 Las Flores on Santa Anita Derby Day, will apparently look for bigger fish to fry as trainer Richard Mandella said she will instead target the Grade 1 Vinery Madison on April 8 at Keeneland.
Witty returned from a layoff Feb. 18 with an impressive allowance win for a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. A daughter of Distorted Humor and a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Well Armed, Witty won the Grade 3 Railbird last summer at Hollywood Park before she was sidelined due to an ankle chip.
The biggest problem with going in the Vinery Madison is that Informed Decision, who won that race last year as part of a campaign that saw her named the Eclipse Award-winning female sprinter, may again use that to kick off her 2010 campaign for trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
Meanwhile, winner Misremembered was being considered for the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 3, but trainer Bob Baffert said the colt hasn't quite snapped back from his big Santa Anita Handicap effort and that he will instead wait and fight another day. Big Cap runner-up Neko Bay may still head to Oaklawn for that race, along with stablemate Zenyatta who, of course, is eyeing the Grade 1 Apple Blossom on April 9. Dakota Phone, who was third in the Big Cap at 23-1, is scheduled to take a swing at the Oaklawn Handicap.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEK
Tanda showed she's just as good - maybe better - on the Pro-Ride as she is on grass. Switching surfaces for Sunday's Grade 3 Santa Paula, Tanda took what on paper seemed a competitive race and turned it into her own little show for trainer Dan Hendricks.
While the track was on the fast side, Tanda's effort was still terrific. She saved ground in fourth, moved through along the rail at the eighth pole, took control, and won going away. The final time of 1:14.36 was the fastest 6 1/2 furlongs of the meet by .03 of a second.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Mike Mitchell
Last race: March 24, 5th
Finish: 1st by 1 1/4
Mitchell may be on to something. This 5-year-old gelded son of top-class Empire Maker came back after nearly two months off to run fourth as the 9-5 favorite for $25,000 here March 18. Mitchell dropped him to the $10,000 level and wheeled him back in six days, and the result was a smashing win. Major General looks ready to move back up the ladder, particularly as no one saw fit to claim him.
Trainer: Paula Capestro
Last race: March 26, 2nd
Finish: 2nd by 1 1/4
After a main-track debut in which he showed speed before fading to sixth here Feb. 11, he came back with three big works, including a 1:12.40 on March 14 and a bullet 1:12.40 on March 21. Those works may have been clues he was ready to turn the corner. In only his second start and his first on turf, he opened up a bit into the lane as if he might win before finishing second to favored Leroy's Dynameaux. It was a big step forward, and if anything he might be better with more ground - he is by Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Friends Lake (by Horse of the Year A.P. Indy) with BC Classic winner Black Tie Affair as his damsire.
Trainer: Matthew Chew
Last race: March 28, 4th
Finish: 3rd by neck
Hinted at ability when he got blinkers here Jan. 1 and finished second, but he could not repeat the effort in his next three starts. Well, maybe new trainer Chew and new rider Chantal Sutherland found something. In this race, he was away slowly and was allowed to lag back. He gathered momentum on the far turn and stayed wide, finishing with gusto to miss by a neck.