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Santa Anita roundup
WEEK OF WEATHER
Sooner or later, it was going to rain this winter at Santa Anita. Sooner or later, the "all-weather" surface would be tested by real weather. And when the first in a series of storms arrived late Sunday, Jan. 17, the track did not pass the test. Racing and training screeched to a halt for most of the week, forcing cancellations of three programs, including a holiday card scheduled for Monday, Jan. 18.
The storms delivered approximately eight inches of rain, and the main track was closed for training and racing five days, starting Jan. 18. It is tempting to blame the cancellations on Santa Anita's beleaguered Pro-Ride surface, which has trouble draining. But even if the track were dirt, the abnormally severe storms may have shut down racing anyway.
The weather eventually cleared, and the track re-opened for racing and training Saturday, Jan. 23. What remained was an abbreviated two-day week that featured two promising 3-year-old maiden winners and graded stakes in two currently shallow divisions - sprinters and long-distance turf horses.
BIG MAIDEN WINS
The maiden winners Jan. 24 - Nextdoorneighbor and Sister Dawn - won like future stakes prospects. Nextdoorneighbor, a colt, stretched to 1 1/16 miles and won by an easy four lengths to jump into the Derby scene for owner-breeder John Amerman and trainer Mike Machowsky. A Lido Palace colt making his third start, Nextdoorneighbor earned only an 82 Beyer Figure, but his margin signaled he may be something special.
Pro-Ride tends to bring horses together; it produces laborious stretch runs and bunched finishes. Horses rarely "win off," yet that is precisely what Nextdoorneighbor did. His four-length margin was the second-biggest of the meet from 43 races around two turns; the only route winner to score by a
higher margin was Worth a Punt, an odds-on
maiden claimer who won by more than six against four sad rivals Jan. 2. Nextdoorneighbor, produced by graded stakes-winning mare Fencelineneighbor, ran like the real deal.
Two races later, the filly Sister Dawn scored a very sharp debut victory for owners Ike and Dawn Thrash and trainer John Sadler. The daughter of Indian Charlie raced like a seasoned pro. She tucked inside and behind horses through the turn, was unfazed by traffic or kickback, waited for room into the lane, swung outside, and surged to lead. She won by 1 1/4 lengths, geared down, with a 79 Beyer.
"She's a big, scopy filly, probably 16-2," Sadler said. "She really is an [impressive] individual."
Although offspring of Indian Charlie often prefer running short, Sister Dawn was produced by a Strawberry Road mare and should like more ground.
"All the time she's been working, the farther the better," Sadler said. "Distance should not be a problem."
Sister Dawn is a half-sister to distance turf mare Fire N Brimstone. The maiden wins by Sister Dawn and Nextdoorneighbor share "Performance of the Week."
MODEST STAKES WINS
The sprinter Kinsale King continued his surprising ascension Jan. 23 by winning the . It was his third successive upset, including two graded stakes. The race is easy to knock. Scratches of Grade 1 winner M One Rifle and speedball Ez Dreamer softened the pace and allowed Kinsale King to press slow fractions (22.25 and 44.80) before winning by a half-length with a 97 Beyer.
Kinsale King is 3 for 3 since moving to trainer Carl O'Callaghan; his grinding style plays well in slow-pace synthetic stakes over a soft sprint division. It is likely Kinsale King is not as good as his recent record, and stubborn handicappers who missed three straight wins at fat prices ($20.20 in the Palos Verdes) will look elsewhere when Kinsale King returns again. If he goes to Dubai for the Golden Shaheen, it will be tough.
Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Dancing in Silks was badly overbet at 9-10 and finished third in his comeback. M One Rifle, wire-to-wire winner of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes, missed some training because of the rain and scratched. He is tentatively scheduled to return Feb. 20 in the Grade 2 San Carlos at seven furlongs.
Loup Breton confirmed his status as California's top long-distance turf horse with a Jan. 24 victory in the roughly run at 1 1/4 miles. Favored at 3-5, Loup Breton got the job done. But his trainer, Julio Canani, said later it was a mistake for jockey Garrett Gomez to keep the favorite buried inside, in traffic, instead of taking him three wide, where he could have stayed out of trouble and avoid the bumping. Canani said Loup Breton was "stiff" after the race, and his legs were cut up, though not seriously.
One cannot be overly enthusiastic about Loup Breton's victory, largely because of the weakened state of the West Coast turf ranks. This was once a division that Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farms would have picked apart. But nowadays, there is no dominant turf stable in California.
The "Jackpot of the Week" was Suances de Espana, $28.60 winner of $12,500 claimer for filly-mare sprinters. Darrell Vienna trains the filly, whose payoff was highest of 18 races last week. Suances de Espana had been off five months; slow works on the training track (1:05.60 and 1:04.40) disguised her form. The last three years, 2007 through 2009, Vienna runners produced a flat-bet profit. With top jockey Joel Rosario up, it was a "go" for Suances de Espana. Hindsight vision is always perfect.
The "Most Likely Repeater" award goes to Rose Catherine, whose turf-sprint specialty was confirmed Jan. 24 with a dominating win in the on the downhill course. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Rose Catherine won by 3 1/2 lengths with an 87 Beyer and would have been favored in the Grade 3 La Habra Stakes later this meet. However, that turf sprint is currently "inactive." If Rose Catherine finds a similar turf-sprint overnight stakes, she should win again. She is 2 for 2 in turf sprints.
Santa Anita Derby
1. Lookin At Lucky, 2. Blind Luck, 3. Tiz Chrome, 4. Make Music For Me, 5. American Lion, 6. Caracortado, 7. Alphie's Bet, 8. Kettle River, 9. Conveyance, 10. Interactif
Take Control is off the list with sore shins. Interactif is on; trainer Todd Pletcher said he may try the Grade 3-winning turf horse on synthetic. Macias, another stakes winner on turf, is under consideration for the Feb. 6 Robert B. Lewis. That 1 1/16-mile main-track race may include Tiz Chrome, American Lion, Caracortado, and Hawaiian Springs.
Santa Anita Handicap
1. Misremembered, 2. Neko Bay, 3. Zenyatta, 4. Mast Track, 5. High Court Drama, 6. Richard's Kid, 7. Life Is Sweet, 8. Art Currency, 9. Spurrier, 10. Nownownow
Papa Clem, previously No. 2, was injured and retired after winning the Grade 2 San Fernando Stakes. Gio Ponti, runner-up in the Breeders' Cup Classic, was scheduled to ship to Florida; he also drops off the list. This list remains a mess. Zenyatta is included only because she still happens to be the best older horse in California, but the Big Cap is not believed to be on her agenda.
Neko Bay, the new No. 2, will train up to the Big Cap, according to trainer John Shirreffs, who will start former Frankel trainee Mast Track in the Grade 2 San Antonio on Feb. 7.
HORSES TO WATCH
Bonnie Blue Flag
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Last race: Jan. 24, 3rd
Finish: 3rd by 1 1/4
Making her second career start, this Mineshaft 3-year-old maiden filly pressed the pace in the main-track sprint, made the lead a furlong out, and then tired. A half-sister to Grade 1 winner Diamondrella, Bonnie Blue Flag wants longer than 5 1/2 furlongs. Given her pedigree, she figures to like turf.
Trainer: Mike Mitchell
Last race: Jan. 23, 3rd
Finish: 1st by 1 1/4
Adding blinkers and returning to the main track, this 5-year-old by Street Cry put it all together to win clear in a second-level allowance. A mile might be his optimum distance, and he won with a perfect trip, but now that he has learned to run past his rivals after hanging in recent starts, he could score right back in an N3X.
Close to the Edge
Trainer: Jeff Mullins
Last race: Jan. 23, 6th
Finish: 2nd by 2 1/2
It was only a four-horse field, but this good runner-up finish could set up the maiden for a try around two turns. He set the pace inside the eighth pole before fading, and if he learns to ration his speed he should be effective running long.