10/18/2011 3:27PM

Santa Anita: Sharp claim Donato back to dirt for allowance feature

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ARCADIA, Calif. – Rafael Becerra trains a small string of 13 horses. When one of his horses is claimed away, it affects the operation. Sometimes, change is good.

It was June 4 at Hollywood Park where Becerra and owner Daniel Sullivan considered claiming Donato. There was one problem. Their account balance was short of the $25,000 necessary to make the claim.

But timing is everything. Becerra ran Twoatten Tenattwo in a $16,000 claiming race that was race 2. She finished second, and was claimed. Becerra was leaving the track, still thinking about Donato in race 5. Thanks to the earlier claim, the funds were available.

Becerra was in his car, ready to drive home.

“I was in the parking lot, I was going to come home,” he said. “I looked at the Form again and said, ‘Geez, I really like this horse [Donato}.’ ”

He phoned Sullivan, who told Becerra, “If you like him, go get him.”

Becerra got out of his car, returned to the track, and dropped the claim on Donato for $25,000.

It sounds simple. It was not. Donato broke through the gate and ran through the stretch of the turf course. He might have been scratched. If he did not run, there would be no claim.

Stewards allowed Donato to run. He wired the field. Becerra and Sullivan had their horse. A good one, it turns out.

Donato finished seventh his first start for Becerra, but Aug. 21 at Del Mar he sprang a 15-1 upset in a first-level allowance. The winner’s share of the purse was $39,000. Sullivan was already “out.”

Donato subsequently lost a Sept. 30 second-level turf allowance at Santa Anita, but Thursday returns to the main track as the horse to beat in the seventh-race feature, a second-level allowance at 1 1/16 miles.

“I think I have a good chance,” Becerra said.

Mike Smith gains the mount on Donato, who should get a good trip sitting second behind the stretch-out sprinter Quality Council. Kate’s Event, who could be best as a late-running sprinter; Summer Movie, and Racing Aptitude also entered.

Racing Aptitude is making his first start in California and first for Bob Baffert, who expects the 3-year-old gelding to show more speed than he did in the East. As for Becerra, his also starts the most probable winner on the card in race 4.

“If they let me go, kiss her good-bye,” Becerra said.

He was referring to Mo Cheese, the lone speed in a mile turf race for $25,000 nonwinners of two claiming fillies and mares.

Speed has been good recently on the Santa Anita turf, and Mo Cheese further benefits by the placement of the rails at the outermost 30 feet. Long gone, indeed.