01/30/2016 5:57PM

Smokey Image wins Cal Cup Derby to stay perfect

Benoit & Associates
Smokey Image and jockey Victor Espinoza win the California Cup Derby by 8 1/2 lengths Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – A new trainer, new jockey, and new distance, but the same old result for Smokey Image, who successfully stretched out around two turns with a runaway victory on Saturday at Santa Anita in the $245,000 California Cup Derby, a victory that should propel him toward a graded stakes race for 3-year-olds next time out.

This race was a test, and he certainly aced it. Other than trying to lug out a bit going into the first turn, Smokey Image rated kindly under jockey Victor Espinoza and then kicked clear when asked. He’ll face much tougher down the line, but he’ll go into his next start unbeaten after six tries.

“I was hoping he’d do that,” said Carla Gaines, who recently took over as the trainer of Smokey Image from Northern California-based Greg James. “We decided to try this company going two turns, then try different company.”

Smokey Image secured the lead heading into the first turn and never was threatened thereafter, cruising home 8 1/2 lengths best in 1:43.49 for 1 1/16 miles on the fast main track. Tough It Out, last of seven early, rallied to finish second, 6 1/2 lengths clear of third-place Xingontothebone. Glory Bound was fourth and was followed by Record Highs, Demonslayer, and Loyalist.

Smokey Image – a colt by Southern Image – won all five of his starts last year at age 2, ranging from five furlongs to seven furlongs. Betty Irvin, who owns Smokey Image and bred him with her late husband, Robert, wanted to keep Smokey Image in Southern California this winter, which is why the transfer was made from James to Gaines.

Gaines was quick to credit James for having done “all the prep work.”

“I just took over the reins,” she said.

Gaines said she didn’t feel like Smokey Image was totally tight for this, his first start in three months. With this outing, Smokey Image will now get a chance to face the best local Derby prospects going two turns, with the San Felipe Stakes on March 12 the most logical spot.