Updated on 09/16/2011 7:48AM

Tali'sluckybusride reaches crossroad


ARCADIA, Calif. - Four months after her upset win in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Stakes, Tali'sluckybusride* is seeking the respect afforded the other 3-year-old fillies starting in Sunday's $200,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at Santa Anita.

Tali'sluckybusride is back on her favorite track in the Grade 1 Las Virgenes, but will be a longshot. She faces three of the top 3-year-old fillies on the circuit - Habibti, You, and Bella Bella Bella.

The Las Virgenes is a pivotal race for Tali'sluckybusride, according to owner Ron Anson. With ample opportunities nationwide, Anson may attempt to avoid the division's best in the coming months. At this point, Anson is more interested in pointing Tali'sluckybusride to the Black-Eyed Susan at Pimlico in May rather than the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

"If I can, I'd like to zig-zag around the country," Anson said. "Of course, if she wins by five, everything changes."

Tali'sluckybusride has not won since the Oak Leaf, when she scored at 15-1. The performance was overshadowed by the scratch of Habibti, who later won the Hollywood Starlet Stakes. Tali'sluckybusride was third in the Starlet, finishing 8 1/2 lengths behind Habibti. In between the Oak Leaf and Starlet she fought off an illness.

"It was a long time between races," Anson said. "I don't want to make excuses, but she was sick for a week. I think she's coming up to a race like she did for the Oak Leaf. I think she likes this track. I know there will be some speed for her to run at."

Bought for $23,000, Tali'sluckybusride has already provided Anson and his wife, Susie, with a milestone - their first Grade 1 win.

On Saturday, the Ansons were at Emerald Downs for the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders Association's awards banquet. Tali'sluckybusride was honored as the champion 2-year-old filly of 2001 and was the favorite for the state's Horse of the Year title.

"I want to make her the first Washington-bred millionaire," Ron Anson said. "I've gotten lucky to have a Grade 1 winner. I want to enjoy it. She doesn't owe me anything."

Officer back at track

Officer, whose meteoric rise last season was followed by an equally rapid descent, returned to Bob Baffert's barn Friday to prepare for his 3-year-old campaign.

Officer was the country's most exciting 2-year-old for a time last season, winning five straight, including the Grade 1 Champagne. It all went wrong in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, however, when he finished fifth as the favorite. He followed with two more losses, including a third-place finish in the Hollywood Futurity in his last start Dec. 15. Afterward, he was turned out at the Bradbury ranch of Prince Ahmed Salman's Thoroughbred Corp.

"He's actually been in light training at the farm, so he'll get ready pretty quick," Baffert said Friday. "There's not a lot to him; he's lean."

Baffert did not specify a comeback race for Officer, who won 5 of 8 last year and earned $740,010. A son of Bertrando, Officer is nominated to the Triple Crown races, but is considered a longshot for the Derby.

Thoroughbred Corp.'s filly Habibti, trained by Baffert, also was nominated to the Triple Crown, but is expected to stay in her division.

"Danthebluegrassman is probably my No. 1 gun now," Baffert said. Danthebluegrassman won the Grade 3 Golden Gate Derby in his most recent start Jan. 12, and has won 3 of 5 overall.

California or New Orleans?

While he might be the most underappreciated older male in California, there are opportunities for Giant Gentleman to make some noise in the handicap division. Runner-up to Mizzen Mast in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes and Grade 2 Strub, Giant Gentleman will strike while the iron is hot, according to trainer Brent Sumja. The question is, where?

"We're looking at the Santa Anita Handicap and the New Orleans Handicap," Sumja said.

Giant Gentleman would face Mizzen Mast again March 2 in the Grade 1 Big 'Cap, which carries a $1 million purse at a distance - 1 1/4 miles - that might be out of Giant Gentleman's reach. In the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 3 at Fair Grounds, Giant Gentleman would race for a purse of $500,000 at 1 1/8 miles.

Giant Gentleman has won four races and $258,900 from nine starts. A son of Montbrook, he is owned by a partnership that includes Robert Domush, Mark Moskowitz, and Dr. William Marano. Giant Gentleman finished 4 1/2 lengths clear of third in the Strub, for 4-year-olds. The 110 Beyer he earned is four points higher than the older horses Redattore was given one day later for winning the San Antonio.

Long-distance double

From her lucky vantage point at Keeneland, racing executive Pamela Blatz-Murff watched her small racing stable score two memorable wins on Wednesday and Thursday.

On Wednesday, the first-time starter Royal Gem won a maiden race on the hillside turf course by 1 1/2 lengths. On Thursday, Beefeater Baby, Royal Gem's 4-year-old half-sister, won an allowance race over the same course by a head.

Both are owned by Blatz-Murff, the director of nominations and racing for the Breeders' Cup, and partners Claudia Munak and Helen Smith. They have bred four generations of the family.

"To have them win back to back is very exciting," Blatz-Murff said.

Blatz-Murff watched the races from the simulcast area at Keeneland. On Thursday, there was a group sitting at the spot from which she watched on Wednesday, so she politely asked to join them for a moment during Beefeater Baby's race.

Beefeater Baby, third in the Grade 2 Honeymoon Handicap last year, led only in the final stride after closing from the back of the field.

"It makes me very nervous," she said of the two horses' running style. "You have to have pace up front and no interference. I was hoping that Royal Gem wouldn't have to be so far back. I think he was daydreaming for the first half-mile."

Bobby Frankel trains both Royal Gem and Beefeater Baby as well as their 6-year-old half-sister The Seven Seas, who is a multiple stakes winner for Charles and Audrey Skirball Kenis.

The Seven Seas may try to give the broodmare Tiffany's Gem a hat-trick at the meeting when she starts in the $200,000 Santa Maria Handicap on Feb. 17, Frankel said.

Proud Tower euthanized

Proud Tower, the winner of the 2000 California Cup Juvenile, was euthanized on Thursday after suffering two fractured sesamoids during morning exercise.

A 4-year-old, Proud Tower had not started since winning the California Breeders' Champion Stakes in 2000 at Santa Anita.

Trained by Jose Silva, he missed all of 2001 due to an injury suffered at the start of the year.

- additional reporting by Brad Free

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