01/06/2016 10:06AM

The week that was in racing, December 29, 2015 through January 4, 2016

Benoit & Associates
Flamboyant wins the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes

Here's a collection of some of the biggest stories in horse racing, all in one place. Unless noted, all of the links here are to free stories on DRF.com. Enjoy.

Graded Stakes Action Across the Country

The bulk of the big races of the week happened on Saturday at Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park, with each track playing host to three different graded stakes that day. The big story from a betting standpoint, was Flamboyant winning the Grade 2 San Gabriel Stakes at Santa Anita, paying $94.20 to win and helping trigger a Pick 6 carryover into Sunday’s card. Also on Saturday at Santa Anita, Forever Darling won the Grade 2 Santa Ynez for sophomore fillies, and San Onofre took the Grade 3 Midnight Lute.

Gulfstream Park ran five stakes races Saturday, each with a purse of $100,000, three of which carried Grade 3 status. Awesome Banner returned from an absence of over 200 days to take the Grade 3 Hutcheson Stakes handily, running his record to a perfect 2 for 2 and validating the track-record-setting performance in his debut. In the Grade 3 Dania Beach, the “other Chad Brown” horse, Life Imitates Art prevailed over Isotherm; Brown also saddled the post-time favorite, Ray’s the Bar, who finished sixth.

Up in New York, Brown also took the only race over the weekend that offered Kentucky Derby points, the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. Flexibility toyed with seven rivals, simultaneously earning 10 Derby points and flattering the East’s leading Derby contender Mohaymen, who had bested Flexibility in both the Grade 2 Nashua and Grade 2 Remsen late last year.

In Case You Missed It

On New Year’s Eve, Itsaknockout made his return to the races for Starlight Racing and trainer Todd Pletcher, easily winning an optional claimer at Gulfstream Park. It was his first start since a troubled trip in the Kentucky Derby, and he won by nearly five lengths and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 96. If he stays healthy, there’s no reason to think he won’t be a player in the older male division in 2016. Next up is the Grade 1 Donn Handicap on February 6 at Gulfstream Park.

Speaking of older males, Page McKenney also earned a 96 BSF in winning the $75,000 Native Dancer Stakes at Laurel Park on Saturday. The ten-year-old gelding shows no signs of slowing down, and he’s proven to one of the best claims in the last ten years. It’s his third straight stakes win, and he’s now won 14 races (and only out of the money twice in 28 starts) for trainer Mary Eppler since being claimed for $16,000 on July 20, 2013. He’s still looking for his first graded stakes win, but he placed in each of the three graded stakes he tried in 2015, so perhaps 2016 could be the year for this old warrior.

After carrying over on Saturday, no one hit the pick six at Santa Anita on Sunday, so we enter Thursday’s races with a carryover of more than $378,000. The forecast calls for rain, so if you’re considering taking a shot, be sure to handicap for a wet track.

The Best News of the Week

The best story of the week happened Sunday at Gulfstream Park, between the seventh and eight races. With the help of a bionic exoskeleton, paralyzed jockey Michael Straight walked into the winner’s circle and was greeted by a round of applause. It’s nearly impossible to watch the video without getting chills and/or tearing up just a bit.

Wildest Race of the Week

You could watch every race at every track in North America for the next twenty years and not see something like what happened in the sixth race at Gulfstream Park on New Year’s Day. A turf maiden special weight race carded at the unique distance of 1 7/16 miles (or 11.5 furlongs), it’s one of the few races these days at a major track where horses go around three turns. As such, the race starts on the backstretch, nearly the same place where the five-furlong turf sprints begin at Gulfstream.

Coming into the stretch for the first time, 84-1 longshot Enders Cat started to draw clear and crossed the finished line about five lengths ahead of his nearest rival, under quite a bit of urging from apprentice jockey Gerardo Corrales. After crossing the wire, Corrales stood up in the irons, seemingly content with pulling off a huge upset. The only trouble, of course, was that the race wasn’t over and that the horses had to go around again. Once the field caught up with him on the far turn, you have to imagine that one of the other jockeys gently reminded Corrales that the race was not over.

Watch the replay:

Horses to Watch

Santa Anita:

Trainer: Phil D’Amato
Last race: Dec. 30, 7th
Finish: 8th by 7
Beyer: 74
Blocked for most of the stretch, this N2X turf filly finished willingly against the grain in a race dominated by speed. Her good form is hidden; she fits in a similar turf mile.

DRF Plus subscribers can see the rest of Brad Free’s horses to watch from last week by clicking here.


Trainer: Linda Rice
Last race: Jan. 2, 7th
Finish: 8th by 11 1/4
Beyer: 74

Expected to be a strong part of the pace but stumbled badly at the break and lost all chance while making third start back from a layoff; won a first-level allowance by four lengths on the inner dirt last winter.

DRF Plus subscribers can see the rest of Dave Litfin’s horses to watch from last week by clicking here.