ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 19, 2015)–A wide-open field of eight older horses, including trainer Neil Drysdale’s comebacking Grade I winner Winning Prize, will contest 6 ½ furlongs down Santa Anita’s hillside turf course in Sunday’s $75,000 Joe Hernandez Stakes.
A winner of the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile (turf) three starts back on March 8, 2014, Winning Prize has been idle since running a disappointing sixth as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade II, seven furlong Turf Play King Stakes at Woodbine on Aug. 10. A two-time Group I winner going one mile on turf in his native Argentina, the 6-year-old horse by Pure Prize was a runaway winner of three Argentine turf sprints prior to making his U.S. debut with Drysdale in August, 2013 at Del Mar.
Blessed with an abundance of natural speed, Winning Prize will try the hillside turf for the first time. Owned by David Heerensperger and Jose Nelson, he has eight wins from 15 starts and earnings of $612,913.
Fourth as the 2-1 favorite in the Grade II, six furlong Palos Verdes Stakes Jan. 31, trainer Jeff Bonde’s Distinctiv Passion set torrid fractions en route to a gate to wire score in the Grade III, 6 ½ furlong Midnight Lute Stakes Dec. 27. A 5-year-old Florida-bred horse by With Distinction, he will try the hillside for the first time, but has two wins from three five furlong turf sprint tries at Del Mar. Owned by Edward J. Brown, Jr., Alan Klein and Phil Lebherz, Distinctiv Passion could be quickest horse early in the Hernandez. He is 14-6-1-4 overall with earnings of $348,180.
Trained by David Hofmans, Home Run Kitten has an impressive resume down the hill that includes a nose victory in the Grade III Eddie D. Stakes four starts back on Sept. 26. Second, beaten a neck in the Grade II Mathis Brothers Mile (turf) on Dec. 26, he was a close third in his most recent start, the Grade II, one mile turf Arcadia Stakes on Jan. 31. With what appears to be an abundance of speed signed on, the 4-year-old Kentucky-bred colt by Kitten’s Joy will hope to be rolling late under Gary Stevens.
Owned by Tarabilla Farms, Inc., Home Run Kitten has two wins from three tries down the hill and is 12-4-2-3 overall with earnings of $281,800.
John Sadler’s Sweet Swap has run 11 of his last 13 races down the hill, winning four of them. Owned by Hronis Racing, LLC, the 6-year-old Candy Ride horse hopped at the break and finished third, beaten three quarters of a length in the restricted Clockers’ Corner Stakes down the hillside on Jan. 25. He figures to once again be forwardly placed on Sunday and will be ridden back by Joe Talamo. A winner of the Grade III San Simeon Stakes over the course on April 13, 2014, Sweet Swap is 16-6-3-3 overall with earnings of $351,529.
Claimed out of a second place finish down the hill for $62,500 on Feb. 12, trainer Peter Miller’s U S Citizen owns a Hernandez Stakes best last-out Beyer Speed figure of 96 and although he’ll be making his stakes debut on Sunday, he has two wins, three seconds and a third from seven tries over the course. Owned by Rockingham Ranch, U S Citizen has a stalking style and will be ridden for the first time by Victor Espinoza. A 6-year-old Kentucky-bred gelding by Proud Citizen, he is 23-4-7-4 overall with earnings of $216,635.
Although winless in four stateside starts, trainer Phil D’Amato’s English-bred Hay Dude comes off a pair of sharp seconds, most recently in the Clockers’ Corner Stakes, where he flew from off the pace when beaten by a half length. A 5-year-old gelding, he’s owned by Anthony Fanticola and Joseph Scardino. Hay Dude has an overall mark of 16-3-4-4 and has earnings of $115,249. He’ll be ridden for the fourth consecutive time by Kent Desormeaux.
Claimed out of a $62,500 claiming win by trainer Gus Headley on Feb. 1, Seeking the Sherif tries turf for the first time and gets a new rider in Kayla Stra. Owned by Kurt Rexius, Seeking the Sherif had a phenomenal 2014, ascending the class ladder following a $12,500 claim on Dec. 28, 2013 en route to five wins from 10 starts while earning $224,700. A 6-year-old gelding by Officer, Seeking the Sherif is 14-8-1-2 overall with earnings of $282,100.
Named in honor of the original voice of Santa Anita, the legendary Joe Hernandez called races at The Great Race Place from December, 1934, until his death in February, 1972.
The complete field for the Joe Hernandez Stakes, to be run as the eighth race on a nine-race program Sunday, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Sweet Swap, Joe Talamo, 118; Winning Prize, Rafael Bejarano, 118; U S Citizen, Victor Espinoza, 118; Distinctiv Passion, Edwin Maldonado, 123; Chief Lion, Martin Pedroza, 116; Home Run Kitten, Gary Stevens, 123; Hay Dude, Kent Desormeaux, 118 and Seeking the Sherif, Kayla Stra, 118.
First post time on Sunday is at 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.