ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 30, 2016)–Unbeaten Smokey Image, in his first try around two turns, annihilated six California-bred rivals en route to a 8 ½ length win in Saturday’s $250,000 California Cup Derby at Santa Anita. Ridden for the first time by Victor Espinoza and trained for the first time Carla Gaines, the California-bred colt by Southern Image got a mile and a sixteenth in 1:43.49 and no-doubt stamped himself a ticket to the Kentucky Derby trail in his next start.
Breaking from post position two, Smokey Image easily out-footed Glory Bound to the first turn and set comfortable fractions of 23.49, 47.48 and 1:11.63.
“He reminds me of California Chrome!” said Espinoza. “I was expecting him to run a big race today. I worked him the other day and he worked unbelievably. I was very impressed. For me, I don’t look at it like Cal-bred or not. I just look at him and ask where he has potential…The way he ran today, he showed me that he can go the distance and he showed me that he can run with any horse, Cal-bred or not…Hopefully, I can get my next (fourth) Kentucky Derby.”
Off at 2-5, Smokey Image paid $2.80, $2.40 and $2.10.
“It looks like he did two turns well, right?” said Gaines, who took over training Smokey Image from Northern California-based Greg James following his most recent win at Del Mar on Oct. 30. “My first impression was that he was just a very, very nice horse. You know what? Greg James and his assistant, Mary, did a tremendous job with this horse. Really, I just took over the reins.”
Owned by Betty Irvin’s Irvin Racing Stable, Smokey Image, who is out of the Free House mare, Special Smoke, notched his perfect sixth win and picked up $137,500 for the win, increasing his earnings to $435,100.
“We’ll evaluate the calendar and see what he’s ready for, but certainly his performance today indicated we might have something more special,” said Irvin’s daughter, Diane Irvin, who serves as her racing manager. “After my dad passed (last year), I took over.”
Tough It Out, who was ridden by Santiago Gonzalez, rallied from last to be second, finishing 6 ¼ lengths in front of Xingontothebone. Off at 8-1, Tough It Out paid $5.40 and $3.80.
Xingontothebone, who was caught four wide going into the first turn, finished 1 ¾ lengths in front of Glory Bound. Ridden by Martin Pedroza, “Xing” paid $4.80 to show.