ON-TRACK CROWD OF 27,259 WITNESS 79TH RUNNING OF ‘GRANDDADDY OF THEM ALL’
ARCADIA, Calif. (March 12, 2016)–In his first-ever try in graded stakes competition on the main track, longshot Melatonin made it look easy in taking Saturday’s 79th running of the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino in gate to wire fashion under Joe Talamo. Owned by Tarabilla Farms and trained by David Hofmans, the 5-year-old gelding by Kodiak Kowboy won the Big ‘Cap by 4 ¼ lengths while covering the mile and a quarter distance in 2:02.01.
Fresh off a 3 ¾ length allowance win going a mile and a sixteenth on Feb. 5, Talamo and his agent, Scott McClellan, lobbied forcefully for a chance to try the deep waters of “The Granddaddy of Them All” on Saturday.
“Joe was instrumental in running in this race,” said Hofmans, who, along with Talamo, won his first career Big ‘Cap. “Joe and his agent were insistent that we go. After his last race, he said we have to run here. Joe was convinced after his last race. He said he loves this track, he’s so strong and he had so much horse left, I think he wants to run even farther, and I was convinced he was a miler.
“I breezed him seven eighths the other day with Joe and was convinced to go here. Without California Chrome (who is committed to run later in the month in the Dubai World Cup), it opened up. We expected to be on the lead.”
Off at 16-1, Melatonin paid $34.60, $13.80 and $6.00. The Big ‘Cap represented his fourth win from 11 career starts and with the winner’s share of $600,000, he increased his earnings to $768,552.
“What a tremendous effort,” said Talamo. “I think I need some Melatonin right now to calm down from it…We had a great trip and he broke real sharp. I just put him up there and fortunately he was going so easily. When I got to the first turn, they backed off him a bit so I was able to give him a breather and he opened up turning for home.
“I told Elizabeth (wife) when I left for the track today that I thought we had a big chance. I didn’t think we’d win like that but it was pretty exciting…Ever since coming to California, aside from winning the Santa Anita Derby, this was a huge, huge goal of mine. This is one of the biggest races in California and to do it at Santa Anita in front of a crowd (27,259) like this, it’s just icing on the cake.”
Ridden by Abel Lezcano, Hard Aces rallied stoutly late to tag favored Effinex by a half length for the place. Off at 22-1, Hard Aces paid $19.20 and $7.20.
Effinex, who was second to American Pharoah in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Oct. 31 and who had been idle since winning the Grade I Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs Nov. 27, was well poised in second position, a half length off the winner a quarter mile from home, but lacked the necessary rally and finished third under Mike Smith.
Off at 7-5, Effinex paid $2.80 to show.
“He ran great,” said Smith, who had won the last three Big ‘Caps, dating back to 2013 with Game On Dude. “That was his first race back in just over three months…Going a mile and a quarter. I mean, that was impressive…He got to them but by the three eighths pole I felt him take a big breath and once he got his air, he didn’t put his head back down and take off again!”
Ridden by Mario Gutierrez, Donworth, who was the second choice in the wagering at 5-2, was rank throughout and ran up on the heels of the winner around the far turn, resulting in a stewards’ inquiry. After a brief review, it was determined Donworth, who finished seventh, had caused his own trouble and the original order of finish was confirmed.
Fractions on the race were 22.82, 46.28, 1:10.81 and 1:36.47.