LEA THE PUNISHER TAKES THE AZERI PURSE IN DRIVING FOUR-HORSE FINISH; BEJARANO RIDES FOUR WINNERS INCLUDING PAIR OF LONGSHOTS

ARCADIA, Calif. (Jan. 28, 2011) – Making her first start on dirt, Lea the Punisher prevailed in a driving four-horse finish Friday to capture Santa Anita’s $57,136 Azeri Purse for older fillies and mares while negotiating 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.20.

With Alonso Quinonez in the saddle, the 4-year-old daughter of Petionville withstood the closing rush of 2-1 favorite Makoma to score by a neck while the much-troubled Gumption gained third another neck back and a head in front of early leader Summer Games.

Gumption’s eventful setback denied leading rider Rafael Bejarano a fourth victory on the afternoon after winning the third and fourth races with 7-1 and 8-1 longshots, respectively. But Bejarano managed to complete his quad in the last race when piloting 8-5 shot Long Legged Lovely to victory in the one-mile maiden event that closed the card. His win total now stands at 38, 12 clear of Joel Rosario.

For Lea the Punisher, a $45,000 yearling purchase trained by Hall of Famer Richard Mandella, it was her sixth in-the-money finish in as many races for the partnership of Arnold Zetcher, Tom Lenner, Margie Strauss, Alex Solis II and Davenport. She added $33,600 to her earnings that reached $88,800 from a 2-3-1 record in six races.

The second choice at 3-1 in a field of seven, Lea the Punisher stalked early pace-setter Summer Games, took over in midstretch and gamely held on. Makoma, ridden by Mike Smith for the Zenyatta connections of Jerry & Ann Moss as well as trainer John Shirreffs, closed from last to barely miss.

But Gumption had the roughest trip of all. Full of run, she raced behind horses through the stretch while waiting for a hole to open. It never materialized. Breaking free too late, she settled for third a neck behind the favorite. “I knew I had the best horse in the race,” Bejarano commented afterward.

Lea the Punisher paid $8.60, $4.80 and $3.20. The mutuels on Makoma were $4.20 and $3. Gumption, sent off at 4-1, paid $3 to show.

Leading trainer Bob Baffert maintained his sizzling pace of averaging one win a day when his only runner on Friday, Temp, broke his maiden in the first race as the 7-5 second choice. It was the 22nd winner at the meet for Baffert and kept him well ahead of Doug O’Neill’s pace of 2006-07 when setting the Santa Anita meet record for a trainer with 56 victories. The outcome provided Bejarano with his first winner of the day.

In conjunction with sister track Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Santa Anita co-hosts the ninth annual Sunshine Millions competition between California and Florida-breds with combined purses for the six stakes races totaling $1.8 million.

The three Sunshine Millions races at Santa Anita are the $300,000 Distaff, $300,000 Turf and $200,000 Sprint. They will be presented successively in inverse order with the Sprint leading off as the fifth race on a 10-race program that begins at 12 noon.

Cost of Freedom is the even-money favorite among eight entrants in the Sprint. The Usual Q. T. is listed as the 5-2 choice among eight runners in the Turf while his James Cassidy-trained stablemate, Evening Jewel, is the 5-2 pick among nine fillies and mares set for the Distaff.

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