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BAFFERT’S GAME ON DUDE SURVIVES MIDSTRETCH CONTROVERSY IN SANTA ANITA HANDICAP AS 1-2 FAVORITE TWIRLING CANDY GETS BOUNCED AROUND WHILE FINISHING FIFTH; SUTHERLAND GAINS HISTORIC WIN; FLUKE TAKES KILROE; OAKS GOES TO TURBULENT DESCENT
ARCADIA, Calif. (March 5, 2011) – Twirling Candy’s expected coronation as the 1-2 favorite in Saturday’s 74th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino was turned topsy-turvy by a virtual sigalert in midstretch.
The outcome was perhaps the most controversial, along with Stardust Mel’s victory over Out of the East in 1975, non-disqualification in the 74-year history of the storied Big ’Cap. It finally provided the race with a winning female jockey, Chantal Sutherland. And it lent justification for trainer Bob Baffert’s assault by numbers. Victorious Game On Dude was one of four horses saddled by the Hall of Fame trainer who had won the previous year with Misremembered.
For the record, 14-1 Game On Dude nipped 25-1 Setsuko by a nose at the finish line with 69-1 Quindici Man another half-length back in third. The winning time was 1:59.47. A winning $1 Trifecta ticket paid $10,325.60.
But it was the series of events involving heavily backed Twirling Candy in midstretch that likely will become best remembered. Trainer John Sadler’s stunning 4-year-old would wind up fifth as the worst Big ’Cap disappointment since Gentleman finished last in a field of four at odds of 1-20 in 1998.
Twirling Candy, racing in third, was bumped on both sides while getting pinballed by the winner and Setsuko. After a 12-minute video tape review, the stewards decided not to alter the finish. Many in the crowd of 23,304 booed lustily.
Scott Chaney spoke on behalf of the three stewards. “It was the majority opinion that the inside horse (Game On Dude) was going straight, and that the contact was caused by the middle horse (Twirling Candy) drifting in, causing contact and a whole chain of ping-ponging events. We held Twirling Candy accountable whereas we felt the inside horse was going straight the whole time.”
Chaney said the three judges were split, 2-1, in a decision that evoked fervent reaction.
“The inside came out,” said Joel Rosario, who rode Twirling Candy, “and the outside kind of stayed with me, so I got bumped and lost control. After that, I didn’t have anything.” Commented Sadler, “Everybody was riding against him, so he got hammered every which way, on every turn. There just wasn’t much of a chance.”
“It’s the wrong decision,” exclaimed Victor Espinoza, who was aboard Setsuko. “I don’t know why it took so long to make the wrong decision. I think the stewards are blind. How many times do they have to drop me to disqualify the horse? That’s insane. I don’t mind running a legitimate second, but when you knock the air out of my horse and you get beat by a head (nose), that’s insane.”
“I had no problem with my horse,” reported Sutherland, a view many observers found disputable. “He was as straight as an arrow. All I know is that in the race it felt like I got bumped from behind. My horse went off balance, and I hadn’t drifted in or anything. I know that I got bumped in the race. When I watched the replay, I thought it was clear that Joel (Rosario) kind of tipped into Victor (Espinoza) and bumped him into me.”
Baffert, who originally had named Eastern-based John Velazquez to ride Game On Dude, changed to Sutherland at the eleventh hour after it became apparent that Velazquez would not be unavailable. Sutherland, a 34-year-old native of Winnipeg, Ontario, who rides in Canada during most of the year, had only three wins at the Santa Anita meet prior to her historic breakthrough.
“This is by far the best win in my career,” she said. “Even getting a leg up from Bob (Baffert) on the horse was great. I just had such a good feeling today.”
“I saw the race, I saw the bumping, I saw the replay,” said Baffert. “I thought Chantal rode a great race and she deserved to win it. I think the stewards made the right call. Once you’re out of horse (referring to Twirling Candy), it doesn’t matter.”
A 4-year-old gelded son of Awesome Again, Game On Dude’s previous biggest win had come in last year’s Grade III Lone Star Derby. He subsequently ran a creditable fourth in the Belmont Stakes for owners Terry Lanni, Ernest Moody, Maria Vila and Bernie Schiappa, all residents of Las Vegas.
Game On Dude began the Santa Anita season with a 1 ¼-length win in an optional claimer with leading rider Rafael Bejarano aboard. “Bejarano was going to ride him in this race,” noted Baffert, “and then he decided to stick with Sadler (Gladding, who finished 10th). Right now, his agent’s got to be vomiting.”
The 74th running of the Santa Anita Handicap marked only the second time in its rich history that a single trainer had entered four horses. Only the legendary Charlie Whittingham had previously done so with little success in 1976. Baffert’s runners were sent off at odds of 9-2 (First Dude, sixth); 36-1 (Tweebster, seventh) and 25-1 (Spurrier, eighth). Game On Dude was the second-best fancied of the quartet at 14-1.
The winner sat directly behind early leaders Aggie Engineer and First Dude. He took a short lead with a quarter-mile to go. Game On Dude fought back gamely after the incident during the stretch run to win resolutely under Sutherland’s vigorous handling.
Game On Dude paid $31.60, $11.60 and $14.40. Setsuko returned $15.80 and $25. Quindici Man’s third-place finish as the second longest price in the field of 11 skewered the show payoffs. He paid $48.20 to show.
With the winning purse of $450,000, Game On Dude boosted his career earnings to $702,650 from a 4-1-1 showing in eight career starts.
Brazilian-bred Fluke provided trainer Humberto Ascanio with his second graded stakes victory within two months in the 52nd running of the program’s second Grade I contest, the $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile while resisting hard-charging favorite Caracortado by a head at the wire.
On Feb. 5, Fluke had lifted Ascanio out of a 46-race dry spell by winning Santa Anita’s Grade III Thunder Road Handicap. This was the same horse that had delivered Hollywood Park’s Grade I Citation Handicap to Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel’s former aide just 11 days following Frankel’s death due to lymphoma on Nov. 16, 2009.
With three wins and three seconds for Ascanio, Fluke has served as a beacon for the man that had loyally served for 35 years as Frankel’s right hand. He was 9-1 the day he registered his first graded stakes win in the Citation after being first saddled by Ascanio. He was the 5-2 second choice in the Kilroe. Joe Talamo, who had ridden Fluke in his previous five races beginning with the Citation, opted for 6-5 favorite Caracortado on this day.
With Bejarano taking over, Fluke closed strongly along the inside to reach the wire just ahead of the rags-to-riches California-bred who rallied rapidly between horses from next to last in the field of 10.
“You couldn’t have a better trip than that,” Ascanio said in the winner’s circle. “He saved all the ground. If he went outside, I don’t know what would have happened. But he stayed inside, and I had a lot of confidence in the horse.
“I was worried the horse might be a little short because, in one month, I only gave him two works, but I wanted a fresh horse, a happy horse, and it paid off.”
“I always had a lot of confidence because my horse relaxes well in the beginning of the race,” said Bejarano, who had worked Fluke four times. “That’s why I had a lot of horse and was able to finish strong at the end. I stayed on the rail and my horse showed me a big kick. Caracortado kept running, but my horse had the best trip in the race.”
Talamo said his horse was bothered early by Lieve, who broke down entering the backstretch. “We were fortunate enough to not alter course too bad,” Talamo reported. “Other than that, we had such a good trip. I followed the winner the whole way. My horse ran a winning race. It was just that the other horse never did stop.”
Jeranimo, the third choice at 6-1, finished third, one-half length behind Caracortado. The winner ran the distance in 1:33.50 and paid $7.40, $3.20 and $2.60. Caracortado paid $2.80 and $2.40. The show price on Jeranimo was $3.60. Owned by Patricia Bozano, Fluke earned $180,000 to bring his career bankroll to $637,948 from a 7-6-0 record in 16 starts.
The way the day unfolded, Sadler’s best chance for a Grade I victory fell a neck short earlier in the afternoon when Zazu was unable to overtake even-money favorite Turbulent Descent in the 72nd running of the $250,000 Santa Anita Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles.
The outcome avenged Turbulent Descent’s first setback in four races on Feb. 5 when Zazu upset the 2-5 favorite, coming off a two-month freshening, in the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes.
The Oaks evolved into a dramatic rematch as the two waited in the wings among five entrants before pouring in on through the stretch. The final time of 1:41.05 bettered the stakes record of 1:41.20 set by Hall of Famer Bold ’n Determined in 1980.
Turbulent Descent, with regular rider David Flores aboard, made her move three wide around the far turn to take command. Zazu, two lengths behind with Rosario aboard, accelerated in determined pursuit. The winner had a two-length edge in midstretch. Zazu flew late, and just missed.
“Last time, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on my filly because she was coming off a layoff and because we had so much rain, she had missed a work,” Flores said in reference to the one-mile Las Virgenes.
“Today, I was very confident she was going to run big. I took a peak back at the three-eighths pole, and I saw the gray shadow (Zazu), so I knew where she was. At the quarter pole, I let her go, and she gave me everything.”
After the first two fillies, it was 5 ½ lengths back to A Z Warrior in third. Kilograeme finished another 5 ¼ lengths behind in fourth, one-half length ahead of May Day Rose, who had led to the far turn.
Turbulent Descent paid $4, $2.40 and $2.20. Zazu, who was 4-1 in the Las Virgenes, paid $2.80 and $2.10 as the 2-1 second choice. A Z Warrior, with Bejarano in the saddle, returned $3 to show.
Mike Puype, who trains the victorious daughter of Congrats, suggested that 1 1/16 miles might be the maximum distance within Turbulent Descent’s scope. The Oaks was her second win at the distance to go along with last December’s Hollywood Starlet.
“She’s done it,” Puype said. “But let’s face it; the video on her first two races (both sprints) was breathtaking. She’s a lot of horse going one turn.” He ruled out the Kentucky Oaks at 1 1/8 miles as a future consideration while mentioning the one-mile Acorn and Test Stakes as possibilities.
Sadler, meanwhile, set his sights on the Kentucky Oaks for Zazu. “She really ran well, so we’re really excited,” Sadler said. “If the race were a little longer, she may have gotten there. She looks like she’ll be ready for the Kentucky Oaks.”
With her fourth victory in five starts, Turbulent Descent earned $150,000 for Blinkers On Racing Stable and partners. The purse boosted her career total to $528,350. The bay filly was a sales purchase in April of last year for $160,000.
On the anniversary of his 2010 Santa Anita Handicap victory, Baffert’s Misremembered returns to action Sunday as the 2-1 morning line favorite in the $75,000 Santana Mile, headliner of a nine-race program that gets underway at 12:30 p.m.