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WITH PREMIER PEGASUS THE 8-5 FAVORITE AMONG 11 ENTRANTS, SATURDAY’S GRADE I, $1 MILLION SANTA ANITA DERBY SHOW COULD STAR CHO AS OWNER, TRAINER, BREEDER
ARCADIA, Calif. (April 6, 2011) – If Premier Pegasus is to make good on his 8-5 morning-line favoritism among 11 entrants in Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby, the show would truly belong to 68-year-old Myung Kwon Cho.
The Korean immigrant, who races a small stable of six horses, would become the first person to solely own, train and have bred the winner in 74 runnings of this major stepping stone to the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
Cho -- best known to date for a horse that never won -- would burst upon the national scene much like Premier Pegasus did with his stunning 7 ¾-length victory in the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 12, his final prep for the mile-and-one-eighth Santa Anita Derby.
A victory by the homebred son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus would supplant Nationalore as Cho’s most memorable runner. The paradoxical Nationalore became racing’s all-time richest maiden. He earned $318,227 in 26 winless starts before being fatally injured in a spill at Hollywood Park on July 12, 2000. With 4 wins in 5 starts, Premier Pegasus has yet to earn that much.
Finally, Cho would emerge from the sport’s shadows at the expense of racing’s most recognizable figure, trainer Bob Baffert, whose Jaycito is the 4-1 second choice in the event for 3-year-olds that Baffert has won a record five times.
The 74th Santa Anita Derby is one of four graded stakes races on Saturday’s 11-race program that will get underway at 12 noon. Post time for the Derby is 4:37 p.m., (PDT). Gates open at 10 a.m. The card includes the Grade II, $150,000 Arcadia Stakes at one mile on turf, the Grade II, $150,000 Providencia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles on turf, and the Grade III, $100,000 Las Cienegas Handicap at 6 ½ furlongs on turf.
Premier Pegasus, by virtue of his San Felipe win, is one of three Santa Anita Derby entrants that could qualify for the Preakness 5.5 bonus. The others are Anthony’s Cross, winner of the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes, and Silver Medallion, winner of the Grade III El Camino Real Derby at Golden Gate Fields.
A win by any of the three on Saturday would qualify that colt for the multi-million dollar bonus with a victory in the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Racecourse on May 21. The winning owner would receive a bonus of $5 million; the winning trainer, $500,000. Cho, of course, would sweep the monetary deck.
Premier Pegasus has been ridden in each of his five starts by Alonso Quinonez, a 27-year-old native of Sinaloa, Mexico, who quietly joined the local riding colony in 2007. Talk about Nationalore’s victory difficulties, Quinonez had been winless in 72 races when he boarded Premier Pegasus in the mile-and-one-sixteenth San Felipe. He abruptly slammed the door on that streak.
The margin of victory was a record for the race in its 74th running. Premier Pegasus clearly took to racing around two turns, and he clearly responded to the decision by his owner/trainer/breeder to remove blinkers that had been worn in his first four starts.
“We took the blinkers off because we were thinking it would make him relax a little bit more,” Cho said afterward. Mission accomplished at odds of 7-1. The bay colt rallied from seventh in the San Felipe. “He waited for me until I asked him,” said Quinonez. “I just let him go. He knew it was time to go because he’s a very special horse.”
Concluded Cho, “I liked the horse from his first race, but I didn’t expect him to accomplish as much as he’s had so far. I love him now.”
Jaycito, who won Oak Tree’s Grade I Norfolk Stakes last October while in the care of trainer Mike Mitchell, will be making his second start for Baffert following a distant second to Premier Pegasus in the San Felipe.
“I was leery about running him back here because horses with his (closing) style weren’t doing that well until recently,” said Baffert, who had been considering Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct as an option for Jaycito. “But shipping could take something out of him, we won’t have to face (unbeaten Kentucky Derby favorite) Uncle Mo, and the weather is good here.
“Plus, I think he’s got a good chance to win the race,” added Baffert. “Our main concern is to have him ready for the next one. This should set him up perfect for the Kentucky Derby.”
Owned by Zayat Stables, the son of 1998 Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop has posted a 1-3-0 record in 5 starts for earnings of $260,000. Martin Garcia, aboard in the San Felipe, has the return call. Baffert also will start maiden winner Midnight Interlude, who figures primarily as a pace factor.
Third choice at 9-2 on Santa Anita oddsmaker Jon White’s morning line is Silver Medallion, who won the El Camino Real by 1 ½ lengths over a synthetic surface and who will be making his first start on a dirt track Saturday.
Conditioned by two-time national training leader Steve Asmussen and to be ridden by four-time national riding leader Garrett Gomez, Silver Medallion has won 3 of 6 starts. He has earned $212,904 for co-owner Michael J. Ryan, who recently sold a majority share to Steven Marshall’s Blackrock Stables.
Scott Blasi, the Asmussen assistant who oversees the trainer’s Santa Anita operation, is not concerned about Silver Medallion’s lack of experience on dirt. “If he runs like he trains,” said Blasi, “I think he’ll like the dirt.”
Anthony’s Cross, who gamely won the mile-and-one-eighth Lewis by a nose over subsequently sidelined Riveting Reason after adding blinkers, is the fourth choice on the morning line at odds of 6-1. The son of Indian Charlie, trained by Eoin Harty for A D K Racing, will be accompanied by Santa Anita’s leading rider, Joel Rosario. His record is 2-0-2 in 6 starts for earnings of $195,000.
The complete field for the Santa Anita Derby (10th race), with jockeys and odds in post position order (each starter carries 122 pounds): Offlee Wild Boys, Joseph Talamo, 50-1; Indian Winter, Patrick Valenzuela, 15-1; Mr. Commons, Mike Smith, 12-1; Silver Medallion, Garrett Gomez, 9-2; Comma to the Top, Corey Nakatani, 8-1; Midnight Interlude, Victor Espinoza, 20-1; Quail Hill, Martin Pedroza, 50-1; Premier Pegasus, Alonso Quinonez, 8-5; Anthony’s Cross, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Bench Points, Rafael Bejarano, 12-1, and Jaycito, Martin Garcia, 4-1.
Trainer, co-owner and breeder Mike Machowsky’s California-bred gelding Caracortado, who seems to have found a home on turf, figures to be a solid choice among seven entrants in the 24th running of the Arcadia.
After six months on the sidelines following a dull showing in last May’s Preakness Stakes, Caracortado returned to win his sprint debut on turf as well as the $300,000 Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 29. As the 6-5 favorite in the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile on March 5, he just failed to overtake Fluke when losing by a head.
Jockey Joe Talamo rejoins the winner of $551,520 for Don Blahut and Machowsky from a career record of 7-1-2 in 12 starts. “He’s a freak on turf,” Talamo said of the son of Cat Dreams, “and he has such a tremendous turn of foot.”
Caracortado’s main danger appears to be Jeranimo, who finished a close third in the Kilroe Mile. Jeranimo also chased Caracortado when fourth as the 7-5 favorite in the Sunshine Millions Turf. Trained by Michael Pender for B. J. Wright, the 5-year-old Congaree offspring owns a 5-3-3 record in 17 starts for earnings of $486,400. Rafael Bejarano will ride.
The complete field for the Arcadia Stakes (7th race), with jockeys and weights in post position order: Caracortado, Talamo, 118; Leroy’s Dynameaux, Rosario, 118; Norvsky, Chantal Sutherland, 118; Blue Chagall, Gomez, 118; Liberian Freighter, Garcia, 123; Jeranimo, Bejarano, 123, and Run It, Quinonez, 118.
Irish-bred Cambina seeks her third straight victory as the likely favorite in the 31st running of the Providencia Stakes, which attracted a field of nine. Trained by Jeff Bonde for a partnership, the chestnut filly has gotten into a groove following a troubled U.S. debut in the Jan. 22 Sweet Life Stakes.
She subsequently rallied from last to take the Grade III La Habra Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs over Santa Anita’s hillside turf course. Cambina then stretched out to connect at one mile in the China Doll Stakes as the 13-10 choice. Gomez, aboard for the pair of U.S. wins, will again ride the Hawk Wing filly who has won 4 of 8 career starts and $150,426.
The complete field for the Providencia Stakes (9th race), with jockeys in post position order (each starter carries 118 pounds): Bonita Star, Talamo; Withgreatpleasure, Valenzuela; Wave of Applause, Smith; So Belle, Bejarano; Whisper Louise, Espinoza; Hard to Resist, Rosario; Cambina, Gomez; Wallstreeter, Brice Blanc, and True Way of Grace, Sutherland.
Unzip Me’s dominance among female turf sprinters is reflected by her high weight assignment of 127 pounds among eight entrants in the 37th running of the Las Cienegas.
The last two horses to win a stakes race at Santa Anita while carrying as much as 127 pounds were the amazing Zenyatta in last year’s Santa Margarita Invitational and two-time champion Bayakoa in the same Grade I event for fillies and mares 20 years before. The last horse to win a race carrying more weight than 127 pounds was John Henry, who packed 130 in the 1982 Santa Anita Handicap.
Unzip Me is working on a streak of five straight victories over the hillside turf course including last year’s Las Cienegas for trainer Marty Jones. The 5-year-old mare, owned by breeder Harris Farms in a partnership, carried 125 pounds in her most recent win, the Clockers’ Corner Handicap on March 5. The last time she finished off the board was 13 races back in October of 2009.
The daughter of City Zip will break from post position No. 3 with Bejarano aloft. Her overall record is 11-3-3 in 18 races for earnings of $704,803.
The complete field for the Las Cienegas Handicap (3rd race), with jockeys and weights in post position order: Victoryasecret, Talamo, 117; Tanda, Rosario, 119; Unzip Me, Bejarano, 127; It Tiz, David Flores, 117; Saanneen, Gomez, 117; U R All That I Am, Garcia, 117; La Nez, Pedroza, 117, and Separate Forest, Valenzuela, 115.