Santa Anita’s “Winter Meet of Champions” showcased a pair of them Friday when Nyquist and Beholder worked towards future engagements, undefeated male two-year-old champion of 2015 Nyquist for the Florida Derby on April 2 and three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder for the Grade I Vanity Stakes on June 4.

Nyquist and Beholder join undefeated two-year-old female champion of 2015 Songbird and 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome as titlists who are scheduled to race or have already started at the Winter Meet.

Nyquist went five furlongs on Santa Anita’s work tab in 1:01.40 under exercise rider Jonny Garcia.

Trainer Doug O’Neill had a one-mile clocking for Nyquist.

“I got him in 1:46 and change and the last eighth in 11 and three,” said O’Neill, who ships the bay son of Uncle Mo owned by Paul and Zillah Reddam to Florida for a highly anticipated throw-down with the unbeaten Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Mohaymen on March 28.

“This is the first time I’ve been on her (to work this year),” said Beholder’s regular rider Gary Stevens, who was up for a four furlong drill in 48:40, breezing, after the 7:45 a.m. renovation break. “But I’ve been watching her work.

“She looks different, she feels different, she’s stronger, smarter. Dick wanted her to go 48 and change, she went in 48 and two, galloped out (five furlongs) in a minute, and out three-quarters in (one) 15, pulling up, so she’s coming along good. She’s happy, I’m happy.

“She made my day.”

Trainer Richard Mandella has mentioned the Grade I, $400,000 Vanity Mile on June 4 as a starting point for Beholder, winner of 11 of 12 lifetime starts at Santa Anita, but subsequently left the door open for a start prior to the Vanity.

“I couldn’t be happier with how she’s going,” Mandella said. “She couldn’t be doing better. I had her going a half in 48 and galloping out (five furlongs) in a minute and four-fifths.

A race before the Vanity that might fit the bill for the six-year-old daughter of Henny Hughes would be the Grade III, $100,000 Adoration Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on May 8.

“We’ll just see how it’s going,” Mandella said. “We’ll see what’s up.”

Team Hollendorfer seeks Grade I status for Tara’s Tango when she runs in Saturday’s $500,000 Santa Margarita Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles. She will wear blinkers in a race for the first time in her 10-race career.

The four-year-old gray daughter of Unbridled’s Song owned by Stonestreet Stables overcame a slow start to capture the Grade II Santa Maria Stakes Feb. 13 under Martin Garcia.

With Garcia at Oaklawn Park Saturday, Rafael Bejarano rides Tara’s Tango.

“She lost a lot of ground in the Santa Maria,” pointed out Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer. “Garcia suggested blinkers after the Santa Maria to see if we can improve her and keep her more focused.

“She has three good works with the blinkers, so we’re very optimistic.”

Tara’s Tango will be going nine furlongs for the first time. The only Santa Margarita entrant that has raced that distance is Penwith, having done so four times, with her best finish a third by a neck in the Grade II Demoiselle at Aqueduct on Nov. 30, 2013.

Living The Life makes her 11th straight stakes start in the United States when she runs in the Santa Margarita. The Irish-bred mare trained by Gary Mandella made her first start in the U.S. in an overnight race on Aug. 7, 2014.

Since then it’s been a string of stakes through Feb.13 in the Grade II Santa Maria, in which the six-year-old daughter of Footstepsinthesand finished a game third, beaten just over a length, after leading into the stretch.

“She’s really happy,” Mandella said. “She came out of the Santa Maria really well and she’s been training good. That was her first time going long on dirt, so I’m hoping there’s still a little more room to improve.”

 The Santa Margarita: Living The Life, Flavien Prat, 8-1; Tara’s Tango, Rafael Bejarano, 2-1; Penwith, Mike Smith, 2-1; Moyo Honey, Drayden Van Dyke, 12-1; All Star Bub, Martin Pedroza, 15-1; and Taris, Gary Stevens, 8-5.

Lavender Chrissie was scratched.


Victor Espinoza heads for Dubai Monday on a plane ride that might consume 18 hours.

He could sleep all the way.

Espinoza departs from LAX at 3:30 p.m. to pilot 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome in the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 26. Winner of Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award and nominated to the Hall of Fame for the second straight year, Espinoza is scheduled to arrive in Dubai at 7 p.m. Tuesday night, March 22.

California Chrome is Espinoza’s only mount.

“He’s the best-traveling jockey I’ve ever had,” said his agent, Brian Beach, who has represented riders for 27 years, among them Hall of Fame members Kent Desormeaux, Julie Krone, Mike Smith, Alex Solis and Gary Stevens.

“Victor is usually asleep by the time we hit the gate before the plane takes off. He slept all the way from LAX to London on the trip to Royal Ascot two years ago,” Beach recalled.

“He didn’t get up to eat or anything on a flight that took 11 and a half hours.”

Espinoza understandably is looking forward to reuniting with California Chrome, who was second in the World Cup last year.

“He’s better than before,” Espinoza said of the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit. “He’s stronger physically, which is natural as a horse gets older.

“He has more strength and his body is thicker. I like the way he’s coming up to the race. He’s had two good preps and he likes the track.

“The prep was easy, and I didn’t want it to be too hard. That’s the reason I wanted to bounce out of there from the one post and get him comfortable outside of the two leaders.

“I was focused on him stretching his legs and doing what he wanted, and that was it.”

California Chrome’s trainer, Art Sherman, on hand at Santa Anita last Saturday to saddle Mucho Chrome to a third-place finish in the fifth race, said California Chrome is doing well in Dubai, where his son and assistant, Alan, is riding shotgun as usual awaiting Pop’s arrival.

Art leaves for the Middle East on Sunday.

Espinoza, winner of the Kentucky Derby the last two years and five of the last six Triple Crown races thanks in large part to American Pharoah’s Triple Crown sweep last year, is scheduled to resume riding at Santa Anita Thursday, March 31, following his venture to Dubai.

Beach, meanwhile, will remain stateside, wishing Espinoza good luck from afar.

“I’m staying here to look for a Derby mount,” the agent said.
FINISH LINES: Exaggerator has been galloping the past couple days following his third-place finish in the San Felipe Stakes last Saturday in preparation for the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9. “He had a very light week, which is typical after the race,” trainer Keith Desormeaux said. “He’ll probably breeze next Saturday, a week from tomorrow.” . . . Trainer Gary Sherlock has San Felipe fourth-place finisher Uncle Lino also pointed to the Santa Anita Derby, likely joining the first three finishers in the San Felipe, Danzing Candy, Mor Spirit and Exaggerator . . . Bob Baffert has Mor Spirit galloping, but said he has “no plans” for undefeated three-year-old Malibu Sunset, who worked six furlongs Thursday 1:14.80 . . . Kudos to jockey Felipe Valdez and his agent Brandon O’Bryan on winning Thursday’s sixth race aboard odds-on favorite Shiny Nugget for trainer Hector Palma. It was only the second mount for Valdez since he was sidelined three months ago with a broken collar bone suffered in a mishap at Los Alamitos. Valdez is the older brother of Palma assistant Jose Sanchez Valdez . . . Correlation, a 3-year-old Forestry filly trained by Richard Baltas, is a first-time starter entered in Saturday’s 10th race. Santa Anita oddsmaker Jon White notes that Correlation also was the name of a quality three-year-old colt in the 1950s. “The late Noble Threewitt trained Correlation, who won the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial in 1954,” White said. “Bill Shoemaker rode him in the Wood and Florida Derby and also rode him in the Kentucky Derby. Correlation was the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, but he finished sixth. Determine, a little gray colt that had won the Santa Anita Derby, was the Kentucky Derby winner that year. Correlation did go on to finish second to Hasty Road in the Preakness.” . . . Congrats to Stephen Young on by nailing 70-1 shot Generosidade in Sunday’s San Luis Rey Stakes to advance to The Stronach Group’s Handicapping Challenge that starts Saturday. The live money contest event with a $4,500 buy-in ($3,000 bankroll and $1,500 prize pool) and takes place at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita. There is a 100 percent payback of all prize pool monies, with up to $300,000 in total prizes based upon the 200 entries. For more information, visit . . . Rafael Bejarano has a 55-44 lead over Santiago Gonzalez in the jockeys’ race, but the battle for top trainer is still thistight, with Phil D’Amato one up on Doug O’Neill, 25-24, through 48 days.


(Current Through Thursday, March 17)
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% ITM% Money Won
Rafael Bejarano 236 55 43 25 23% 52% $2,317,512
Santiago Gonzalez 251 44 33 32 18% 43% $1,804,231
Flavien Prat 227 38 40 34 17% 49% $2,350,276
Edwin Maldonado 152 28 15 15 18% 38% $955,295
Joseph Talamo 205 25 23 25 12% 36% $1,816,889
Tyler Baze 231 23 35 34 10% 40% $1,280,791
David Lopez 144 22 11 18 15% 35% $665,451
Mario Gutierrez 173 20 31 23 12% 43% $1,246,204
Martin Garcia 113 17 11 11 15% 35% $984,949
Kent Desormeaux 101 16 23 19 16% 57% $1,423,455
Fernando Perez 150 14 16 20 9% 33% $776,549
Drayden Van Dyke 138 13 15 21 9% 36% $846,162
Gary Stevens 58 12 9 8 21% 50% $1,449,548
Agapito Delgadillo 88 11 10 8 13% 33% $323,967
Martin Pedroza 85 11 9 7 13% 32% $311,800
Victor Espinoza 77 11 9 6 14% 34% $815,000
Mike Smith 85 11 8 14 13% 39% $1,546,415
Abel Lezcano 65 7 3 4 11% 22% $495,999
Tiago Pereira 94 6 10 6 6% 23% $410,034
Alonso Quinonez 71 5 9 6 7% 28% $265,535
Brice Blanc 53 5 5 7 9% 32% $488,835
Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% ITM% Money Won
Philip D’Amato 122 25 21 22 20% 56% $1,381,655
Doug O’Neill 160 24 22 22 15% 43% $1,240,513
Jerry Hollendorfer 123 19 12 15 15% 37% $1,226,771
Bob Baffert 88 18 14 13 20% 51% $1,399,060
Richard Baltas 97 17 15 13 18% 46% $1,156,659
Peter Eurton 84 13 21 12 15% 55% $971,537
John W. Sadler 76 13 9 6 17% 37% $792,379
Peter Miller 114 12 12 17 11% 36% $579,355
Steven Miyadi 57 10 12 10 18% 56% $340,422
Mark Glatt 78 9 8 8 12% 32% $416,765
Kristin Mulhall 45 9 7 3 20% 42% $373,955
Vladimir Cerin 42 9 5 5 21% 45% $324,934
William Spawr 35 8 5 4 23% 49% $226,897
George Papaprodromou 45 8 4 6 18% 40% $235,580
Mike Puype 70 7 12 5 10% 34% $352,935
J. Keith Desormeaux 42 7 6 10 17% 55% $314,279
Michael Machowsky 35 7 6 4 20% 49% $282,761
Jeff Mullins 28 7 6 1 25% 50% $195,099
Jeff Bonde 36 7 3 5 19% 42% $182,780
Carla Gaines 42 7 3 2 17% 29% $557,560
Robertino Diodoro 28 6 7 3 21% 57% $181,500
Patrick Gallagher 34 6 4 6 18% 47% $497,993
Clifford Sise, Jr. 20 6 4 1 30% 55% $436,885
Hector Palma 38 6 3 5 16% 37% $153,307
Ron Ellis 26 6 2 3 23% 42% $178,215