- D’AMATO SEES A ‘BIG PERFORMANCE’ VS. ARROGATE
- MOKAT ON OUTSIDE LOOKING IN FOR AMERICAN OAKS
- SHIRREFFS: BOBBY FRANKEL ‘CARED FOR HIS HORSES’
- JIMMY BOUNCER DRAWS WELL FOR THE MIDNIGHT LUTE
- DOMINGUEZ TO TAKE TRAINING BREAK AFTER 39 YEARS
- MASSIVE TWO-DAY PICK SIX CARRYOVER HITS $361,436
MIDNIGHT STORM THRIVES ON PRESSURE
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Arrogate, poised to supplant reigning king of the handicap ranks California Chrome, has been entered to face four rivals in the Grade II, $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes for four-year-olds and up at 1 1/16 miles on New Year’s Day.
Whether he can match or surpass California Chrome in popularity remains to be seen, but at least one trainer opines that Arrogate may not have a walk in the park despite his 1-5 morning line odds set forth in the San Pasqual by line maker Jon White.
That would be Phil D’Amato, who trains versatile speedster Midnight Storm, a graded stakes winner on turf and dirt coming off a smashing 7 ¾-length victory in the 1 1/8-mile Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar on a “good” main track Nov. 27.
Midnight Storm, a six-year-old full horse by Pioneerof the Nile out of the Bertrando mare My Tina, was ridden by Mike Smith in the Native Diver, but since Smith is committed to Arrogate, Rafael Bejarano pilots Midnight Storm in the San Pasqual.
“I’m going to leave it up to Rafael and go from there,” D’Amato said when asked about strategy, adding, “I’ll tell you one thing; the more pressure I put on this horse, the more he thrives. I’m expecting a big performance out of him.”
The field for the San Pasqual, race eight of nine: Prospect Park, Norberto Arroyo Jr., 10-1; Accelerate, Tyler Baze, 8-1; Dalmore, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1; Midnight Storm, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; and Arrogate, Mike Smith, 1-5.
MOKAT HAS THE RIGHT STUFF FOR GRADE I OAKS
Mokat drew the extreme outside 13 post position for Saturday’s American Oaks, but Richard Baltas feels it won’t be a major factor for the three-year-old daughter of Uncle Mo in the Grade I race scheduled for a mile and a quarter on turf.
“I don’t think it’s going to hurt,” the trainer said. “If they do come down the hill it will be a little tricky. But I’m more concerned about the rain and whether she’ll like soft turf.”
Mokat was wide finishing sixth in the Grade I Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Keeneland last out on Oct. 15, but won the Grade II San Clemente going a mile from post eight and was second by a half length from post nine in the one mile Jimmy Durante two years ago.
“The course at Keeneland was deep but not soft,” Baltas said. “Mokat galloped well this morning going a mile on the training track, so she’s coming up to the race the right way.”
The field for the Oaks: Lady Valeur, Rafael Bejarano, 15-1; Stays in Vegas, Flavien Prat, 7-2; Dreamarcher, Luis Contreras, 30-1; How Unusual, Alex Solis, 30-1; Cheekaboo, Mike Smith, 8-1; Sassy Little Lila, Luis Saez, 9-2; Decked Out, Kent Desormeaux, 4-1; Queen Blossom, Joel Rosario, 9-2; Mrs. Norris, Victor Espinoza, 30-1; Sheeza Milky Way, Brice Blanc, 12-1; Dynamic Mizzes K, Corey Nakatani, 30-1; Barleysugar, Tyler Baze,
12-1; and Mokat, Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1.
CLOSING ‘BEST GAME’ FOR KERI BELLE IN SATURDAY’S FRANKEL
John Shirreffs expects Keri Belle to return to her best style when she runs in Saturday’s Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes scheduled for 1 1/8 miles on turf.
A six-year-old daughter of the Bobby Frankel-trained Empire Maker, Keri Belle prompted the pace in the Grade II Yellow Ribbon Handicap at Del Mar last July, but otherwise has shown her best form stalking or coming from well off the pace.
“She’s a closer,” Shirreffs said. “That’s her best game. When she was on the pace in the Yellow Ribbon, there wasn’t much speed in the race.”
Owned and bred by Jerry and Ann Moss of Zenyatta fame, Keri Belle won the Grade III Megahertz by a nose at a mile on turf almost a year ago, on Jan. 16, 2016, but usually earns a piece of the purse with a 4-3-2 record from 19 starts.
Shirreffs had the utmost respect for Frankel, who died in 2009.
“My best remembrance of Mr. Frankel,” Shirreffs said, “was his absolute care of his horses. He’s a guy who really cared about their well being. That always stood out, to me.
“When I would see him at the trainers’ stand at Hollywood Park, it was intimidating for me to approach him. It was like going to Mt. Olympus.”
The Frankel, race four of nine: Keri Belle, Nelson Arroyo Jr., 6-1 Frenzified, Santiago Gonzalez, 6-1; Arles, Joel Rosario, 9-5; Pretty Girl, Drayden Van Dyke, 5-1; Ryans Charm, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; Goodyearforroses, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; and Into The Mystic, Flavien Prat, 6-1. Sweet Charity was scratched.
OUTSIDE GOOD DRAW FOR JIMMY BOUNCER
Jimmy Bouncer tries to remain perfect over Santa Anita’s main track when he runs in Saturday’s Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes for three-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs.
The five-year-old Square Eddie gelding trained by Doug O’Neill for Reddam Racing won two sprints on the dirt course in 2014.
“He’s undefeated on dirt here and he landed a good post,” O’Neill said. “It’s a small field and a Grade III in our own back yard. I think he’s got a good chance.”
The Midnight Lute, named for 2007 and 2008 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner: Tough Sunday, Tyler Baze, 7-2; Solid Wager, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; St. Joe Bay, Kent Desormeaux, 9-5; Navy Hymn, Rafael Bejarano, 5-2; Jimmy Bouncer, Mario Gutierrez, 5-2.
HAIL CAESAR, HALTS RUN AS TRAINER ON MONDAY
Caesar Dominguez, a mainstay among Southern California-based trainers going on four decades, will saddle his last horse Monday when he sends out Ladies Man.
“That will be the last horse I’ll run for a while,” the personable and always upbeat 67-year-old El Paso native said Friday morning at Clockers’ Corner.
“I don’t know if I want to say I’m retiring or I’m just taking a break, but in the meantime, I am taking a break, maybe call it semi-retired. I want to stay in racing because I love it, so I’ll try being a jockey’s agent, and if it works fine, if it doesn’t work, I still have my clients and horses in New Mexico, and I can always bring them back for Del Mar.
“But as of right now, I’m going to take a break from training, but I have not talked to any jockey about taking his book. If someone comes along and looks good enough, I’ll stick around. If not, and nothing develops for two or three months and I decide I don’t want to be a jockey’s agent, I’ll resume training.
“My tack and equipment will be in storage and I have six babies in New Mexico (with younger brother, Henry), so I could bring them in, but as of right now, my heart is set on being an agent. I only have two horses left. One runs today (5-2 morning line choice Really a Gem in the eighth race) and the other, Ladies Man, is entered on Monday.
“I’ll give those horses to a trainer who worked with me for a long time, Walther Solis. Hopefully, whatever rider I get can ride them.”
It’s not that Dominguez is hurting for money. “I just want to stay in the game and have something to do,” he said.
As a trainer of quarter horses, Dominguez won more than 1,200 races and more than 100 stakes. He was that industry’s Trainer of the Year in 1989 and won seven Grade I events with Takin on the Cash, winner of the $500,000 Kindergarten that year and Sophomore Champion in 1990. Caesar’s uncles trained quarter horses in Texas and New Mexico, and he began working for them at age 10 in 1959 at Sunland Park. He moved to California in 1966.
He saddled five stakes winners in 1992 at Fairplex, matching his 1991 output, and captured his first Thoroughbred training title. He tied with three others for the Fairplex crown with six wins in 1998.
His first graded stakes win with a Thoroughbred came in 1993 when $10,500 yearling buy Fit To Lead won the Grade II Santa Ynez by 5 ½ lengths at 8-1 under Corey Nakatani.
FINISH LINES: With no one hitting the Pick Six the first two days of the meet, a two-day carryover into Friday stands at a whopping $361,436. The Single Ticket Pick Six Jackpot carryover is $77,450. The total Pick Six pool today is expected to near $1,500,000 . . . Tony Matos, agent for Martin Garcia, will also represent Santiago Gonzalez effective with the new condition book due out next Wednesday . . . Rafael Bejarano has been suspended three days (Jan. 2, 6 and 7) for causing interference on Dabster, resulting in a disqualification from first to fourth in Monday’s third race . . . Players wishing to gain a seat in the 2017 National Handicapping Championship Challenge in Las Vegas Jan. 7 or get a head start in the 2018 event can buy in to Santa Anita’s Players Choice contest for $500. The top five finishers in the Players Choice competition will have their pick of a 2017 or 2018 NHC Challenge entry. Cash prizes will be awarded to the top four Players Choice finishers: $10,000, $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000. For further information, visit santaanita.com/contest.