Bob Baffert has been down this road before. Doug O’Neill, too. Each trainer has been within arm’s length of the Triple Crown, Baffert three times, O’Neill once, each remembering the Belmont Stakes as a race that will live in infamy.

After winning the first two jewels, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the Belmont remained ever elusive, Baffert missing with Silver Charm in 1997; Real Quiet in 1998; and War Emblem in 2002. O’Neill never got a chance to run I’ll Have Another in the Belmont in 2012.

I’ll Have Another captured the first two legs but suffered an 11th-hour injury and was scratched from the mile and a half Belmont, which will be run this year on June 6.

Baffert has perhaps his best chance ever this time, if streaking Derby and Preakness winner American Pharoah can do what no Thoroughbred has done since 1978, when Affirmed became the 11th and to date last Triple Crown winner.

Naysayers were few and far between following Pharoah’s front-running, seven-length romp in Saturday’s Preakness, leaving seven rivals in his wake over a sloppy Pimlico track.

Before the Derby, which Pharoah won by a hard-earned length, O’Neill said the striking colt looked like he had “Triple Crown written all over him,” but later had second thoughts.

            “After the Derby, I thought, ‘No,'” O’Neill said at Santa Anita, where his horses were among the 251 who recorded workouts Sunday morning. “It just looked like he was all out to get it done, but watching him yesterday, man, he had a pretty easy run.”

American Pharoah’s rider, Victor Espinoza, the first jockey to go for the Triple Crown with three different horses–War Emblem (2002), California Chrome (last year) and American Pharoah–rode the perfect race, usually easy to do when you’re on the best horse.

The affable native of Mexico was on offense from the get-go in the Preakness. Nothing cute, no over-thinking on strategy, no melding of mathematical equations, numbers or figures authored by equine gurus.

Espinoza sent Pharoah to the lead from the No. One post position after the son of Pioneerof the Nile gathered himself quickly to open a lead that would only increase throughout the mile and three-sixteenths race. Pharoah became only the third horse in the last 50 years to win the Preakness from the No. One post position.

“Victor had to ask him leaving there,” O’Neill said, “but the rest of the race he was on his own.” Can he become the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown?

“He’s back to where he’s going to be tough, but this year, more than others, there are four or five good horses waiting to run in the Belmont,” O’Neill said. “We’ll have to see who shows up there, but I’m sure Bob’s feeling pretty good right now.

“Bob knows what to expect. He’s ready. It would be great for the game.”

True enough. The world holds its breath until June 6, knowing full well there are no sure things in racing.

But one thing is certain: you’ll never see American Pharoah in blinkers again.



            Harlington’s Rose, winner of the Grade III Las Flores Stakes March 8, worked three furlongs Sunday in 34.80 for next Saturday’s $150,000 Spring Fever Stakes, one of eight major stakes races scheduled starting Saturday and running through Monday, Memorial Day.

“She’s doing really well,” said trainer Steve Knapp, who saddled the longest shot in the field, Big Break, to a $33 upset win by 1 ¼ lengths in Saturday’s ninth race. “She’s trained great and this is the plan we’ve had all along, so this is where we’re running.”

Saturday features five stakes in the Golden State Series for California-bred or sired horses. In addition to the Spring Fever, they are the $150,000 Tiznow Stakes; the $200,000 Melair Stakes; the $125,000 Fran’s Valentine Stakes; and the $200,000 Snow Chief Stakes.

Sunday’s Grade II, $200,000 Charles Whittingham Stakes, for 3-year-olds and up at 1 ½ miles on turf marks the U.S. debut of Brazilian import Going Somewhere for Hall of Fame trainer Neil Drysdale.

A 6-year-old horse, Going Somewhere won the Group 1 Carlos Pellegrini at San Ysidro in Argentina in 2012.

Monday’s features are the Grade I, $300,000 Gamely Stakes for fillies and mares, three and up, at 1 1/8 miles on turf, and the Grade III, $100,000 Los Angeles Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs.


Shades of Bobby Ussery. When jockey Tiago Pereira took Stepsun to the outside fence after breaking from the 11 post position in Saturday’s fifth race, a seven furlong test for $20,000 maidens, veteran race-trackers were instantly reminded of Bobby Ussery’s tactics, when the Hall of Fame rider would traverse the far turn at Aqueduct, dubbed “Ussery’s Alley,” riding the outside fence, then veering in to do his thing through the homestretch.

Stepsun, second choice at 5-2, got up by the bob of a nose to shade 29-1 outsider Crawford the Crook, ridden by Iggy Puglisi.

“Those were not my instructions,” said Phil D’Amato, who trains Stepsun for owner Wesley Melcher. “Pereira told me that part of the track was the place to be, but I didn’t think he meant the outside rail.”

The Equibase chart reads: “STEPSUN broke out a bit, chased near the outer rail on the backstretch, angled in six wide into the turn, moved up outside, came five wide into the stretch and rallied under urging to get up late.”

Added D’Amato: “He was about as far out as you could be but he cut that turn good. It was almost like a NASCAR race but he got it done. He was trying to follow the ambulance tracks.”



            Santa Anita will offer a series of six twilight racing cards dubbed “4 O’clock Fridays,” featuring a 4 p.m. first post time beginning this Friday, May 22, through the month of June.

All Santa Anita Thoroughbreds Club members will receive free General Admission and the track will also present a “Totally 80s” concert series, hosted by K-EARTH 101 Radio after the races, beginning at 7:30 p.m. in Sirona’s Sports Bar.

In addition to live music (provided May 22 by “The Young Guns Band”), fans 21 and older will be treated to the following discount drink specials in Sirona’s and in the track’s newest sports bar, The Gallop Out, on the Club House turn:

–$3 Bud and Bud Light (16 oz. draft)

–$5 Well Cocktails

–$10 Domestic Draft Pitchers

Santa Anita will also open at 11 a.m. each Friday beginning May 22 for simulcast racing from across North America. For more information regarding “4 O’clock Fridays,” including a complete schedule of “Totally 80s” live bands, please visit

FINISH LINES: Victor Espinoza and his agent, Brian Beach, were still in Baltimore Sunday morning after the jockey and trainer Bob Baffert did a live interview on NBC-TV. Espinoza was scheduled to leave this afternoon for New York, where he will be on the Today Show with Matt Lauer on NBC Monday morning, then fly back to Los Angles Monday night . . . David Flores was genuinely happy to be back in action at Santa Anita Saturday, riding for the first time since having a year-long suspension meted out in Singapore overturned by the California Horse Racing Board. The 47-year-old jockey, who had been riding in Singapore for two years, finished fourth aboard Lady Now for trainer Bobby Joe Grayson in the 11th race, beaten four lengths at 6-1. “It’s so good to be home,” Flores said. “I appreciate home. I’ve been gone for a while, and everybody who does that, like (Kent) Desormeaux and (Alex) Solis, appreciates it when they return. There’s something about Santa Anita. It’s home.” . . . Trainer Barry Abrams said fellow trainer Henry Moreno “might be coming home today” from Huntington Memorial Hospital where the 85-year-old was taken for precautionary measures after tripping and falling last Tuesday, injuring his face . . . Congrats to Toby Turrell of The Yellow Sheet on tabbing four winners on top Saturday capped by $57.20 stunner City State in the 10th race that cemented a Pick 6 carryover into Sunday of $80,136.79 . . . The Great Race Place presents its Santa Anita Carnival Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 23 through Monday, May 25. The entire family is invited for three days of live racing, carnival rides, games and prizes, with unlimited rides for children for only $10. Admission and parking to the Infield is free through Gate 6 off Colorado Place.

(Current Through Saturday, May 16)
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
Tyler Baze 81 15 11 17 19% $634,050
Flavien Prat 53 12 11 2 23% $672,770
Rafael Bejarano 52 11 10 12 21% $497,512
Joseph Talamo 54 10 2 10 19% $338,018
Fernando Perez 54 9 9 8 17% $378,630
Felipe Valdez 52 7 8 4 13% $262,870
Drayden Van Dyke 36 7 4 2 19% $258,910
Tiago Pereira 28 6 6 3 21% $218,420
Edwin Maldonado 43 5 11 8 12% $226,120
Gonzalo Nicolas 48 5 5 8 10% $166,058
Elvis Trujillo 46 5 4 7 11% $259,670
Santiago Gonzalez 37 4 7 3 11% $170,978
Mike Smith 17 3 5 1 18% $361,130
Mario Gutierrez 20 3 2 4 15% $152,900
Martin Pedroza 41 2 6 6 5% $166,268
Alex Solis 12 2 3 2 17% $117,360
Alonso Quinonez 26 2 2 5 8% $84,078
Brayan Pena 35 2 1 2 6% $60,080
Victor Espinoza 8 2 1 0 25% $98,270
Martin Garcia 10 2 0 1 20% $56,990
Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% Money Won
Doug O’Neill 42 9 11 5 21% $390,860
Peter Miller 34 8 10 1 24% $301,510
Philip D’Amato 24 8 3 3 33% $309,170
Richard Baltas 24 6 3 2 25% $317,400
John Sadler 33 5 6 5 15% $203,258
Richard Mandella 17 5 5 1 29% $385,840
Eddie Truman 9 3 1 1 33% $89,350
Bob Baffert 10 3 1 1 30% $142,140
William Spawr 10 3 1 1 30% $68,250
Dan Hendricks 8 3 1 0 38% $71,890
Jerry Hollendorfer 28 2 8 4 7% $239,884
Mike Puype 24 2 3 5 8% $138,520
Mark Glatt 21 2 3 4 10% $98,964
Michael Machowsky 13 2 3 1 15% $82,120
Jorge Periban 10 2 2 2 20% $55,240
Robertino Diodoro 15 2 2 2 13% $69,420
Peter Eurton 16 2 1 5 13% $69,196
Ricky Agarie 7 2 1 2 29% $77,180
James Cassidy 9 2 1 0 22% $82,440
Vladimir Cerin 7 2 0 2 29% $74,180
Jack Carava 9 2 0 1 22% $42,260
Steve Knapp 20 2 0 1 10% $70,630
John Shirreffs 2 2 0 0 100% $67,200
Martin Jones 7 2 0 0 29% $200,760