- CHROME WORKS FOR 2014 DEBUT AT SANTA ANITA
- BREEDERS’ CUP WINNER BAYERN FIRES A BULLET
- CASSE CHARGE TACKLES GRADE I FOES IN MALIBU
- BAFFERT IN QUEST OF SEVENTH LA BREA VICTORY
- ALL IN THE FAMILY THIS YEAR FOR DESORMEAUX
- AWESOME RETURN EYES ANOTHER TURF VICTORY
SHERMAN: TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES OF 2014
Pressing of flesh and kissing of babies is over for 2014. The campaign is complete. All that awaits is the counting of ballots and announcement of the Eclipse Award winners, including Horse of the Year, on Jan. 17, 2015.
Leading contender California Chrome and his trainer, Art Sherman, will rest on their laurels till then, and what laurels they are: four Grade I wins including the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, and for good measure, a Grade I turf score in the Hollywood Derby at Del Mar last month.
“I think it will help,” Sherman said of the grass victory, coming after California Chrome’s game third-place finish by a neck in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 1. “The turf win adds another dimension and gives us options down the road. There haven’t been too many 3-year-olds running on the grass, and it was his fourth Grade I.”
True enough, but with Classic winner Bayern, Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Main Sequence, once-beaten Pacific Classic winner Shared Belief, Belmont winner Tonalist and Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff queen Untapable all in the mix for racing’s ultimate honor, it’s anyone’s guess until Jan. 17.
“It’s going to be close this year,” Sherman allowed. “I’m sure California Chrome will at least get 3-year-old of the year, but then again, you don’t really know. A lot depends on how the Eastern bloc votes.
“If it depended on the California vote, I’d win in a landslide. He won the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, three classic races. It used to be that if you won the Derby and the Preakness, it was automatic that you’d be 3-year-old of the year. Now it’s kind of up for grabs, but hey, listen, I know one award I’ll win: that’s Cal-bred of the Year (big laugh).”
On a cleared track at his Los Alamitos headquarters Friday morning, California Chrome worked four furlongs in 49 seconds flat under regular rider Victor Espinoza as he prepares for his 4-year-old debut in the $500,000 San Antonio Stakes at Santa Anita on Feb. 7.
“It was just what we were looking for,” said Alan Sherman, Art’s son and assistant. Added Los Alamitos head clocker Russ Hudak: “He went the first quarter in 24 3/5. He was just going easy, just stretching his legs.”
Awards aside, racing stands to benefit thanks to owners/breeders Steve Colburn and Perry Martin’s decision to race California Chrome next year, showing there’s nary a craven bone in his body, although he danced all the dances this year.
“If he’d have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, we wouldn’t even be having a conversation about who’s going to be Horse of the Year,” Sherman said, “but he was a neck short.
“Still, it’s been a great year and I’m so proud of the horse. He’s done everything he could under the circumstances. He’s going to be a great 4-year-old. I’m looking forward to that.”
BAYERN FIRES A BULLET AS HE PREPARES FOR 4-YEAR-OLD CAMPAIGN
Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern, a leading contender for Horse of the Year and male 3-year-old honors for 2014, worked four furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track Friday morning in a bullet 46.20 under jockey Martin Garcia.
Working in company with Pearl Spectre, who was timed in 46.45, Bayern’s clocking equaled that of the Richard Baltas-trained Brother Soldier. The time was fastest of 43 at the distance, the average of which was 48.46.
“This is his second breeze back,” Baffert said of the Kentucky-bred son of Offlee Wild owned by Kaleem Shah. “He did it pretty easy. I didn’t think he was going that fast . . . It looked like he was galloping. I just told him to cruise around there but he did it pretty easy.”
MALIBU A ‘STEP’ UP FOR CASSE-TRAINED FLORIDA-BRED
Conquest Two Step tests the waters against heavyweights when he runs in the Grade I Malibu Stakes on opening day.
The Florida-bred son of Two Step Salsa trained by Mark Casse seeks his first stakes win against the likes of male 2-year-old champion of 2013 Shared Belief and a bevy of Bob Baffert bruisers.
“He tries hard every time,” said Joe Talamo, who has ridden the colt in his last four races, including a head victory going about 6 ½ furlongs on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course on Oct. 25.
“He’s run on dirt before at Churchill and did well (finishing second in a field of 10 on a muddy strip last June),” Talamo said. “Hopefully there will be a fast pace in the Malibu, because he can sit back and we can take advantage of his nice turn of foot.”
BAFFERT SENDS OUT TWO IN QUEST OF HIS SEVENTH LA BREA WIN
Bob Baffert seeks his seventh victory in the Grade I La Brea Stakes when he sends out Awesome Baby and Jojo Warrior in the seven furlong race for 3-year-old fillies on opening day.
Awesome Baby, a daughter of Awesome Again owned by Kaleem Shah, has not raced since winning the Sunland Park Oaks last March. Jojo Warrior, owned by Zayat Stables and WinStar Farm, was third behind Untapable in the Grade I Cotillion at Parx last out on Sept. 20.
Both fillies have been training smartly for their return.
Baffert first won the La Brea in 1992 with Arches of Gold. His other winners were Magical Allure (1998), Hookedonthefeelin (1999), Pussycat Doll (2005), Downthedustyroad (2006) and Indian Blessing (2008).
BROTHERLY LOVE CAPS COMEBACK YEAR FOR KENT DESORMEAUX
It’s been a fairytale year for Kent Desormeaux, who resurrected his career at the age of 44 with upper echelon finishes in the standings at Santa Anita, Del Mar and Los Alamitos, capped by an upset victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile aboard Texas Red, trained by his brother, Keith, Kent’s senior by three years.
“I can’t even tell you how thrilled I am to be back in California, living in one house, riding for my family with the favorite for the Kentucky Derby,” said Desormeaux, who has three triumphs in the Run for the Roses, in 1998 with Real Quiet, 2000 with Fusaichi Pegasus, and 2008 with Big Brown.
“Most jockeys would love to be in my shoes right now, and I thank the Lord I’m the one standing in them. The same slide show keeps going through my mind of when Keith and I were competing against each other as kids, in basketball and riding, and now we’re on racing’s No. 1 stage together.”
Texas Red is likely to make his 3-year-old debut in the Grade II, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 1.
“He’s been in training the whole 45 days (since the Juvenile on Nov. 1),” Keith Desormeaux said as Texas Red exercised on the main track at Santa Anita Friday morning. “His first breeze will be tomorrow.” Asked if Kent would work him, big brother said, “I doubt it. We don’t need the expert on a maintenance breeze.
“The horse has been a little bit too much the past couple of weeks, and it kind of makes you a little nervous. He’s ready to get something started. Nothing’s definite, but right now I’m thinking about the San Vicente.”
AWESOME RETURN TESTED FOR CLASS IN MATHIS BROTHERS MILE
Turf specialist Awesome Return seeks his second straight stakes win on grass when he runs in the Grade II, $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile on opening day next Friday.
“He never runs a bad race; he always show up,” trainer Mike Puype said of the California-bred son of Decarchy owned by Richard Kritzski. “This is a tougher race than he’s seen, but we’ve got to go because this leads up to the California Cup Turf Classic (on Jan. 24).
“That race offers $250,000 and is a mile and an eighth, which is going to suit him better going against Cal-breds, but this is an important steppingstone.”
Awesome Return has never been out of the money on turf in seven starts, winning four with one second and two thirds. Three of the victories have come in stakes, including the Snow Chief and the Silky Sullivan against state-breds.
FINISH LINES: Doug O’Neill was back on the beat at Santa Anita Friday morning after serving a lengthy suspension. “Seventy-three days was brutal,” the three-time Santa Anita training king said. “You can’t go to the barn or go to the races, but it’s awesome to be back and I’m looking forward to a great 2015.”. . . Big Macher continues to impress trainer Richard Baltas. “He’s better than ever as far as I’m concerned,” Baltas said of the bargain $20,000 claim. “I’m probably going to run him in the $150,000 California Cup Sprint on Jan. 24. The horse is the real deal.” Big Macher worked five furlongs Monday in a minute flat . . . Another bargain, Seeking the Sherif, is ticketed for the Grade III Midnight Lute Stakes at 6 ½ furlongs Dec. 27, trainer Ron Ellis said. Claimed for $12,500 a year ago, on Dec. 28, 2013, the 5-year-old gelded son of Officer won five races since, including the minor Katella Stakes at Los Alamitos Sept. 20 . . . Santa Anita offers a $500,000 guaranteed pool on the Late Pick 4 on opening day. Also on opening day, fans at the track will receive a 2015 Santa Anita Wall calendar plus a contest entry for the first round of the $10,000 Handicapping Contest and Mathis Brothers’ Furniture Drawing . . . Charles Town Classic winner Imperative returned to California Tuesday from his eventful 15th-place finish in the $2 million Champions Cup at Chukyo Racecourse in Japan on Dec. 7. “We’ll see how he comes out before making future plans,” trainer George Papaprodromou said . . . Cliff Sise Jr. is back in action at Santa Anita, operating with 35 head out of San Luis Rey Downs. “I’ve got a lot of nice 2-year-olds,” the trainer said . . . Jockey Santiago Gonzalez makes his Santa Anita debut this meet. The 31-year-old native of Venezuela has some 2,200 victories, most of them in his native country, and has been riding in the U.S. for 10 months, mainly at Delaware Park and Gulfstream. He is married with four children and resides in Glendora. His agent is former trainer Craig Stephen . . . One for the money: Horses breaking from the No. 1 post position at Los Alamitos Thursday won six of the eight races. In the seventh race, the six horses finished in the order of their saddle cloth numbers, one through six . . . ‘Show’ me the money: Luckbox Sam, 5-2 morning line chance in today’s seventh race at Los Al, has finished third nine times in 24 career starts, the last four races in a row.