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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• SAN FELIPE ROMP PUTS ‘PEGASUS’ FIRMLY IN DERBY PICTURE
• SANTA ANA DISTANCE MORE SUITABLE FOR ÉCLAIR DE LUNE
• $1 MILLION HORSESHOE PITCH AT SANTA ANITA SATURDAY
SANTA ANITA DERBY NEXT STEP FOR PREMIER PEGASUS
In an episode that rivals the best of Horatio Alger’s heartwarming rags-to-riches stories, Premier Pegasus thrust himself into the Triple Crown picture big time Saturday with a breathtaking 7 ¾-length victory in the San Felipe Stakes, the West’s final major steppingstone to the Grade I, $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9.
Beyond that lies the $2 million Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7.
Not listed on Churchill Downs' Kentucky Derby Future Book wagering among the 23 individual horses in its most recent poll, nor among the top 20 in the DRF's Weekly Derby Watch, the son of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus climbed into the upper echelon of Derby prospects with his San Felipe romp, joining the likes of undefeated Derby favorite Uncle Mo, who won what amounted to a paid workout in yesterday’s $100,000 Timely Writer Purse at Gulfstream Park.
“He looked great after the race and we’ll take a look at the Santa Anita Derby as the next step,” said Raxon Cho, 17-year-old son of Myung Kwon Cho, 68-year-old owner/breeder/trainer of Premier Pegasus.
The Chos took little if any time to celebrate the most decisive San Felipe victory in its 74 runnings, topping Consolidator’s 6 ½-length win in 2005. “We spent most of the night watching replays of the race,” said Raxon. “His margin looked even bigger after watching them.”
Raxon has spent most of his young life at the race track, with “my dad teaching me everything. I hope to get my own trainer’s license soon.”
Jockey Alonso Quinonez and his agent, Vince DeGregory, also were in receipt of kudos Sunday morning. Quinonez ended a 72-race winless streak with his victory on Premier Pegasus, but never lost faith during the month-long drought that began after he won on Feb. 13.
DeGregory, 78 and an agent since 1959, has represented six Hall of Fame riders during his career: Angel Cordero Jr., Chris McCarron, Laffit Pincay Jr., Bill Shoemaker, Jacinto Vasquez and Jorge Velasquez. He received a congratulatory text message Sunday from Cordero and former Southern California riding mainstay Jose Valdivia Jr.
“Alonso’s win reminds me of Sham’s win in the (1973) Santa Anita Derby,” DeGregory said. “But Secretariat beat us in the Kentucky Derby, and the rest is history.”
In other post-San Felipe news: David Hofmans was pleased with Quail Hill’s fifth-place finish, but the Santa Anita Derby is “out of the picture. We’ll look for an allowance race,” the trainer said. Quail Hill rallied from last in the field of 10, beaten nearly 11 lengths as the longest shot in the race at 76-1.
Trainer Tim Yakteen said Bench Points would be considered for the Santa Anita Derby after his third-place finish at odds of nearly 9-1.
ÉCLAIR DE LUNE OUT TO MAKE AMENDS IN GRADE II SANTA ANA
Éclair de Lune returns to a more suitable distance next Saturday when she runs in the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Ana Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
The German-bred mare disappointed as the 11-10 favorite when she finished fourth by four lengths in the one-mile Megahertz Stakes on turf Jan. 23 under Rafael Bejarano.
Hall of Fame trainer Ron McAnally expects dramatic improvement from the 5-year-old daughter of Marchand de Sable owned by Richard Duchossois.
“The added distance will be better for her,” McAnally said. “She’ll be fit enough for it. First time back, the mile race was a little short for her and the kid had too much hold of her. She’s run against top fillies since she’s come here.”
In six U.S. starts since arriving from Europe, Éclair de Lune won the Grade I Beverly D at Arlington Park last August, after which she finished sixth, but beaten only two lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf Nov. 5. She was off from that race until the Megahertz.
Probable for the Santa Ana: Éclair de Lune, no rider; Harmonious, Joel Rosario; Lilly Fa Pootz, Corey Nakatani; Spring Style, Patrick Valenzuela; and Turning Top, Brice Blanc.
POPULAR $1 MILLION HORSESHOE PITCH RETURNS SATURDAY
All fans attending Santa Anita next Saturday will have a chance to “get their Irish up,” as The Great Race Place again stages its popular $1 million St. Patrick’s Horseshoe Pitch between races.
History was made at Santa Anita three years ago when John Placzankis of Rancho Cucamonga tossed a perfect ringer and became the first-ever winner of the $1 million competition, touching off a wild scene that was captured live on HRTV.
All fans attending Saturday will be eligible to sign up for the competition and five lucky finalists will have their entry cards drawn randomly earlier in the day.
“This is one of the most popular promotions we’ve ever had at Santa Anita,” said George Haines, Santa Anita President. “There’s just a great atmosphere and the whole day has a holiday atmosphere. Although tossing a ringer is very difficult, we saw a few years ago that it can be done.”
A 10-race card is planned for Saturday, with the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes and the Grade II, $150,000 Santa Ana Stakes serving as co-features.
Fans are encouraged to enter the St. Pat’s Horseshoe contest, free of charge, when they arrive. Entries must be submitted by fifth race post time and a group of 20 prospective contestants will be posted throughout the facility. Further instructions and contest information will be available on designated television monitors.
CALIFORNIA NECTAR RETURNS FOR SANTA PAULA STAKES
After a brief respite, California Nectar returns to the races in next Sunday’s $100,000 Santa Paula Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 ½ furlongs on the main track. The daughter of Stormy Atlantic trained by Doug O’Neill won the Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes on Jan. 15 before finishing fifth by 23 ¼ lengths in the Grade I Las Virgenes on Feb. 5.
“She had a hard little campaign, and she got a little tired, and we kicked her out after the Las Virgenes and gave her a couple weeks on the farm,” O’Neill said. “She’s come back strong and we think she’s got a big chance on Sunday.”
SANTA ANITA RETURNS TO FIVE-DAY RACE WEEK ON MARCH 23
Santa Anita will embark on an expanded five-day race week beginning Wednesday, March 23, and will reinstitute its popular “Free Fridays” promotion beginning March 25. In addition to March 25, all patrons will receive free General Admission on April 1, 8 and 15. Santa Anita’s 74th winter/spring meeting concludes April 17.
“We made the decision to expand to a five-day race week the final four weeks of the meet and we think it makes sense to offer ‘Free Fridays’ as well,” said Santa Anita President George Haines. “This promotion was very well received the past couple of years and it’s a great way for people to get their weekend started.
“In addition to free General Admission, we’re going to offer free box seats on those remaining Fridays as well, while they last. Along with that, we’ll be offering $2 beers, soft drinks and hot dogs and we expect this to be very well received also. Fridays should be a lot of fun and it’s a great way for us to say ‘thank you’ to our loyal customers and to hopefully expose newcomers to this great sport.”
First post time on all remaining weekdays will be 1 p.m. First post on weekends is 12:30 p.m., with the exception of Santa Anita Derby Day, Saturday, April 9, when it will be 12 noon.
FINISH LINES: Always a Princess will be retired as a broodmare following her injury in deep stretch in Saturday’s Santa Margarita Invitational. She was “moving comfortably” Sunday morning and scheduled to undergo surgery Sunday for her injured left front ankle at the Equine Medical Center in Cypress, according to Jim Barnes, assistant to Bob Baffert. Jockey Martin Garcia, who rode Always a Princess, was a bit sore Sunday morning but worked horses and was expected to ride today, agent Jim Pegram said . . . Probable for next Sunday’s Grade II San Luis Rey Stakes at 1 ½ miles on turf: Buenos Dias, Martin Pedroza; Dahoud, Joel Rosario; Haimish Hy, Garrett Gomez; and Romp, Alonso Quinonez . . . Probable for Saturday’s $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for California-bred fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf: Chalula One, Victor Espinoza; La Nez, Pedroza; Saaneen, Corey Nakatani; and Strawberry Tart, Rosario . . . M One Rifle, 2009 Malibu winner, worked another bullet for Bruce Headley, going six furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track in 1:09.80, fastest of 15 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 1:15. M One Rifle is pointing to the April 3 Potrero Grande Stakes, a race Headley has won seven times . . . Santa Anita is dark Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Racing resumes Thursday at 1 p.m.