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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• ‘WE’RE RUNNING FOR SECOND’ SPAWR SAYS OF THE FACTOR FOES
• SETSUKO SHARP FOR BIG ‘CAP; GAME ON DUDE DRILLS FOR BAFFERT
• SANTA ANITA JOCKEYS IN CHARITY GAME TONIGHT AT 7 P.M.
• CHARM THE MAKER EYES GRADE I LAS VIRGENES STAKES MARCH 3
CHAMP AMAZOMBIE VS. THE FACTOR, FOUR OTHERS IN SAN CARLOS SATURDAY
Champion sprinter Amazombie makes his long-awaited 2012 debut Saturday in the Grade II San Carlos Stakes, but Bill Spawr has all but conceded victory to mega-hot Bob Baffert and his speed freak, The Factor, in the seven furlong race with a $200,000 purse.
“I would say we’re all running for second,” said Spawr on a glorious Southern California morning Thursday after he had sent Amazombie through preparations leading to the San Carlos. "It’s all about The Factor, anyway, and how easy a lead he gets. There’s no speed to run with him. Northing can run with him.”
Spawr was unconcerned about drawing post position two for Amazombie. “It won’t compromise him, not going seven-eighths,” he said.
Asked if the delay from Jan. 21, when Amazombie had been scheduled to make his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint last Nov. 5, had impaired his conditioning, Spawr said, “I wish I had a race in him. But we scratched because of the off track that day and I’m glad we did. Our goal is the Breeders’ Cup (Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 3).
“We let him open-gallop a half-mile this morning at a two-minute clip with Alex Bisono on him,” Spawr said of Amazombie, a 6-year-old California-bred gelding by Northern Afleet owned by Spawr and Tom Sanford. Santa Anita’s official work tab gave Amazombie a four furlong time of 51 seconds, breezing.
Asked about strategy for The Factor, Baffert put on his best tongue-in-cheek game face and said, “He’s not speed. I’m going to take him back.” The Factor blew out three furlongs Tuesday at Hollywood Park in 47.40, breezing.
Baffert, who has won with nine of his last 15 starters at Santa Anita since Feb. 5, not including Castaway and Secret Circle in both divisions of the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park under jockey Rafael Bejarano last Monday, gave full credit to his crew. “It’s been quite a week,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. Poor Jim (assistant Jim Barnes, who saddled the Southwest Stakes winners) got nervous at Oaklawn when he learned about the hot streak.
“I’ve got a great staff and good horses. Bejarano got aggressive from the outside post on Castaway. He let him rip from there.”
Baffert, a nine-time Santa Anita training king, is on pace to eclipse his Santa Anita mark of 47 wins set in 1997-98. Through 36 racing days, he had 25 wins from 91 starters, 27 percent. But he won’t win any races at Santa Anita today. Remarkably, he had no horses entered.
The field for the San Carlos, race seven of nine: Canonize, Victor Espinoza, 12-1; Amazombie, Mike Smith, 8-5; The Factor, Martin Garcia, 7-5; Mensa Heat, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Rothko, Joel Rosario, 4-1; and Sway Away, Rafael Bejarano, 6-1. Amazombie and The Factor share highweight of 123 pounds each. The others carry 118.
SETSUKO HAS SIGHTS ON WINNING THIS YEAR’S BIG ‘CAP
Take it from someone who knows, Setsuko is a different horse for this year’s Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino than he was for last year’s when he finished second by a nose to Game On Dude at 25-1 under Victor Espinoza.
The 39-year-old jockey has ridden Setsuko in more than half of his 17 starts--nine to be exact--, winning just once, last out at Santa Anita on Feb. 4. It was the first start for Setsuko since last August, and only his second win. During that absence, Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella had the 5-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect gelded.
“I think he’s better now than he was last year, judging from how he’s come back since his layoff and from being gelded,” said Espinoza, who was aboard Setsuko in last year’s heart-breaking loss. “The win on Feb. 4 was an easy one for him, but what I liked even more was the fact that he moved between horses from the inside after breaking from the rail.
“Before, he was a little afraid and intimidated when he was in between horses. His last race, I was inside all the way and he acted like it was no big deal. I really liked the way he came back, and I talked with Richard after the horse’s last work, and he said he worked really, really good.”
After breaking his maiden in December of 2009, Setsuko ran in 12 races, nine of them graded, stakes, before winning on Feb. 4. The 5-year-old son of Pleasantly Perfect has a 2-6-3 record from 17 starts with earnings of $506,486.
“I always liked the horse from Day One,” Espinoza said. “We always thought he was a really, really nice horse, but he was always running against tough horses. Even so, he always tried and always ran good. Now that he’s older and more mature I think he’ll win more.”
Meanwhile, defending Santa Anita Handicap winner Game On Dude and this year’s favorite worked six furlongs in company Thursday in a bullet 1:10.80 with Martin Garcia aboard. Workmate Gatheratthealter was clocked in 1:12 flat.
“He couldn’t have gone any better,” Baffert said of Game On Dude. “He’s as ready as I can get him.”
Added private clocker Toby Turrell: “He looked like a machine.”
Probable for the Big ‘Cap: Boxeur des Rues, Mario Gutierrez; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland; Gladding, Joel Rosario; Holladay Road, no rider; Ron the Greek, Jose Lezcano; Setsuko, Victor Espinoza; Twice the Appeal, Christian Santiago Reyes; Uh Oh Bango, Mike Smith; and Ultimate Eagle, Martin Pedroza.
BIG ’CAP DRAW BREAKFAST SET FOR THIS WEDNESDAY, FEB. 29
The 75th running of the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap will take place on Saturday March 3, and the Big ’Cap Draw Breakfast will be held by invitation only, beginning at 9:30 a.m. next Wednesday, Feb. 29, in the track’s Baldwin Terrace, above the Top 0’ the Stretch area.
It is expected that the Bob Baffert-conditioned Game on Dude, who is owned in part by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride Stable, will attempt to join John Henry (1981-’82), Milwaukee Brew (2002-’03), and Lava Man (2006-’07), as the fourth two-time winner of “The Granddaddy of Them All.”
Game on Dude will again be ridden by Chantal Sutherland, who became the first-ever female jockey to win the Big ’Cap last year. Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella has committed his Setsuko to another Big ’Cap engagement and he’ll once again be ridden by Victor Espinoza. Setsuko was second beaten a nose by Game on Dude in last year’s edition and in Mandella’s opinion could have been declared the winner following a lengthy stewards' inquiry.
Eighteen horses have been nominated to the Big ’Cap, with weights to be announced on Saturday.
Also on Big ‘Cap Day, Santa Anita offers a $500,000 guaranteed Late Pick 4 presented by DRF TicketMaker, and in honor of the marquee race, fans at Santa Anita will be given free Big ’Cap hats with paid admission while supplies last.
In addition, there will be another popular Food Truck Festival in the infield. First post time March 3 is 12 noon. Gates open at 10 a.m.
SANTA ANITA JOCKEYS SET FOR CHARITY BASKETBALL GAME TONIGHT
Excitement and a worthy cause will be in the forefront tonight at La Salle High School in Pasadena when Santa Anita’s jockeys tip off against Holy Angels School’s seventh graders in their annual charity basketball game.
Proceeds from the game will benefit the Holy Angels athletic program and the Kentucky-based Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF).
Keibar Coa is looking forward to the game. “I hope to be playing some point guard,” the 19-year-old apprentice rider said. “I can bring the ball up court like Derek Fisher and look to pass it off to a guy who plays like Kobe.”
Hall of Fame riders Eddie Delahoussaye, Laffit Pincay Jr., Gary Stevens and Mike Smith will be available from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and at halftime to autograph photos and other memorabilia. They will all serve as honorary captains as well. David Flores will again be the jockeys’ game captain.
The Eye on Jacob Foundation will co-sponsor the event. The Eye on Jacob Foundation is named for the 13-year-old son of Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was diagnosed several years ago with Usher’s Syndrome, a rare disorder that causes loss of hearing, imbalance and eventual loss of sight in approximately 12,000 children in the United States.
The Santa Anita jockey team is expected to include Flores, Paul Atkinson, Rafael Bejarano, Hector Berrios, Brice Blanc, Antonio Castanon, Keiber Coa, Omar Figueroa, Eswan Flores, Martin Garcia, Mario Gutierrez, Kevin Krigger, Modesto Linares, Edwin Maldonado, Corey Nakatani, Joel Rosario, Christian Santiago Reyes, Kayla Stra, Chantal Sutherland, Mike Smith, Joe Talamo and perhaps others.
La Salle High School is located at the southwest corner of Michillinda Ave. and Sierra Madre Blvd. in Pasadena, approximately four miles northwest of Santa Anita Park. Admission is $5.
CHARM THE MAKER TO WORK ON TURF FOR LAS VIRGENES
Sharp Cat winner Charm the Maker, fourth last out as the even-money favorite in the Grade III Santa Ysabel Stakes Jan. 28, is scheduled to work Saturday on turf for the Grade I Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on March 3.
“She had a good work Monday (five furlongs in 59.80),” said Ron McAnally, who trains the daughter of Empire Maker for his wife, Debbie, who bred her along with her Hall of Fame husband.
“We’re working her on the grass because her whole family likes the grass,” McAnally said.
Probable for the Las Virgenes: Charm the Maker, no rider; Killer Graces, Joe Talamo; Made to Love Her, Rafael Bejarano; Reneesgotzip, Corey Nakatani; Willa B Awesome, Martin Pedroza; and Your Special Day, Mike Smith.
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita Derby hopeful I’ll Have Another worked four furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Thursday in 48.60. The Robert Lewis Stakes winner is trained by Doug O’Neill for owner J. Paul Reddam . . . Corey Nakatani, having withdrawn his appeal of a three-day suspension issued on Jan. 13, is suspended three racing days (March 4, 8 and 9) . . . Anna You’re Up, winner of Sunday’s 10th race, is named for Anna James, industrious camera person in Santa Anita’s paddock and winner’s circle. The 3-year-old filly is trained by Mike Mitchell . . . Trainer Vann Belvoir will be Steve Andersen’s guest on Saturday’s Daily Racing Form seminar, 11:30 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Brad Free of Daily Racing Form and syndicated handicapper Bob Ike will offer their expertise on Sunday’s Fans’ Forum hosted by Jack Disney, 11:15 a.m., also in the East Paddock Gardens.