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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• PEDROZA’S ‘BEST HORSE EVER’ MAJOR CONTENDER FOR GRADE I BIG ’CAP
• THE USUAL Q.T. , MR. COMMONS, JERANIMO WORK FOR GRADE I KILROE MILE
• NAKATANI IN GOOD SPOT WITH RENEESGOTZIP FOR GRADE I LAS VIRGENES
PEDROZA ON ‘BEST HORSE HE’S RIDDEN’ WITH ULTIMATE EAGLE IN BIG ’CAP
Make no mistake about it: Ultimate Eagle is the best horse Martin Pedroza has ever ridden. Considering the 46-year-old jockey has been astride more than 27,000 horses, winning more than 3,400, in a career spanning three decades, that’s a mouthful.
But Pedroza is unrelenting in his stance. “I’ve said it before and I still say it. He’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” Pedroza said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Pedroza hopes Ultimate Eagle maintains his current winning form on March 3, when he runs in the 75TH edition of the Grade I, $750,000 Santa Anita Handicap presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino at 1 ¼ miles. Weights for the race are due out today.
Pedroza, a finalist for Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award (the winner will be announced Sunday), has overcome a myriad of physical issues to reach his current plateau. He has not lost a step, physically or competitively and he is enjoying peace of mind.
“I’m very happy the way things are right now,” said Pedroza, who has been represented for the majority of his career by agent Richie Silverstein. “It’s like people say, ‘The older, the better,’ I guess, like a fine wine.”
Pedroza won the Big ‘Cap before, but if he wins this year, it would be under a disparate scenario. “When I won on Martial Law in 1989, he was 50-1,” Pedroza said. “Ultimate Eagle will be a short-priced horse. He’ll be one of the favorites and I’m looking forward to it.”
Pedroza has ridden the 4-year-old son of Mizzen Mast trained by Mike Pender for owner B.J. Wright in his last six starts, five of them victories, including the Grade I Hollywood Derby and last out the Grade II Strub Stakes in his first start on dirt, romping home by 7 ¼ lengths at odds of 7-1.
Ultimate Eagle has had the lead in each of his last six races, failing to hold it only once, when overtaken by monster turf miler Mr. Commons in the Sir Beaufort, in which Ultimate Eagle finished third by four lengths. But Pedroza says the Kentucky-bred colt does not have to be on the lead to win.
“You basically can do whatever you want to do with him,” he said. “But he runs his best races when he’s up close, on the pace or close to the pace.”
Probable for the Big ‘Cap: Boxeur des Rues, Mario Gutierrez; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland; Gladding, Joel Rosario; Fiddlers Afleet, no rider; Holladay Road, no rider; Prayer for Relief, 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.
Ultimate Eagle worked five furlongs on Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track Saturday in 1:00.40, while Boxeur des Rues went seven furlongs at the Inglewood track in 1:27 flat for Doug O’Neill, who trains the son of Smart Strike for owner J. Paul Reddam. At Santa Anita, 2011 San Antonio winner Gladding went one mile in 1:36.60 for John Sadler.
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. this Wednesday, Feb. 29, in the track’s FrontRunner Restaurant.
It is expected that the Bob Baffert-conditioned Game on Dude, who is owned in part by Joe Torre’s Diamond Pride Stable, will a 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.
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.
LUCK’S JOHN ORTIZ TO ASSIST IN BIG ‘CAP DRAW BREAKFAST WEDNESDAY
Actor John Ortiz, who portrays trainer Julio Canani as trainer Turo Escalante on HBO’s hit series, “LUCK,” will assist with the Santa Anita Handicap draw next Wednesday at the FrontRunner Restaurant.
“He’s really looking forward to it,” said Canani. “He’s fallen in love with this role and with horse racing. He’s here all the time and we should have some fun at the draw.”
In classic Canani/Escalante fashion, Canani has thus far declined to name a rider for his rapidly improving Big ‘Cap prospect Holladay Road. “I might bring in Jerry Bailey though,” joked the Peruvian native.
The breakfast for media and horsemen is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m., while the post position draw follows at approximately 10 a.m.
HRTV TO AIR SPECIAL SHOWINGS OF PREVIOUS BIG ‘CAPS THIS WEEK
HRTV will air special programs during Big ‘Cap week, starting with the 1982 Santa Anita Handicap as presented by On-TV. This is the original broadcast from 30 years ago when John Henry was awarded first place via the disqualification of Perrault. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas was a guest analyst.
The second program will be an HRTV Encore presentation of last year’s Santa Anita Handicap with Game on Dude and Setsuko, both of whom are expected to run back in this year’s Big ‘Cap.
THE USUAL Q.T., MR. COMMONS, JERANIMO WORK FOR GRADE I KILROE MILE
Two-time Grade I stakes winner The Usual Q.T. worked four furlongs on Santa Anita’s main track Saturday in 48.60, while at Hollywood Park, streaking stakes winner Mr. Commons went six furlongs on Cushion Track in 1:12.80 for John Shirreffs. Regular rider Mike Smith was up for the work.
Also at Hollywood, Citation Handicap winner Jeranimo worked five furlongs on Cushion Track in 1:01.40 for Mike Pender.
“Very nice,” is how Shirreffs termed the drill by Mr. Commons, winner of Grade II races in his last two outings, the Sir Beaufort and the Arcadia.
All three horses are scheduled to meet in the Grade I, $300,000 Frank E. Kilroe Mile on grass a week from today, on Saturday, March 3.
The Usual Q.T. initially had been scheduled to work on turf, but James Cassidy called an audible. “I decided to work him on the dirt because it’s a little more tiring, and I wanted him to get more out of it,” the trainer said.
Also at Hollywood Saturday, Arcadia Stakes runner-up Willyconker worked four furlongs in 48.60 for Doug O’Neill; Make Music for Me went five furlongs in 1:00.40 for Alexis Barba; and Sensational Star winner Compari went five furlongs in 1:03.20 for Marty Jones. On Santa Anita’s turf course, Massone went five furlongs in 1:01.20 for Tim Yakteen.
Probable for the Kilroe: Compari, Rafael Bejarano; Jeranimo, Garrett Gomez; Make Music for Me, no rider; Massone, no rider; Mr. Commons, Mike Smith; The Usual Q.T., Victor Espinoza; and Willyconker, Joel Rosario.
NAKATANI ON STREAKING RENEESGOTZIP IN GRADE I LAS VIRGENES
Corey Nakatani is on an ideal horse in the Pete Miller-conditioned Reneesgotzip. In two rides, the 41-year-old Covina native has two wins, leading virtually throughout each race and being further in front at the finish than he was at the head of the stretch.
He hopes to continue that winning trend when he rides the Kentucky-bred daughter of City Zip in the Grade I, $250,000 Las Virgenes Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at one mile next Saturday.
“We’ll see what happens,” Nakatani said. “She goes to the front and improves her position. There’s nothing wrong with that. Let’s put it this way: I don’t want to change places with anyone.”
Probable for the Las Virgenes: Charm the Maker, no rider; Killer Graces, Joe Talamo; Made to Love Her, Rafael Bejarano; Reneesgotzip, Nakatani; Willa B Awesome, Martin Pedroza; and Your Special Day, Mike Smith.
At Santa Anita Saturday, Sharp Cat winner Charm the Maker worked six furlongs on turf in 1:14.40 for Ron McAnally.
At Hollywood, Killer Graces, winner of the Grade I Hollywood Starlet, worked six furlongs for Jerry Hollendorfer in a bullet 1:12.20 with regular rider Joe Talamo aboard, while Santa Ysabel Stakes winner Willa B Awesome went five furlongs in 1:00.40 for trainer Walther Solis.
GOMEZ JOINS STEVENS ON HRTV SUNDAY FOR WOOLF AWARD ANNOUNCEMENT
Eclipse Award-winning jockey Garrett Gomez will be on HRTV with Gary Stevens and Scott Hazelton Sunday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Gomez won Santa Anita’s George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award last year.
Stevens, a Hall of Fame rider who not only has won the Woolf Award but played “The Iceman” in the Oscar-nominated movie “Seabiscuit,” will announce the 2012 Woolf Award winner immediately following Santa Anita’s sixth race Sunday.
Though Gomez has been sidelined since breaking his left heel on Jan. 8, he is still Santa Anita’s leading rider by number of stakes wins this meet with six added-money victories.
PICTURESQUE BOOK ON HILLSIDE COURSE ON SALE MARCH 3
Photographer Katey Barrett will autograph her book, "The Hill," at Champions Gift Shop next Saturday. For 40 years, Katey has staked out the hillside turf course, waiting for the opportune moment when horses, colors, light and shadow converge to offer an ideal setting.
The coffee table book contains a collection of the most spectacular images from a lifetime of spectacular images, a "must-have" for those who enjoy Santa Anita, especially the hillside turf course. From great horses, great riders and great images, collectors will want a signed version of this book. The signing will take place from 10:30 a.m. until 11:45 a.m.
FINISH LINES: Robert B. Lewis Stakes runner-up Empire Way, a candidate for the Grade II San Felipe Stakes on March 10, worked six furlongs on Hollywood’s Cushion Track Saturday in 1:14 for trainer Mike Harrington . . . At Santa Anita, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Regally Ready worked five furlongs on the main track in a bullet 58 flat for Steve Asmussen; Santa Monica winner Home Sweet Aspen went the same distance in 1:00 for John Sadler; San Marcos winner Slim Shadey went four furlongs in 48.60 for Simon Callaghan; and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty worked six furlongs in 1:13.80 for Bob Baffert . . . With three wins Friday, Doug O’Neill moved past John Sadler into second place behind Bob Baffert in the trainers’ standings, 26-20. Meanwhile, Joel Rosario has opened a double-digit lead over Rafael Bejarano, 48-35, in the race for leading jockey . . . Long distance Hat Tip to jockey Frank Alvarado, who won with all five of his mounts at Golden Gate on Friday. Three of them were in combination with trainer Steve Specht.