Shadow of Illinois will make history if he wins the $100,000 Sensational Star Handicap on New Year’s Day. The California-bred gelding turns 10 Friday, and would become the first horse of that age to win a stakes race at Santa Anita.

Four horses have won Santa Anita stakes races at the age of nine: Kona Gold in the 2003 El Conejo Handicap; Softshoe Sure Shot in the 1998 San Carlos Handicap; Super Diamond in the 1989 San Antonio Handicap; and Desert Chief III in the 1965 San Marcos Handicap.

It’s been a long and arduous journey for trainer Anthony Saavedra and his wife, Jennifer, who owns Shadow of Illinois. The son of Illinois Storm has won 10 races and finished second nine times in his career of 40 races, earning nearly a half a million dollars, but was sidelined more than two years with a tendon injury to his left front leg.

As regular rider Alex Solis puts it, “Maybe he drank from the Fountain of Youth,” because since his recovery, he has won five of his last seven starts, the last three in a row.

Shadow of Illinois did not race from March 15, 2006 until Aug. 8, 2008, due to the injury, which required state-of-the-art stem cell surgery. Time was never a major issue for the Saavedras, who cared for Shadow of Illinois at their home in Monrovia, a stone’s throw from Santa Anita.

“Since we kept him at home, it’s hard to figure how much money it cost us,” Saavedra said. “We did have some money invested, but he was well worth it. Even before the injury, he was so good to us, winning a Grade III (San Simeon Handicap on April 18, 2005), that we had to take care of him. We just have three sand paddocks on almost an acre of land at our place. We don’t have anywhere to ride. It’s just a rehab place.”

“The surgery was done at Santa Anita Equine Hospital by Dr. Rod Daniel. He took some fatty tissue from the horse’s left hip, sent it to a lab in San Diego, and got the stem cells back. That was about three years ago. We brought the horse back, but the procedure failed. It actually healed a bit too fast and his tendon stuck to the tendon sheath. So we had to give him another year off. That accounted for the two-year layoff.”

Saavedra is one of countless unsung horsemen who eke out a living at a trade they love. At 44, he has been training nearly half his life. He has 11 horses at Santa Anita, but none with such a captivating background as Shadow of Illinois.

“He’s a good boy around the barn, although he’s real ornery, and approaching 10, he’s just as ornery as he’s ever been,” Saavedra said. “He’ll bite you, he’ll kick you. He’s a feisty horse, and I think that’s part of the reason he’s still running at this age, because he’s still thrives on it. We gave him all the time he needed and let him dictate what he wanted to do and he’s taken us on a crazy ride.” The field for the Sensational Star: Bestdressed, Joel Rosario; Feisty Suances, David Flores; Big Bad Leroybrown, Tyler Baze; Mobilized, Rafael Bejarano; Enriched, Michael Baze; Compari, Garrett Gomez; Shadow of Illinois, Solis; and Live Sundays, Joe Talamo.


Queen of the Catsle experienced the worst finish of an otherwise consistent career when she ran eighth in the Sen. Ken Maddy Handicap at Oak Tree on Oct. 17. Trainer Howard Zucker readily drew a line through that race, pronouncing the 6-year-old mare fit and ready for Sunday’s $100,000 Grade III Monrovia Handicap for older fillies and mares at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf.

“She just bounced,” Zucker said emphatically. “There was no place else I could run her for two and half months, so I stuck her in. But we had just come back from Philadelphia on a really hard trip and she had run one of the best races in her life.”

That was in the Turf Amazon Handicap on a yielding turf course at Philadelphia Park Sept. 26. The Kentucky-bred daughter of Tale of the Cat owned by C.T. Grether, Inc. was beaten a head after a lengthy stretch duel. Then came the Maddy.

“She was acting fine, so we went ahead and ran, but we knew there was a chance she might bounce off of that race,” Zucker said. “Now, she’s sharp and fresh and ready to roll.”

Probable for the Monrovia: Empressive Lady, Victor Espinoza; Hermione’s Magic, Alex Solis; Lemon Chiffon, Tyler Baze; Lucky Copy, Garrett Gomez; Pasar Silbano, David Flores; Queen of the Catsle, Mike Smith; Reba Is Tops, Joe Talamo; Royal Taat, Joel Rosario; and Tuscan Evening, Rafael Bejarano.


Santa Anita’s popular Free Fridays promotion resumes on Jan. 8. There will be free grandstand admission each Friday, and patrons will receive free box seats while supplies last. Santa Anita also will offer $1 specials on hot dogs, beer, soda, popcorn and coffee.

FINISH LINES: For the second straight racing day, Joel Rosario took off his scheduled five mounts Wednesday. “He’s still under the weather,” agent Vic Stauffer said, “but he’s getting there.” . . . Santa Anita’s popular on-line handicapping contest ShowVivor kicks off Friday with a new cousin, WinVivor, which is ShowVivor, except instead of finishing at least third, your horse has to win. Contestants who survive the longest will win a grand prize of $2,500. For details and complete rules, log on to Also on Friday, Santa Anita will add a Superfecta wager on the last race . . . Garrett Gomez, $53,854 behind leader Julien Leparoux in his quest for a fourth consecutive national purse earnings title, has two days to get the job done. Leparoux, currently not riding, has $18,560,665 to $18,506,811 for Gomez, who won an Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding jockey the past two years . . . Flavien Prat, a 17-year-old apprentice from France, is scheduled to make his Santa Anita debut on Friday. “He was the leading apprentice in France with 62 wins this year,” said agent/breeder Derek Lawson. “He was invited here by (trainer) Leonard Powell, but he has now caught the attention of Patrick Biancone. Prat has his ‘bug’ until March. He came here to learn and gain more experience, because riders in France have seen how successful their countryman Julien Leparoux has been as a young rider in the United States, and they all recognize that Southern California is a nice place to spend the winter, instead of going skiing and vacationing, and they absolutely love to ski in France.” . . .. All THOROUGHBREDS members will receive a free 75th anniversary long sleeve T-shirt on New Year’s Day at Santa Anita with paid admission, while supplies last. First post time is 12 noon. Gates open at 10 a.m. . . . Jay Privman, national correspondent for Daily Racing Form, will be Jerry Antonucci’s guest Friday, 10:30 a.m., at the Today’s Racing Digest seminar in the East Paddock Gardens. Saturday’s guest at 11 a.m. will be trainer Bob Hess Jr.