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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• ASCANIO REMEMBERS LONG-TIME FRIEND FRANKEL
• ALL SYSTEMS GO SUNDAY FOR MOONE’S MY NAME
• BAFFERT DEALS WITH THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY
• NAKATANI, UNBRIDLED’S NOTE A SUCCESSFUL TEAM
• NOBLE METAL SHARP FOR U.S. DEBUT IN EDDIE LOGAN
MEMORIES, HOPE, FAMILY KEEP ASCANIO GOING
Death brings finality to all but memories, which these days, Humberto Ascanio treasures dearly.
A stroke limiting mobility of his right side forced him to give up his training career two years ago. Before that, he spent 36 years playing Tom Hagen to Bobby Frankel’s Vito Corleone, a dependable and loyal assistant, consigliere, and friend who helped Frankel mightily in attaining Hall of Fame status before he died of cancer on Nov. 16, 2009, at the age of 68.
Ascanio, 67, has been recuperating at his Arcadia home since the stroke hit, but progress, physically and emotionally, has been slow, if at all, restricting his ability and desire to travel. He did make it to Santa Anita last year for the Robert J. Frankel Stakes, named for his former “padrone,” and plans to make it here on Sunday when the Frankel is run again.
Frankel, perceived as a pariah to strangers, was a pussycat to friends. Take it from the man who knew him best.
“I started with Bobby in 1972,” said Ascanio, a native of Guadalajara, Mexico, who was licensed as an assistant trainer in 1976. “You could talk to him and he’d be real rough on the outside, but when you got to know him, he was a real good guy. He was like two different people, rough and tough at the race track but a different person away from it.”
Frankel was the antithesis of Ascanio, who was genteel and genuine on and off the track. For example:
I once lost my cell phone touring the vast Hollywood Park backstretch, and when I got to the Frankel barn, I expressed my lament to Ascanio, who was sitting in the tack room. Saying nary a word, he got up from his chair, walked 200 feet to the nearest security guard, and uttered something in Spanish, whereupon the guard handed me my phone.
Most men would have dismissed my loss with a that’s-a-shame shrug and been done with it. But that’s not in Humberto’s DNA. He cares. Despite his lengthy absence, Ascanio has not surrendered expectations of training again. “I was hoping to come back, but it’s going to take time, I guess,” he said. “The stroke was strong. It made me real slow. I’m lucky I’m alive. Thanks to my family, it has kept me going.”
That would include his wife, Maureen, and their six children. “They keep me alive, my family,” Ascanio said.
That’s more than can be said about Hollywood Park, Ascanio’s first port of call, which took its last breath Sunday, succumbing after 75 years.
“Hollywood was the first track I worked at,” he said. “I started there as a groom. I met my wife there in 1970 and started my family there. It’s sad. It was a beautiful track.”
Almost as beautiful as Ascanio’s memories.
He may not be at the race track anymore and his step may have slowed, but Humberto Ascanio can take solace in his family and an old Mexican credo:
“Hope dies last.”
MOONE’S MY NAME SEEKS FIRST U.S. STAKES WIN IN FRANKEL
Moone’s My Name guns for her second straight win and her first stakes triumph in the U.S. when she runs in Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
An English-bred daughter of Inktikhab trained by John Sadler for Joanne Batchelor of Calabasas, Moone’s My Name was second in her U.S. debut in the American Beauty at Santa Anita last April, then rallied for third in the Wilshire Handicap after a slow start, before leading throughout to win a Hollywood allowance test at 1 1/16 miles on grass Dec. 5.
The 5-year-old gray mare worked six furlongs on Santa Anita’s turf in 1:15 on Monday.
“She worked well Monday so the plan’s to go on Sunday,” Sadler said. “She’s doing well and we’ve got Bejarano to ride,” speaking of Southern California’s perennial riding king, who outfinished Joe Talamo to capture the final round at Hollywood Park on Sunday.
The field for the Frankel: Becky Lou, Julien Couton, 8-1; Playful Humor, Martin Garcia, 15-1; Moone’s My Name, Rafael Bejarano, 4-1; Gulsary, Gary Stevens, 4-1; Stormy Lucy, Isaias Enriquez, 9-2; Champagneandcavier, Chantal Sutherland Kruse, 10-1; Customer Base, Mike Smith, 3-1; Nickels Wild, Joe Talamo, 15-1; and Appealing, Corey Nakatani, 4-1.
WIN SOME, LOSE SOME: BAFFERT ROLLS WITH THE PUNCHES
Thursday was a bittersweet day for Bob Baffert. He won three races on opening day at Santa Anita, including the Grade I Malibu Stakes with 17-1 shot Shakin It Up, but retired Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner and top Kentucky Derby prospect New Year’s Day due to an injury to his left hind leg.
The 60-year-old Hall of Fame trainer, winner of the Run for the Roses three times, has learned to keep things in perspective.
“Everyday is like a roller coaster,” Baffert said on an otherwise spectacular, invigorating, sun-kissed morning at Clockers’ Corner. “Every once in a while I might have like two days in a row that are good.
“But this is part of the sport. Every morning, it’s something, minor, major, whatever. I’ve been around horses for 40 years, so you have to deal with it. Sometimes, if you let it eat you up, it will destroy you.
“You’ll have a heart attack.”
Good to see Baffert hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
UNBRIDLED'S NOTE SET FOR BEST IN GRADE III DAYTONA
Corey Nakatani rides Unbridled’s Note for the 10th straight time in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Daytona Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf, one of the Steve Asmussen-trained colt’s favorite venues.
Unbridled’s Note has a 2-1-1 record from five starts over the unique downhill course.
“Anytime you get a chance to ride for a guy who’s won as many races as Steve Asmussen, you know every time he goes out there, this horse is going to give his best,” Nakatani said.
“The horse likes Santa Anita, he’s not shipping, all that good stuff, so I definitely think he’ll put his best foot forward on Saturday.”
The field for the Daytona, race eight of nine: El Commodore, Gary Stevens; Chips All In, Aaron Gryder; Unbridled’s Note, Nakatani; Handsome Mike, Mario Gutierrez; Gallant Son, Isaias Enriquez; Truest Legend, Brice Blanc; and Ain’t No Other, Rafael Bejarano. Next Speaker was scratched.
NOBLE METAL INVADES FOR EDDIE LOGAN STAKES
Noble Metal makes his United States debut in Saturday’s $75,000 Eddie Logan Stakes for 2-year-olds at one mile on turf.
“He’s got really good form for Europe that we hope continues here tomorrow,” said Doug O’Neill, who trains the English-bred son of With Approval for the Great Friends Stable, Robert Cseplo and Steve Keh.
“Raffy (Rafael Bejarano, who rides in the Eddie Logan) worked him Monday (four furlongs on turf in 50.60) and they got along great, so we’re excited about his debut for us.”
The Eddie Logan is named for the indefatigable shoeshine man who worked at Santa Anita every day since it opened on Dec. 25, 1934, before he died at 98 on Jan. 31, 2009.
The field for the Eddie Logan, which goes as the fourth race: Lucky Views, Joe Talamo; Enterprising, Gary Stevens; Craftsman, Victor Espinoza; Flagman, Patrick Valenzuela; Morally Bankrupt, Brice Blanc; Noble Metal, Bejarano; My Secret Affair, Mike Smith; and Royal Banker, Corey Nakatani.
FINISH LINES: Of the 108 recorded workouts on Santa Anita’s main track Friday, 13 were by horses trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, including Sahara Sky, winner of a pair of Grade II sprint stakes at Santa Anita, the San Carlos and the Palos Verdes, and the Grade I Met Mile on May 27, his most recent start. Owned by Hollendorfer and Kim Lloyd, Sahara Sky went four furlongs in 48 seconds flat . . . John Sadler scratched Demonic from yesterday’s Malibu Stakes because the son of Bernardini “popped a quarter crack. He shouldn’t miss too much time and hopefully can make the Strub,” the trainer said. The Grade II, $200,000 Strub will be run Jan. 18 at a mile and a sixteenth . . . Santa Anita morning line oddsmaker Jon White correctly tabbed the favorite in all nine races on Thursday’s opening day card. When the Breeders’ Cup World Championships were held at Santa Anita last Nov. 1 and 2, White’s morning line favorite was sent off as the actual betting choice in 13 of the 14 races . . . Santa Anita kicks off the New Year with bargains, offering beers, sodas and hot dogs for one dollar on New Year’s Day, Wednesday, Jan. 1. First post time is 12:30 p.m. Santa Anita races through this Sunday, then is dark on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 30 and 31.