If Blingo wins the Santa Anita Handicap, Aaron Gryder would be the first to admit he owes Mike Smith a debt of gratitude.

Gryder rides Blingo, a 5-year-old gelded son of Artie Schiller, whom he piloted to an upset at almost 16-1 in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes on Feb. 8.

A month later—on March 8—the 43-year-old jockey hopes to pull a bigger stunner when he rides Blingo in the 77th edition of Santa Anita’s marquee race against the likes of Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge, who finished a dramatic nose apart in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

“I was working a couple horses for John at Hollywood Park, even after the track closed,” Gryder said, speaking of John Shirreffs, who trains Blingo for owners Jerry and Ann Moss. “I give credit to my friend Mike Smith as far as making the introduction and kind of opening the doors with John for working his horses.

“Blingo was one of the first ones I worked, but I was always impressed with him. John told me the key to the horse is keeping him happy. In the race before the San Antonio, (the Jan. 11 San Pasqual Stakes in which Blingo ran an eventful sixth), he lost it in the paddock and ran his race before it even started.

“But he was pretty good before the San Antonio, and the whole race I was just letting him settle. I didn’t ride him worrying about where Game On Dude was or anybody else. Obviously I was liking the pace, but it was about my horse being comfortable.

“He ran super that day and his work Sunday (Feb. 23, six furlongs at Santa Anita in 1:12.20) was just awesome.”

With three wins through 40 days, victories have been slow in coming for Gryder, a native of West Covina who began his career in earnest in 1987. But successes like those in the $300,000 San Antonio and the $500,000 Breeders’ Cup Marathon in 2012 are worth more than gold and glory.

“It’s obvious you want to win as many as you can, but those are the races that really make people recognize you, and they bring you more opportunities,” Gryder said. “It was great to ride for John Shirreffs, and the owners have been fabulous in keeping me on the horse. I’m very happy for the opportunity and hope it leads to more.”


In what might be termed a throwback to the James Naismith era, Santa Anita’s Jockeys defeated Holy Angels School, 27-20, in the 47th annual charity basketball game last night at La Salle High School in Pasadena.

Proceeds of the game, sponsored by J. Paul Reddam’s CashCall and Meticulous Talent, benefited the Holy Angels athletic program, the Kentucky-based Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund (PDJF) and the Eye on Jacob Foundation.

Drayden Van Dyke led the jockeys in scoring with nine points. The 19-year-old sharpshooter showed a good eye throughout as the riders led at halftime, 14-10, and held Holy Angels at bay through the second half before an enthusiastic crowd.

In addition to Van Dyke, other jockeys who participated were Joe Talamo, Omar Figueroa, Edwin Maldonado, Rafael Bejarano, Orlando Mojica, Iggy Puglisi, Kayla Stra and Kent Desormeaux’s son, Josh, and Karen Headley’s son, Berkeley.

Hall of Famers Eddie Delahoussaye, Laffit Pincay Jr., Gary Stevens and Mike Smith all signed autographs and memorabilia before the game. “It was a good crowd and everyone had a lot of fun,” said HRTV’s Kurt Hoover, who coached the Jockeys to the victory. “Fans were lined up pretty deep for the autographs and memorabilia signings.”

FINISH LINES: With inclement weather playing musical chairs with track conditions and subsequently workouts, Art Sherman’s final major drill for the March 8 San Felipe Stakes with California Chrome is up in the air. “I might bring him from Los Alamitos to Santa Anita and work him here Sunday,” the trainer said. “It all depends on how much rain we get and the condition of the track. I might work him in between races or right before the first.” . . . In addition to D. Wayne Lukas shipping in Will Take Charge for the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hall of Fame trainer also plans to bring Optimizer for the Grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile and Unstoppable Colby for the Grade II San Felipe Stakes, all three races on March 8 . . . FrontRunner Stakes winner Bond Holder, recovering from a bumpy flight to Louisiana for what turned out to be an aborted run in the Risen Star Stakes last Saturday, is at Tampa Bay Downs for a possible start in the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby at 1 1/16 miles on March 8. Mario Gutierrez would ride. The race is worth 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the winner. Bond Holder currently is 12th on the points list with 11. “He’s day-to-day,” said Dennis O’Neill, brother of trainer Doug O’Neill. “He’s tentatively scheduled to work at Tampa Monday, and if all goes well, he’ll run in the Tampa Bay Derby.” . . . With Martin Pedroza hors de combat, agent Richie Silverstein has taken the book of jockey Aaron Gryder . . . Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer were deadlocked with 22 wins each through 40 days of racing, and also were tied for thirds with 14 each. Their statistical parallels were similar in purse earnings, separated by only $4,164 . . . Agapito Delgadillo has been suspended three days (March 9, 13 and 14) for causing interference on Ryderroo in the first race Feb. 23, resulting in the disqualification of his mount from first to second. Jose Valdivia Jr. also has been suspended three days (March 2, 6 and 7) for failing to maintain a straight course in the stretch on Fast Moka Too in the aforementioned race . . . Thursday’s last four races were decided by photo finishes, although Lilly’s Perfect was moved into first via disqualification of Born Lucky, or should that be Born Unlucky?