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STABLE NOTES BY ED GOLDEN
• THE SUN IS SHINING, SO ARE THE HORSES, AS 340 WORK AT SANTA ANITA
• GOMEZ EYES 5TH STRAIGHT ANNUAL MONEY CROWN AS 2010 WINDS DOWN
• BLIND LUCK WORKS AT HOLLYWOOD FOR EL ENCINO STAKES
WEATHER CLEAR, TRACK FAST WELCOME NEWS AT SANTA ANITA
Christmas came a day early at Santa Anita. Inundated by record rainfall of 13 ½ inches the past week, horsemen awoke Friday morning to a picture-post card setting of blue skies and sunshine caressing the San Gabriel Mountains and took full advantage of it by working nearly 350 horses over the new traditional dirt main track as they readied for Sunday’s eagerly anticipated opening day at The Great Race Place.
Among the 340 workers were multiple Grade I stakes winner The Usual Q.T., prepping for Monday’s Grade II San Gabriel Stakes, and Evening Jewel, beaten a nose twice in Grade I races by Blind Luck, the favorite to win an Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding 3-year-old filly of 2010. Evening Jewel runs in the Grace III Monrovia Stakes on Jan. 2.
“The Usual Q.T. worked too fast; Evening Jewel went too slow,” said a somewhat chagrined Jim Cassidy. “I was just looking for an easy half for the Usual Q.T. The filly worked all right. She got a work in her, but I was looking for a little more than that, but we’ll see how we go. They’re both fine.”
Despite the recent downpour, horsemen are virtually unanimous in their praise for the new surface. “I love it,” said trainer Darrell Vienna. “It’s unbelievable. If you think about the deluge we had here after 13 inches of rain, the track was open the next day. That’s kind of a change from what we’ve been experiencing, isn’t it?”
Another endorsement came from three-time Santa Anita training king Doug O’Neill, who has long shot Thomas Baines entered in the Grade I Malibu Stakes on opening day.
“The track is fantastic,” said O’Neill, who has 45 head at Santa Anita, in addition to many more at his Hollywood Park headquarters. “Although the times are fast, the track is kind and it’s real quiet. It’s fast but not hard. We’re excited over it. We have a lot of momentum for this meet with the purses being higher and the dirt being back. And how do you knock the scenery here? It’s just the best.”
O’Neill admits he’ll need some luck if Thomas Baines is to pull an upset in the Malibu. “The horse is doing great,” O’Neill said. “He ran against some real hard knockers earlier in the year, and he got a little tired on us, so we kicked him out and gave him a little time and he’s really come back strong. He had a good comeback race (third in the restricted Nashville Stakes Nov. 18 following an absence of nearly three months).
“We know we’re shooting for the stars, but I think he’s got it in him to shake it up as a longshot.”
GOMEZ AIMS FOR FIFTH STRAIGHT MONEY TITLE
Garrett Gomez has five racing days left in 2010 to overtake leader Ramon Dominguez and win the national purse earnings crown for the fifth consecutive year. The Tucson native, who turns 39 on New Year’s Day, is named to ride all four opening day stakes : the $100,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes (Offlee Wild Boys); the $250,000 La Brea Stakes (Malibu Pier); the $150,000 Sir Beaufort Stakes (Bogie); and the $250,000 Malibu Stakes (Thiskyhasnolimit).
Through Dec. 21, Dominguez had a lead of more than $500,000.
Mathematically, Gomez has a chance, but he knows it won’t be easy. That won’t deter Gomez and his agent, Ron Anderson, who overtook Julien Leparoux for the money-won title in the final race of 2009, from moving full speed ahead.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Gomez said, “but we’re going to give it a good run and see what happens.”
EL ENCINO HOPEFUL BLIND LUCK AMONG 32 HOLLENDORFER WORKERS AT HOLLYWOOD
Jerry Hollendorfer and his top assistant, Dan Ward, barely had time for a cup of coffee during training hours at Hollywood Park Friday morning. Among the 171 recorded workouts over the Cushion Track, 32 were from the Hollendorfer barn, including pro tem 3-year-old filly champion Blind Luck and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Dakota Phone.
Blind Luck went six furlongs in 1:15, while Dakota Phone went five furlongs in 1:03.20. “That’s the most horses we ever worked in one morning,” said Ward, who added that Blind Luck is pointing to the El Encino Stakes on Jan. 16, while Dakota Phone’s goal is the San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 8.
‘LUCK’ TO RESUME PRODUCTION JAN. 10; FIRST AIR DATES SET FOR FALL 2011
Production on the pilot and first two episodes of Home Box Office’s (HBO) highly anticipated series, “Luck,” has been nearly completed and production and shooting for episode three will resume at Santa Anita on Jan. 10.
“Luck,” which stars several “A List” actors, including Dustin Hoffman, is the brainchild of world renowned writer/producer David Milch, and is being shot in large-part at Santa Anita.
“Their production crew completed two weeks of work on and around the track last week,” said Santa Anita Community and Special Events Coordinator Pete Siberell. “The pilot was completed several months ago and this will enable them to finish their work on the first two episodes.”
Among notable actors involved in episodes one and two are Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, John Ortiz, Gary Stevens and jockey Chantal Sutherland.
Siberell noted that Milch, who has also created such blockbuster hits as “Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue,” and “Deadwood,” is “excited” about the recently shot content for the first two episodes.
“David said that everything went extremely well and he was particularly happy with the racing action they were able to simulate. He also said that his directors, Terry George and Allen Coulter, were very pleased as well.”
Both George and Coulter are considered industry “heavyweights,” as evidenced by their work experience. George’s professional credits include “Hotel Rwanda,” “Reservation Road” and “In the Name of the Father.” Coulter has directed “The Sopranos,” “Sex in the City,” “Law and Order,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “Rubicon.”
Siberell said that when HBO returns in January, Hoffman, who played a prominent role in the pilot, will again be on hand as production begins on episode three.
“Hoffman and most of the other regular cast members will be here as well,” said Siberell. “This episode will be directed by Phillip Noyce, who’s also worked on shows like ‘The Quiet American,’ ‘Salt,’ ‘Clear and Present Danger’ and ‘Patriot Games.’”
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita Director of Racing Mike Harlow is encouraged about the 76-day meet that kicks off Sunday. “Optimism is in the air,” he said. “The first two days’ entries were pretty good, the purse money has increased, and if we can just get the weather to cooperate with us, I think everybody’s looking forward to opening day.” . . . Santa Anita will again host a Christmas Day meal for more than 300 backstretch workers and families at the Backside Recreation Facility. A traditional meal of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, etc., will be served by cafeteria staff and volunteers to all licensed stable workers and their immediate families. In addition, Santa Anita will offer a generous number of Christmas gifts provided by the jockey colony, the Racetrack Chaplaincy of America, Inc. and Santa Anita Park. And there are rumors that Santa Claus will make an appearance before returning to the North Pole . . . Christian Santiago Reyes, winner of the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice rider of 2009, returns after a lengthy suspension to ride in the Group 1 King’s Cup in Saudi Arabia Jan. 7, agent Tony Matos said. “He’s been working out every day in the gym to stay in shape and worked 10 horses this morning,” Matos said. “He leaves for Saudi Arabia Jan. 3 and returns Jan. 9.” . . . Trainer Wesley ward, a regular on the Southern California for many years but now based in Florida, was a visitor at Clockers’ Corner Friday morning. “I’m just here for Christmas,” said the Eclipse Award-winning apprentice jockey of 1984. Asked if might run anything here this meet, Ward said, “You never know.” -30-