Santa Anita Stable Notes Friday, December 23, 2022
• DETTORI ARRIVES AT SANTA ANITA TO RIDE OPENING DAY • EASTERN INVADERS GO GRADE I HUNTING IN AMERICAN OAKS • FORBIDDEN KINGDOM COULD PROVE TOUGH IN MALIBU • SUMTER ‘BREATHING FIRE’ AHEAD OF MATHIS MILE
EDITOR’S NOTE: Subsequent to the Q & A interview listed below that originally ran on Nov. 30, Frankie Dettori announced this past Saturday, Dec. 17, that 2023 would be his final year in the saddle. While he will ride at Santa Anita on opening day, this Monday, Dettori, who was a Clockers’ Corner visitor this morning, stated that he’ll ride primarily at Santa Anita for about 10 weeks, after which he’ll have a number of international events that he’s committed to. Dettori said that his illustrious 36-year career will conclude at Santa Anita Park, with the 40th running of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships here on Nov. 3 & 4.
Long considered the greatest European-based jockey since Lester Piggot, Italian-born Lanfranco (Frankie) Dettori is returning to Santa Anita to ride full-time for the first time in more than 30 years on the track’s Classic Meet opening day, Monday, Dec. 26.
Recently paired with top agent Ron Anderson, Dettori, who lives near Newmarket, England, first announced his plans to ride at Santa Anita a month ago and in an expansive interview via telephone, detailed his intentions and career goals as he approaches his 52nd birthday on Dec. 15.
Married with five grown children, Dettori, a native of Milan, Italy and the son of retired Italian Champion Jockey Gianfranco Dettori, recalls the relationships he forged as a teenager with American racing icons such as Bill Shoemaker, Charlie Whittingham, Neil Drysdale and others.
Along with 500 Group Stakes wins, Dettori, who is a member of the prestigious British Champions Series Hall of Fame, is also a winner of 14 Breeders’ Cup races in North America, including the 2008 Classic at Santa Anita with the John Gosden-trained Raven’s Pass.
Dettori, whose dynamic personality and signature flying dismounts have enabled his European celebrity to transcend the bounds of racing, has ridden in more than 18 countries and has endorsed products such as “Jockey” yogurt in Europe and has had prominent television roles in shows such as British-based “Celebrity Big Brother” and the BBC’s quiz show “A Question of Sport.”
At home in Stetchworth, England, Dettori agreed to a question and answer session (Nov. 29).
Q. Frankie, first of all, sincere thanks for making the decision to ride full-time at Santa Anita this winter. This is truly great news and your presence alone will generate significant additional interest in our Classic Meet here at The Great Race Place. What factors led to your decision to begin riding here on Dec. 26?
A. I was actually thinking of coming over in the middle of January because I had some commitments in South America and I was thinking of going on a bit of a tour there. But, Ron approached me. He’s a good friend of mine. He’s probably one of the best agents in the world, I’ve known him since I was a kid. He said ‘Listen, if you’ll come along for (opening day) at Santa Anita and start when everybody else starts, there’s a better chance that we can get the ball rolling and have a good winter.’ And so I changed my plans and I spoke to my children. They’re grown up now. I said ‘I’m not going to be here for Christmas.’
They’re adults now, they’re attending university and so on and they don’t believe in Santa Claus anymore, all they do is (jokingly) want money…So it was a mutual decision, so that’s why I’m coming over and I’m going to start on Boxing Day (traditional British holiday the day after Christmas). It’s very important to start on opening day with everyone else and have an equal chance to do well.
Q. You’ve ridden all over the world and have had a superstar career in every respect. Although it’s been a long time, this will not be your first time riding here in Southern California. You were here in 1987 at age 17 and you were around people like Bill Shoemaker. You actually lived here in Sierra Madre one winter. What are your recollections of that time so long ago when your career was just beginning to take flight?
A. I remember riding at Santa Anita on Shoe’s last day as a jockey (Feb. 3, 1990). I didn’t ride in any races with him, but I rode that same day that he retired. I saw all the celebration and just being in the Jockeys’ Room when he was there is something I’ll never forget. Back at that time, I got to meet so many people. I got to meet Charlie Whittingham and I galloped some horses for him.
It was an amazing time to be there. I saw great horses, champions…Ferdinand, Alysheba and then soon after, Sunday Silence. I saw some amazing horses and some amazing jockeys as well. So basically, my career has come full circle. Thirty five years later, I’m going to be back to where I started.
Q. In addition to your incredible international resume, you’ve won a total of 14 Breeders’ Cup races here in North America, including the 2008 Classic here at Santa Anita with John Gosden’s Raven’s Pass. That said, with Ron Anderson now managing your business, is the 2023 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on your radar?
A. To be honest, the Breeders’ Cup is a million miles away. The only important thing for me at this time, is coming to California, to start doing well, ride some winners and fingers, crossed, I might stumble into a very good 3-year-old that would take me to Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May. I’m shooting at the stars at the moment, but you never know…I’m not speculating about anything, but I’m going to give it my all and I’m going to enjoy it. To me, I’m going to be around some people I’ve known most of my life, guys like Mike Smith, Johnny Velazquez, Neil Drysdale and other people in California. As far as my business now goes, obviously winning the Dubai World Cup this year (with Country Grammer) for Bob Baffert helps a bit.
Q. I get the impression that winning the Kentucky Derby is very much on Frankie Dettori’s Bucket List?
A. Oh, of course, and not just me, every jockey…But unfortunately, the Kentucky Derby falls on the same day as our 2000 Guineas (Group I, for 3-year-olds going one mile at Newmarket) which is the first leg in our Triple Crown. As a Walmac (Farm) guy, I’ve actually got a very live mount in it, but we’ll see what the spring will bring…I’m not going to speculate, but everything at the moment is open and I’ll just see what happens.
Q. Back to your agent, Ron Anderson. He’s come here in recent years with Johnny Velazquez and Joel Rosario. They’ve done very well over the winter and then they’ve shifted their tack to Kentucky and New York following the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby. Is this a path you’re likely to follow?
A. To be honest, I haven’t figured out anything yet. My first focus is opening day at Santa Anita. My second focus is to get a live mount for the Pegasus World Cup (Invitational, Grade I at Gulfstream Park Jan. 28). My third focus is to hopefully try to get back on Country Grammer for the Saudi Cup (Group I in February). And in between, we spend the time at Santa Anita and hopefully find a nice 3-year-old. And then we go into March and the better races are starting for those horses and there’s the Dubai World Cup, the Santa Anita Handicap…I just want to take one step at a time. Yes, I’m going to be on airplanes. I love it!
Q. Looking at where you’re at, in addition to having tremendous God-given ability, your enthusiasm and out-going personality have also been huge factors in your long-term success. You’ll be 52 on Dec. 15. Are those internal fires to succeed still burning as hot as ever and if so, beyond money-won, what motivates you to continue?
A. That’s one of the reasons I’m coming to California. I need a new challenge, a new target. I’ll definitely ride next year, after that, I don’t know. So I’m taking one year at a time. I like to travel. I like to challenge myself in different places and that’s what keeps me going. It’ll be good to get back to memory lane in Southern California. That’s where I started…So I’m going to try to enjoy my time there as much as I can.
Q. Frankie, you’ve got a great life, a great family with your wife Catherine and five kids. As you mentioned, your kids are grown, but how does everyone feel about you coming to Santa Anita this winter?
A. To be honest, they’re kind of used to it. The last few years, I’ve been in Dubai by myself. They’re pleased for me because they see that I’m very excited about it. I’ve got their support, which is very important. It’s easier now for me to spend time away because they’ve got university, they’ve got things to do and they understand. It’s much harder when you have young kids. It doesn’t make my job any easier, but I have their full support.
Q. Speaking of family, your father, Gianfranco, was a 13-time Champion rider in Italy. Is he still involved in racing?
A. My dad is 81 and he’s fully retired. He spends all his life watching me ride on TV. You know, he and my mom actually came with me one winter when I rode at Santa Anita and stayed with me for three months in Sierra Madre. He understands what I’m doing and he’s actually more excited than me that I’m coming over this winter. It’ll give him something to watch in the evening.
Q. Lastly, everybody knows that good horses help to make good jockeys and good trainers. Aside from getting the right horses in the right races, in your opinion, what separates great jockeys from average or good jockeys?
A. Well, I think first of all, you’ve got to use your natural instincts. Obviously in my case, I’ve got a lot of experience. But then, you’ve got to have the love of the horse. I love the horse. The horse has a sixth sense. He’s feels like you feel. We use horses for disabled people, blind people, deaf people…The horse knows, they’re intuitive. I think a good jockey transmits good vibes to the horse to give him his best chance to succeed.
The 47-day Classic Meet will run through April 9 and be followed by Santa Anita’s 27-day Spring Meet, which begins on April 22 and concludes on June 18. For additional information, please visit santaanita.com. Mike Willman
EASTERN INVADERS GO GRADE I HUNTING IN AMERICAN OAKS
Led by Chad Brown’s 7-2 morning-line favorite Salimah, a quintet of Eastern-based fillies have made their way to The Great Race Place to chase Grade I glory in the $300,000 American Oaks at 1 1/4 miles on turf on Monday.
The Oaks will mark the graded-stakes debut for Salimah, who has lured the services of top jockey Flavien Prat for the Oaks. She enters with three wins in four starts for her four-time Eclipse Award winning trainer, which includes most recently the Nov. 13 Winter Memories going 1 1/16 miles over yielding turf at Aqueduct. By the Scat Daddy stallion El Kabeir, the Irish-bred will try to provide Brown with a third American Oaks win in five years.
Skims, winner of the Oct. 15 Sand Point at Aqueduct last out, also comes west for trainer “Shug” McGaughey. As does Mise En Scene, a recent European import who will be making her first start for trainer Brendan Walsh. Mise En Scene came to the U.S. this fall to contest the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf and checked in fifth for previous trainer James Ferguson.
Eastern-based trainer Graham Motion has a string of 12 horses bedded down at Santa Anita for the first time since its synthetic-track era ended in 2010. Among those are Sparkle Blue and Pizza Bianca, who are both set to contest the Oaks.
Sparkle Blue enters with a pair of stakes wins on the resume including the GIII Valley View at Keeneland Oct. 28 in her most recent start. The daughter of Hard Spun is a half sister to Shared Account, who won the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf for Motion.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say she was a little bit of a surprise,” Motion said of Sparkle Blue. “Early on, she won her first start on dirt (in a race taken off the turf) at Colonial Downs and that was a surprise,” Motion said. “But obviously it’s a family we’ve had a lot of success with. So in that respect, it wasn’t surprising. She has improved each time we have stepped her up in competition.”
He added the Oaks was targeted for Sparkle Blue soon after her win in the Valley View.
“It’s the last chance for a Grade I against 3-year-olds, it’s a distance that should suit her and she’s still lightly raced, which I think is important,” Motion said. Joel Rosario, who was aboard for the Valley View win, will again be in the irons.
Pizza Bianca gained international acclaim last year when winning the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for trainer Christophe Clement. Just one for five this year, she shipped to Southern California late last month and took on older horses in the Grade I Matriarch at Del Mar Dec. 4. She finished third. As part of a pre-arranged agreement with Clement and celebrity chef owner Bobby Flay, Pizza Bianca was subsequently transferred to Motion’s care to prepare for the Oaks.
“I’ve trained for Bobby off and on, and he and Christophe approached me and asked since I was stabled (at Santa Anita) if I could help them out,” Motion said.
He added he came away encouraged with Pizza Bianca’s Matriarch run. “It was a brave effort. I mean, to be honest she was probably a little unlucky,” Motion said.
The American Oaks goes as the 11th and final race on Monday. Post time is scheduled for 4:11 p.m.
The American Oaks field: 1. Rhea Moon, Juan Hernandez (8-1); 2. Sparkle Blue, Joel Rosario (8-1); 3. Lady Clementine, Frankie Dettori (30-1); 4. Oakhurst, Hector Berrios (30-1); 5. Bellstreet Bridie, Mike Smith (4-1); 6. Mise En Scene, Tyler Gaffalione (4-1); 7. Skims, John Velazquez (6-1); 8. Pizza Bianca, Umberto Rispoli (6-1); 9. Salimah, Flavien Prat (7-2); 10. Duvet Day, Kazushi Kimura (20-1); 11. School Dance, Ramon Vazquez (15-1).
FORBIDDEN KINGDOM COULD PROVE A TOUGH FOE IN THE MALIBU
This past winter at Santa Anita, Forbidden Kingdom bagged a pair of graded-stakes wins before he was upended as the even-money favorite in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby and subsequently sent to the sidelines. Following a nearly six-month break, the Grade I, $300,000 Malibu on Monday will be the American Pharoah colt’s third start on the comeback trail for Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella.
Forbidden Kingdom returned in the GII Santa Anita Sprint Championship on Oct. 2 where he dueled on a fast pace before fading to fifth. He took a step forward last month when narrowly defeated in a classified allowance at Del Mar by Get Her Number, who would come back to run second in the GI Cigar Mile at Aqueduct.
Following those two encouraging efforts, Mandella is looking forward to a top performance from Forbidden Kingdom on Monday.
“He ran well (at Del Mar), that was a good horse in that race,” Mandella noted. “I think he’s actually moved up a notch and is even better right now.”
The Malibu field: 1. Forbidden Kingdom, Juan Hernandez (3-1); Messier, John Velazquez (6-1); Apprehend, Ramon Vazquez (8-1); Nakatomi, Tyler Gaffalione, (10-1); Hoist the Gold, Joel Rosario (12-1); Taiba, Mike Smith (6-5); Perfect Flight, Ricardo Santana Jr. (12-1); Strava, Flavien Prat (15-1); Straight No Chaser, Edwin Maldonado (20-1).
SUMTER ‘BREATHING FIRE’ AHEAD OF GRADE II SANTA ANITA MATHIS MILE
Mandella also looks to have a big shot in the Grade II, $200,000 Santa Anita Mathis Mile for 3-year-olds on grass. Sumter, twice a stakes winner this year at Santa Anita going the same trip, finished his major preparations Friday with a three-furlong blowout in 37.0 seconds.
“Breathing fire,” Mandella proclaimed from Clocker’s Corner following the move.
A homebred for Perry and Ramona Bass, Sumter won the Pasadena Stakes in February and Singletary Stakes in April while vanquishing a pair of rivals he’ll face again on Monday in Balnikhov, the morning-line favorite in the Mathis Mile, and Handy Dandy.
Most recently, Sumter sprinted five furlongs on turf in the Stormy Liberal at Del Mar and closed to be third under Flavien Prat. With Prat opting to ride European import I’m A Gambler for trainer Mark Glatt, Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will take over on Sumter in the Mathis Mile.
The Mathis field: 1. Balnikhov, Tyler Gaffalione (2-1); One More Bid, Ramon Vazquez (10-1); I'm A Gambler Flavien Prat (5-2); Time to Party, Joe Bravo (8-1); Agatino, Umberto Rispoli (15-1), Handy Dandy, Joel Rosario (5-1); Sumter, Mike Smith (3-1).
FINISH LINES: FIRST POST FOR MONDAY’S 11-RACE CARD IS 11 A.M. ADMISSION GATES OPEN AT 9 A.M…Spectacular weather is forecast to greet the on-track crowd for opening day at The Great Race Place on Monday. The National Weather Service is calling for mostly sunny skies with a high of 80 degrees in Arcadia…Santa Anita will offer on-track fans a number of promotions on opening day including the TRADITIONAL WALL CALENDAR, which is free with paid admission. This year’s calendar features the track’s past leading riders dating back to Johnny Adams in 1937-38 through defending champ Juan Hernandez…Jockey Flavien Prat and trainer John Sadler, who guided Flightline to an undefeated season and likely Horse of the Year title, will be at the Kingsbury Fountain on opening day from 9:45 to 10:15 to sign prints of their retired superstar…Santa Anita is guaranteeing a $1 million payout on opening day to any Single Ticket winner in the 20-cent Rainbow Pick 6…Track announcer Frank Mirahmadi will be Tom Quigley’s featured handicapping guest on the Santa Anita simulcast feed starting at 9:50 a.m. on Monday.