- SANTA ANITA’S ‘MEET OF CHAMPIONS’ BEGINS ON DEC. 26
- BC SPRINT WINNER RUNHAPPY SET FOR GRADE I MALIBU
- PRAT RESUMES RIDING ON OPENING DAY AT SANTA ANITA
- HARD WORK PAYS FOR AGENT STEPHEN, JOCKEY GONZALEZ
- POPULAR WALL CALENDAR GIVEAWAY ON OPENING DAY
- FREE COFFEE TO WARM YOUR HEART AT CLOCKERS’ CORNER
FOUR CHAMPS EYE RETURN DURING SANTA ANITA MEET
Champions Beholder, California Chrome, Nyquist and Songbird could showcase their Eclipse Award talents at Santa Anita’s Winter Meet that begins its 79th season of world-class racing on Saturday, Dec. 26 with a 12 noon first post time. Admission gates open at 10 a.m.
Beholder’s next race is at least two months away. The two-time Eclipse Award champion
currently is enjoying R&R in a grass paddock at Peacefield Farm in Temecula “and she’ll be back in” to Santa Anita around Jan. 1, trainer Richard Mandella said.
“It’s just life,” Mandella reasoned philosophically about the daughter of Henny Hughes,
who missed the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Oct. 31 due to a fever, but owns a remarkable 11 wins from 12 starts at Santa Anita.
California Chrome, 2014 Horse of the Year but unraced since finishing second in the Dubai World Cup last March, has been compiling frequent flier mileage since, but is “doing great” now at his Los Alamitos headquarters.
“He’s working every Saturday and getting stronger and stronger,” trainer Art Sherman said of the California-bred son of Lucky Pulpit. “We have the San Pasqual Stakes on Jan. 9 scheduled as his comeback race.”
Unbeaten Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist has the Grade II, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs on Feb. 15 ticketed for his three-year-old debut.
“It all depends on how he looks and feels,” trainer Doug O’Neill said of the Uncle Mo colt owned by Reddam Racing, a slam-dunk to be named champion male two-year-old of 2015.
“Right now the San Vicente is under strong consideration.”
Undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner Songbird, who should be a unanimous choice as champion two-year-old filly of 2015, is galloping at Santa Anita with no announced date for her first breeze back, but the Grade II, $300,000 Las Virgenes Stakes at one mile on Feb. 6 is a long-range goal, according to Jerry Hollendorfer assistant Dan Ward.
As previously stated, Beholder has won 11 of 12 starts at Santa Anita; California Chrome three of five; Nyquist two of two; and Songbird one of one, giving the four horses a combined record of 17 victories from 20 starts at Santa Anita, an astounding 85 percent.
BREEDERS’ CUP KING RUNHAPPY INVADES FOR MALIBU
Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Runhappy, who set a Keeneland record of 1:08.58 for six furlongs in winning that rich race on Oct. 31, worked seven furlongs under Gary Stevens Tuesday morning in 1:25.40 for the Grade I Malibu Stakes on opening day.
“It was a nice, steady, pretty even kind of work,” said Stevens, who rides the son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver for the first time in the seven furlong Malibu. “He finished up good and strong, was very balanced, and I love what I felt.”
Owned by James McIngvale and trained by Laura Wohlers, Runhappy has won six of seven career starts and had a palpable excuse in his lone loss and lone route race, the Grade III LeComte Stakes at a mile and 70 yards at the Fair Grounds last Jan. 15. He finished ninth by 21 ½ lengths after he was bumped hard at the break and again at the 7 ½ furlong marker.
“I feel like he went well in the work,” said Wohlers, who has been at Santa Anita before, having trained at San Luis Rey Downs in 2006 and 2007.
“It’s been a slow-playing track this week, and despite all the moisture on it, I think he finished up pretty good. I’m happy with the work. He’ll probably do a little something down the lane before the race.
“We like to work at intervals of about every seven days, but we’ll probably do a quarter down the lane next Tuesday.”
FLAVIEN PRAT RETURNS OPENING DAY AT SANTA ANITA
Flavien Prat, one of the most surprising gifts from France since the Statue of Liberty, will resume riding at Santa Anita on opening day after recovering from injuries suffered in a riding mishap at Los Alamitos on Sept. 17.
“He’s nearly fully recovered, but doctors have given him the OK to ride,” said his agent, Derek Lawson. “He’s been getting on horses the last week-and-a-half and undergoing physical therapy the last two weeks.
“He had seven fractures and a (right) lung that kind of blew up on him, and he spent close to two-and-a-quarter months in a body brace, but he’s completely healed and he’s ready to go; he’s chomping at the bit.”
STEPHEN/SANTIAGO: A MATCH MADE IN OVERNIGHT HEAVEN
On arguably one of the most competitive circuits in the land, jockey Santiago Gonzalez remains below the radar among mainstream race goers, but not with blue chip bettors, who recognize that the 32-year-old native of Maracaibo, Venezuela, offers value on almost any horse he rides.
Gonzalez was second to perennial Southern California riding king Rafael Bejarano at the recent Del Mar meet, 20-18, and currently is vying for leading rider honors at Los Alamitos.
Asked if he envisioned this kind of success when he teamed up with Gonzalez a year ago, agent Craig Stephen said, “Not a chance. It all came to pass through hard work. My car was brand new with 100 miles on it when we began, and now it’s got 28,000 miles on it, so that shows how much running around we did working horses.
“We’d go to Santa Anita, San Luis Rey, Los Al, back and forth. I mean, it was no holds barred. On Dec. 12, 2014, I picked him up 11:30 at night at LAX; he rode his first race Dec. 26 at Santa Anita and was second in a photo finish on a 40-1 shot named Life’s Journey for (trainer) Marsha Schwizer.
“I couldn’t tell you how many thousands of horses he’s worked from then until now to get to where he’s at, and it’s due to hard work by both of us, but mostly Santiago, because he’s the one getting on the horses.”
Stephen, a 52-year-old who is Boston born and raised and still has a noticeable “pack the cah” accent, trained for a dozen years before becoming an agent for the second time.
“Being an agent is the easiest thing in the world,” said Stephen, whose boisterous mirth is as recognizable as his girth. “I was a jock’s agent before and another time (I was) agent for a van company. The difference between being an agent for a van company and a jockey is basically the same sell: ‘Can I move a horse for you, can I ride a horse for you?’ The check is certainly greater as a jock’s agent.
“My friends have helped me out. (Trainer) Jim Cassidy was huge in making this kid successful. He was the first guy to give Santiago a shot in stakes. Eric Guillot gave us a shot in the Santa Anita Handicap on Moreno when he ran second to Shared Belief (last March 7).
“The funny thing was, the day after the race, on the radio they were talking about how Santiago rode Moreno so well from the five-eighths pole to the wire to finish second. They forgot all about the winner. It was so weird. Shared Belief might be the greatest horse of all time, and they’re talking about Moreno and the ride Santiago put up.”
Stephen is a race track lifer.
“My dad was dragging me out to the track when I was in a carriage,” Stephen recalled. “I remember going to the Marshfield Fair. My dad (Mike), who’s 88 now, owned horses and trained horses for a stint. He always had two or three horses. My uncle, Rick Stephen, had a bunch of great horses, including Windsharp, a multiple graded stakes-winning mare trained by the late Wally Dollase.
“My whole family’s been in the sport forever.”
Windsharp became the first female ever to capture the San Luis Rey Stakes in 1996 when it was a Grade I race, coming from dead last on the far turn to win the mile and a half marathon by a neck under Eddie Delahoussaye.
Added Cassidy: “I have a lot of confidence in Santiago when he rides a horse for me. I liked him right from the start. I watched him in the mornings and that’s when I started using him, and we’ve had a lot of success.
“He’s got a good head; we don’t converse very much because his English is kind of lacking, but he knows what’s going on, and I think he’s getting better and better.”
FINISH LINES: Santa Anita will once again give away its popular Wall Calendar free on opening day to all fans at the track with paid admission while supplies last. The theme of the 2016 calendar is “What’s in a name,” describing how Thoroughbreds come by their monikers . . . The first 20,000 paid attendees will receive a $100 Mathis Brothers Furniture gift certificate and the first 5,000 kids 17 and under will get a plush, mini-Thoroughbred toy, courtesy of Mathis Brothers . . . Agent Brad Pegram has booked Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith on multiple graded stakes winner El Kabeir for owner Ahmed Zayat and trainer John Terranova II in the Malibu. El Kabeir’s sire is Scat Daddy, who died Monday at the age of 11, young for a stallion.
The son of Johannesburg stood at Coolmore Ashford Stud in Versailles, Ky. Also coming in for the Malibu is Zia Park Derby runner-up Pain and Misery for trainer Henry Dominguez . . . Abel Lezcano, a 24-year-old native of Panama, will be a regular at Santa Anita, according to his agent, Nelson Arroyo. “Lezcano has been riding for five years, mainly in Kentucky and New York. I came out to Del Mar with Stuart Elliott last year but he got hurt early in the meet after winning the Best Pal Stakes for Mark Casse,” Arroyo said. “I was so impressed with the treatment I received and the racing here, I fell in love with Southern California.” . . . Jockey Matt Garcia hopes to make a comeback soon. Injured in a riding mishap at Ferndale on Aug. 18, 2013, the 45-year-old rider suffered fractures in his neck and back when he was stepped on by a horse. He is exercising horses now and “hopes to ride again if I get the opportunity. Doctors inserted a plate and six screws, but I’m in no pain. I’m going one day at a time. Getting on a horse is everything to me. It’s my life.” . . . Agent Vince DeGregory has taken the book of jockey Tiago Pereira, currently in his native Brazil, but due to return to the states Dec. 22 in time to ride opening day . . . Agent Vic Lipton will represent apprentice Brayan Pena, who has 25 wins and presently carries a seven-pound weight allowance. According to California Horse Racing Board rule 1619, Pena will ride with the “bug” until he reaches 40 victories or until October, 2016, whichever comes first . . . Trainer Dan Hendricks has multiple stakes winner Om set for the Grade II, $200,000 Mathis Brothers Mile (turf) for three-year-olds on opening day. With Gary Stevens aboard, Om worked six furlongs on the main track Wednesday in 1:14.40. “He galloped out real strong,” Hendricks said. “We’re all set.” . . . San Pasqual Stakes winner Hoppertunity worked five furlongs for Bob Baffert in 1:00.40 . . . Stormy Lucy, who pulled a 65-1 upset in Del Mar’s Matriarch under Kent Desormeaux to give Ed Moger Jr. his first Grade I win in 40 years as a trainer, is ticketed for the Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on turf Dec. 27, as is Grade I winner Warren’s Veneda, who worked six furlongs on the main track Saturday in 1:13.80 for Craig Lewis with Tyler Baze up . . . Retired turf writer and handicapper for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner & Orange County Register Jerry Antonucci will be Tom Quigley‘s seminar guest on opening day, 10:50 a.m. in the East Paddock Gardens. On Sunday, 2015 NHC Tour champion Jonathan Kinchen will do the honors starting at 11:20 a.m. . . .Happiness is just a thing called “Joe.” Los Angeles Turf Club Chairman Keith Brackpool announced today that all visitors to Clockers’ Corner throughout the meet will receive their first cup of coffee free. Decaf or regular, your choice.