• BALTAS AND BROWN DOMINATE IN GRADE I OAKS
• AMERICANIZE RETURNS TO SPRINT ON SATURDAY
• LASEEN EYES FIRST U.S. WIN IN FRANKEL STAKES
• JACK VAN BERG IS REMEMBERED AT SANTA ANITA
BALTAS HAS THREE FOR THE MONEY IN GRADE I AMERICAN OAKS
Kathy’s Song moves from a restricted stakes victory at Golden Gate Fields on Dec. 10 to Saturday’s Grade I American Oaks at a mile and a quarter on turf, but Brice Blanc is optimistic that the daughter of Candy Ride trained by Richard Baltas is up to the task.
Blanc rode Kathy’s Song to the Bay Area triumph and has been aboard for her last two breezes.
“She’s a very good work horse, very professional,” said the French native, who turns 45 on Jan. 16, and is booking his own mounts these days. He rode Kathy’s Song for the first time in the Miss America on a “good” turf course at Golden Gate.
“I was very impressed with her, although she has room for improvement,” Blanc said. “I think a mile and a quarter will be good for her.”
Kathy’s Song is but one of three Baltas trainees entered in the Oaks, the others being Madam Dancealot and Pantsonfire.
Chad Brown, the nation’s training leader in purse earnings this year with just over $26 million and favored to win an Eclipse Award, has two horses entered, New Money Honey and the winner of three straight stakes at three different tracks, French-bred Rymska.
The American Oaks is the nation’s last Grade I race this year.
The Oaks field: Madam Dancealot, Corey Nakatani, 6-1; Kathy’s Song, Brice Blanc, 20-1; Bernina’s Star, Kent Desormeaux, 30-1; Daddys Lil Darling, Mike Smith, 3-1; Pantsonfire, Rajiv Maragh, 30-1; Beau Recall, Joe Talamo, 6-1; Desert Duchess, Drayden Van Dyke, 8-1; Rymska, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-2; New Money Honey, Javier Castellano, 7-2; and Coachwhip, Flavien Prat, 20-1.
AMERICANIZE BACK SPRINTING IN MIDNIGHT LUTE
Americanize will cut back in distance in Saturday’s Grade III, $100,000 Midnight Lute Stakes for three-year-olds and up at 6 ½ furlongs on the main track.
The four-year-old gelded son of Concord Point trained by Simon Callaghan for owner/breeder Kaleem Shah led at the midway point of the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Dec. 2 before tiring to fourth, beaten 9 ¼ lengths.
“I think that was a little bit too far him for,” Callaghan said. “I think shortening back up in distance is the perfect trip for him. He’s doing really well.”
The Midnight Lute field: Silent Bird, Kent Desormeaux, 5-2; Ohio, Brice Blanc, 20-1; Ike Walker, Irad Ortiz Jr., 10-1; Masochistic, Drayden Van Dyke, 5-2; Americanize, Rafael Bejarano, 2-1; Solid Wager, Victor Espinoza, 10-1; Tough Sunday, Tyler Baze, 8-1; Calculator, Javier Castellano, 4-1; and Smokey Image, Gary Stevens, 12-1.
CASSIDY WANTS BETTER LUCK FOR LASEEN IN FRANKEL
Jim Cassidy expects another solid effort from Laseen when the six-year-old Irish-bred mare runs in Saturday’s Grade III Robert J. Frankel Stakes for fillies and mares, three and up, at 1 1/8 miles on turf.
The daughter of Dylan Thomas lacked room when finishing third by a length in the Grade III Red Carpet Handicap Nov. 23 at Del Mar.
“She’s a tough girl and always runs pretty well,” said Cassidy, who trains the bay for principal client Deron Pearson. “She was unlucky last race when she got stopped a couple of times. Otherwise, I think she’d have won.”
Laseen’s three career victories have come in France. She is winless in nine U.S. starts, but has two seconds and three thirds.
Cassidy would enjoy winning the race named for Frankel, the Hall of Fame trainer who died Nov. 16, 2009, since both were contemporaries and also native New Yorkers.
The Frankel, race four of nine: Penjade, Irad Ortiz Jr., 5-2; Midnight Crossing, Brice Blanc, 8-1; Laseen, Victor Espinoza, 5-1; Elysea’s World, Javier Castellano, 2-1; Gliding By, Rafael Bejarano, 6-1; and Responsibleforlove, Joe Talamo, 3-1.
McANALLY REMEMBERS ‘TRUE HORSEMAN’ VAN BERG
Santa Anita joined the racing community in mourning the loss of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who died in a Little Rock, Arkansas, hospital Wednesday at the age of 81.
Van Berg, who conditioned 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba, was the son of Hall of Fame trainer Marion Van Berg.
A consummate hay, oats and water advocate, Jack Van Berg won the Eclipse Award as outstanding trainer of 1984, led the nation in races won nine times including 1976, when he won 496, a record that stood until 2008.
“We would always talk back and fourth, especially when I was stabled at Hollywood Park,” fellow Hall of Fame member Ron McAnally, 85, said Friday morning at Santa Anita. “I considered Jack a very good horseman.
“I can cite one example: he had this pony that wouldn’t stand still, just kept dancing around, dancing around. About two weeks went by and Jack had that pony completely focused, standing as still as he could be.
“I knew Jack in the early days, when he had Alysheba and some really good horses. He was a true horseman, an old cowboy. The way he walked, he could impersonate John Wayne.”
A winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Alysheba avenged a nose defeat in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic by turning the tables on the Charlie Whittingham-trained and Bill Shoemaker-ridden Ferdinand, in an epic running of the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap in 1988 as Chris McCarron orchestrated a half-length victory.
A winner of a staggering 6,457 races, Jack Van Berg ranks 22nd on Santa Anita’s all-time list of stakes-winning trainers with 31 added money victories. Equally at home in the company of racing royalty or railbirds at county fairs from Grand Island, Nebraska, to Pomona, California, Van Berg had a heart of gold and helped to raise many hundreds of thousands of dollars for charitable causes via his considerable talent as an auctioneer.
Although his equine fortunes had dwindled in Southern California, a switch to Oaklawn Park in 2014 proved to be an elixir as Van Berg proved yet again he could compete and win on one of the nation’s toughest circuits.
And to what did he ascribe his newly re-found success?
“I’ve changed my feeding program,” he told Bill Finley of the Thoroughbred Daily News (no doubt, with a wry smile). “I’m feeding faster horses.”
FINISH LINES: Today’s Eddie Logan Stakes honors the late icon who operated a shoeshine stand at The Great Race Place from opening day, Dec, 25, 1934, through New Year’s Day 2009. Known as “The Footman,” Logan died on Jan. 31, 2009, at the age of 98 . . . There is a Pick Six carryover today of $95,855 . . . Trainer Peter Eurton has all options open for Giant Expectations, who pulled a 13-1 upset in Tuesday’s Grade II San Antonio Stakes, leading five rivals including 3-10 favorite Collected on a merry chase. Eurton mentioned the San Pasqual Stakes, the Pegasus Invitational, the Santa Anita Handicap and the Dubai World Cup as future possibilities for the four-year-old New York-bred colt . . . Dan Ward, assistant to Jerry Hollendorfer, said Unique Bella, winner of Tuesday’s Grade I La Brea Stakes at seven furlongs, could come back in the Grade II, $200,000 Santa Maria Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Feb. 10 or the Grade III, $400,000 Houston Ladies Classic at Sam Houston Park Jan. 28, also at 1 1/16 miles . . . Ron McAnally, who sent out Girlsintheoffice to win at first asking Nov. 26 at odds of nearly 18-1 under Stewart Elliott, has the veteran rider back on board the two-year-old filly in today’s second race. “I like the way he rides,” McAnally said of Elliott, who is represented by agent Carolyn Conley. “He knows where he is on a horse.” . . . Santa Anita offers two more Dollar Days coming up, this Monday, Jan. 1, and Monday, Jan. 15, when there will be holiday racing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Sodas and beers will be a buck apiece . . . Start the New Year right: sign on with the Los Angeles Times horse racing newsletter, which include entries and charts, at the following link: http://www.latimes.com/newsletters/la-newsletter-racing-signup-page-htmlstory.html . . .Santa Anita runs today through New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, will be dark Jan. 2, 3 and 4, and begins live racing again on Friday, Jan. 5 at 1 p.m. Admission gates open that day at 11 a.m.