MARATHON ASTRA SUITS POWELL’S FILLY
GAINES TRIPLE TEAMS HER OAKS RIVALS
RACING MOURNS LOSS OF BRUCE HEADLEY
MEGAHERTZ STAKES ON HOLIDAY MONDAY
LONGTIME RACING PUBLICIST WESS PASSES
BAFFERT FIRST TIMER GETS 88 BEYER FIG
FRENCH CONNECTION SET FOR SUNDAY’S ASTRA
Avenue de France makes her United State stakes debut in Sunday’s Grade III Astra Stakes and native Frenchman Leonard Powell hopes the French-bred filly’s late kick is beneficial in the mile-and-half turf marathon.
She closed from ninth in a field of 10 to capture an allowance race at 1 1/8 miles by a half-length last out on Santa Anita’s opening day Dec. 26.
In 2019 she was unbeaten in two starts in her native country at a mile on grass, and save for two of her six races in America, she has come storming home late.
“With her style, she was able to settle in her last couple of races and hopefully that will be the key for her to go a mile and a half,” said her trainer, a 46-year-old native of Deauville, who grew up on his family’s 200-acre stud farm in Normandy, Le Haras du Lieu des Champs.
Another advantage, in Powell’s opinion, is the fact that Avenue de France has run without Lasix in her last five races, and in the Astra all of her rivals also will be racing sans Lasix for the first time in the U.S., complying with a regulation that went into effect Jan. 1.
In other words, Powell feels all the horses will be competing “on an equal playing field.”
Powell rode as an amateur jockey on both the flat and over the hurdles and served as official guardian for fellow Frenchman Flavien Prat for several years when Prat came to the U.S. as a teenager.
Powell’s mentors read like an international Who’s Who of horsemen: Richard Mandella, Neil Drysdale, John Shirreffs, John Gosden, John Hawkes, Peter Snowden and Michael Kent among them.
Owned by Benowitz Family Trust, Convergence Stable, Madaket Stables, LLC, et al, Avenue de France was bred by SARL Jedburgh Stud and Thierry De La Heronniere, of whom Powell is familiar from his days in France. He has the utmost regard for its breeding operation
Avenue de France will be joined by two other French-bred females in the Astra, Altea, trained by Irishman Paddy Gallagher, and Hermaphrodite, conditioned by John Sadler.
Drayden Van Dyke, who has ridden Avenue de France in each of her six U.S. races, will be aboard once again in the Astra, which goes as the seventh of nine races with a 12:30 p.m. first post time.
The field: Avenue de France, Drayden Van Dyke, 6-1; Altea, Abel Cedillo, 15-1; Aunt Lubie, Victor Espinoza, 8-1; Hermaphrodite, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Lucky Peridot, Juan Hernandez, 15-1; Carpe Vinum, Jose Valdivia Jr., 20-1; Quick, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2; and Ms. Peintour, Flavien Prat, 4-1.
AN OAKS FIRST FOR GAINES, THREE IN SAME STAKES
Today will mark a first for Carla Gaines.
To the best of her recollection, she has never sent out three horses in the same stakes, but that will end when Closing Remarks, Sensible Cat and Westward Breeze run in the Leigh Ann Howard California Cup Oaks.
Closing Remarks won her debut race at five furlongs on Del Mar’s turf last Aug. 31, but lacked room when 10th last out in the Grade III Jimmy Durante going a mile on grass at the seaside oval.
Sensible Cat won the Soviet Problem on dirt against California-breds at Los Alamitos Dec. 12, and was an impressive maiden winner at a mile on turf at Del Mar one race prior, on Nov. 6.
Westward Breeze rallied after a slow start in her debut race, winning by 3 ½ lengths in a 5 ½ furlong turf sprint at Santa Anita last Oct. 23. She was “sandwiched” at the start of her next race, the Soviet Problem, finishing ninth of 10 but had no chance after her early trouble.
“Closing Remarks is doing very, very well, and she did have a very bad trip at the end of her last race,” said Gaines, a native of Alabama (“Go Tide”) who took out her trainer’s license in 1988. “She absolutely had no place to run in the Jimmy Durante. Hopefully, she gets a better trip.
“We think Sensible Cat is definitely better on the grass, and she’s got a nice style. She can kind of sit off the pace and make a run at any stage. She’s doing very well, too.
“Westward Breeze really got annihilated at the start last out, eliminated I should say, and that was about it. (Jockey Umberto) Rispoli mentioned after that race he thought turf was her preferred surface. She’s not a very big filly and they just came over and crushed her.
“But she’s doing very well. She’s by (the Speightstown stallion) Munnings and I think the biggest question with her will be the mile. We haven’t tested her at that distance (on grass) yet.”
As to ever having three in one stake, Gaines said, “I don’t think so. I’ve run two several times but not three that I can recall.”
Call it karma, but Gaines could be on a roll. She sent out Gotta Be Lucky in Friday’s sixth race to break her maiden in her 20th career start.
The Oaks, race six: Dylans Wild Cat, Flavien Prat, 6-1; Smoothlikebuttah, Ruben Fuentes, 30-1; Super Game, Kent Desormeaux, 20-1; Warrens Candy Girl, Drayden Van Dyke, 10-1; I’m So Anna, Ricky Gonzalez, 6-1; Closing Remarks, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2; Sensible Cat, Mike Smith, 3-1; Del Mar Flash, Abel Cedillo, 15-1; Governor Goteven, Tiago Pereira, 6-1; and Westward Breeze, Juan Hernandez, 8-1.
SANTA ANITA REMEMEBERS BRUCE HEADLEY
The racing world and Santa Anita in particular today mourns the passing of Bruce Headley, who died Friday, just a month short of his 87th birthday on Feb. 17.
A no-nonsense stickler who adhered to a pristine philosophy when it came to training, Headley was born on Feb. 17, 1934, 10 months before Santa Anita opened on Christmas Day, 1934. More than eight decades later, Headley had remained close to his home away from home, Santa Anita Park.
I had one of the last interviews with Headley in his waning days at Clockers’ Corner. It appeared in Santa Anita’s Stable Notes on April 14, 2019, and as it concisely captures the essence of the man and the horseman, it seems appropriate to reprint it here in his memory:
“Headley, best remembered as the trainer of Kona Gold, is still a fixture at Santa Anita, where his Aunt Flora brought him as a kid when he was five years old.
“I saw Seabiscuit and Kayak II run here,” Headley said, referring to the winners of the 1939 and 1940 Santa Anita Handicap, trained by ‘Silent’ Tom Smith. “That’s how I got hooked on racing. My Uncle Ted was a security guard here. I was born in a house in nearby Baldwin Park that’s still there.”
Kona Gold was pure race horse. A Kentucky-bred son of Java Gold from the Slew o’ Gold dam Double Sunrise, the bay gelding owned in part by Headley won nearly half his starts, 14 of 30, with seven seconds and two thirds, earning $2,293,384.
Sold as a yearling for $35,000, he was the champion sprinter of 2000, winning an Eclipse Award that year in which he captured the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in a dazzling 1:07.60 for six furlongs. He raced until he was nine years old.
“He could run faster than anybody and stayed sound,” Headley recalled. “He had real good bone structure. He was just an honest race horse and when he ran, he ran.
“When he got too old to race, he became a very good pony. He’d lead the horses back and forth to the track, and even though some of them had a wild brain, he knew he had a job to do and he did it.
“When he got too old to pony, I retired him to the Kentucky Horse Farm so everybody could visit him.”
Kona Gold was euthanized at the age of 15 on Sept. 25, 2009, after fracturing his left front leg while exercising in his paddock. But for Bruce Headley and others of his ilk who sanctify the equine ghosts of Santa Anita, Kona Gold lives on in perpetuity.”
SANTA ANITA HONORS MEGAHERTZ ON MONDAY
Santa Anita presents the Grade III Megahertz Stakes this holiday Monday honoring Martin Luther King Jr.
A diminutive chestnut mare bred in England, Megahertz gained popularity with racing fans thanks her small size and her dramatic last-to-first running style against top company.
Trained by the late Bobby Frankel for owner Michael Bello, Megahertz was a multiple graded stakes winner who compiled a 14-6-5 record from 34 starts, earning $2,261,594.
The Megahertz is for fillies and mares four and up and will be contested at one mile on turf.
It is the seventh of nine races with a 12:30 p.m. first post time. The field: Brooke, Jeremy Laprida, 4-1; $2,000 supplemental nominee Colonial Creed, Flavien Prat, 7-2; $2,000 supplemental nominee Lucky Peridot, Abel Cedillo, 8-1; Mucho Unusual, Joel Rosario, 9-5; Ippodamia’s Girl, Juan Hernandez, 8-1; and Sedamar, Umberto Rispoli, 5-2.
LONGTIME PUBLICIST NAT WESS PASSES AT AGE 81
Nat Wess, a popular and highly respected racing publicist who began his career in racing in 1964 at Santa Anita, died Thursday at age 81 from complications related to a recent fall.
In a story written by Steve Andersen at DRF.com, Andersen reported that Wess, who retired in 2009, held a variety of jobs in racing, including management positions at Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Bay Meadows, Hollywood Park and with the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association.
As director of publicity at Hollywood Park, he oversaw the implementation of the wildly popular Two Dollar Pick Six in 1980, which helped the Inglewood oval become the first track in America to average more than $5 million in daily handle, which was bet entirely on-track.
As general manager of the CTBA, he was part of a team that developed the concept of California Cup Day, which debuted during Santa Anita’s Oak Tree Meeting in 1990.
A man of boundless energy, Wess had a love for racing and fresh outlook that enabled him to succeed wherever he went. An example of this was cited by Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman this morning on his “Thoroughbred LA” radio show.
“When I first started covering racing, Nat was the publicity director at Hollywood Park. I was still in school and very green, but he treated me like I was Jim Murray.”
Nat Wess is survived by his wife of 58 years, Ellen, children Deborah and David, and four grandchildren.
FINISH LINES: Morning Line Maker Jon White reports Bob Baffert’s Concert Tour, an impressive 3 ½ length first time maiden winner yesterday, earned an 88 Beyer Speed Figure. A Gary and Mary West homebred 3-year-old colt by Street Sense, he got six furlongs in 1:10.40 with Joel Rosario up and appears headed to the Kentucky Derby Trail…Grade I Malibu Stakes winner Charlatan, prepping for the $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 20, worked four furlongs for Baffert this morning in 50:20, while Ax Man, nominated to both next Saturday’s Grade III Palos Verdes Stakes and Sunday’s $70,000 Clockers’ Corner Stakes, went five furlongs in a bullet 58.80, fastest of 53 drills at the distance. In all there were 156 recorded workouts Saturday, 19 on the training track . . . Richard Mandella reports both Astute and United doing well with no plans for their next races. Astute finished fourth as second choice at 6-5 in the Grade I Starlet Dec. 5 at Los Alamitos, while multiple graded turf stakes winner United breezed three furlongs in 36.60 at Santa Anita last Sunday. “They’re just starting back,” Mandella said. “Astute hasn’t had a work yet, but no hurry. We’re bringing them back at their own pace. It will be another month, at least. Astute came out of the Starlet with really sore feet. We’re giving her a little rest while we’re fixing it, but she’s at the track galloping.”
LATEST CONTENT FROM XBTV:
Jeff Siegel’s Top Plays on January 16th, 2021
Preview of the Leigh Ann Howard Cal Cup Oaks
Preview of the Sunshine Millions Filly & Mare Turf
Preview of the Unusual Heat Turf Classic
Preview of the Don Valpredo Cal Cup Sprint
Keystone (Mandella) 1-15-21
Mulholland Highway (Drysdale) 1-15-21
Bob and Jackie (Baltas) 1-15-21
Wilshire Dude (Knapp) 1-15-21
Little Rachel (Garcia) 1-15-21
Oleksandra (Drysdale) 1-15-21
Anaconda (Mandella) 1-14-21
St Helena (Puype) 1-14-21
Gold Arrow (Drysdale) 1-14-21
Moonlight d’Oro (Mandella) 1-13-21
Bellize (Drysdale) 1-13-21
Marksman On Target (Stute) 1-13-21
Princeofthenorth (Truman) 1-13-21
Big Mama Sue (Aguirre) 1-13-21