- TRIPLE CROWN HOPEFULS VIE IN THE SHAM STAKES
- ISOTHERM BACK ON TURF IN GRADE II SAN GABRIEL
- BIG ‘CAP KING MISREMEMBERED HAS TALENTED SON
- SANTA ANITA ALL SOURCES HANDLE UP 16 PERCENT
BAFFERT SEEKS FIFTH SHAM WIN IN 17TH RUNNING
McKinzie returns in just under a month from his last start for Saturday’s Grade III Sham Stakes for three-year-olds at one mile, an uncharacteristically short interval for a Bob Baffert Triple Crown prospect, but the Hall of Fame trainer has an agenda in mind he hopes will lead to the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 7 and beyond that, the Kentucky Derby on May 5.
Named for Baffert’s close friend and late long-time Los Alamitos executive Brad McKinzie, the son of 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense was moved from second to first via disqualification of stablemate Solomini in the Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity Dec. 9, won his first start by 5 ½ lengths, and thus is unbeaten going into the 16th edition of the Sham, which Baffert has won four times, with Wild and Wise in 2001; Bob and John in 2006; Midnight Hawk in 2014; and Collected in 2016.
“He’s doing very well,” Baffert said of McKinzie, owned by Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman. “If I didn’t run in the Sham, I’d have to wait until February. I’m running him long and taking the blinkers off . . . the next two preps after this will be for the real big money.”
The field for the Sham, named for the 1973 Santa Anita Derby winner: My Boy Jack, Kent Desormeaux, 12-1; Here Is Happy, Joe Talamo, 20-1; All Out Blitz, Tyler Baze, 10-1; Mourinho, Drayden Van Dyke, 4-1; Shivermetimbers, Flavien Prat, 7-2; McKinzie, Mike Smith, 3-5; and City Plan, Tyler Conner, 20-1.
The Sham trophy will be presented by all-time great Laffit Pincay, Jr., who rode the Pancho Martin-trained Sham to victory in the Santa Anita Derby and throughout the 1973 Triple Crown classics.
HARTY EYES SHAM UPSET WITH CITY PLAN
Eoin Harty, winner of the 2008 Sham Stakes with Colonel John, who would go on to capture the Santa Anita Derby, hopes City Plan follows in those footsteps in this year’s Sham.
“It’s a tough spot but he’s coming into the race well,” said Harty, a former assistant to Bob Baffert. “You’ve got to find out what you have. You can’t duck and dive forever.”
City Plan, like Baffert trainee McKinzie a son of Street Sense, pulled a 24-1 shocker winning the restricted Gold Rush Stakes at Golden Gate Fields on Dec. 2 after finishing nearly 27 lengths behind Bolt d’Oro in the Grade I FrontRunner at Santa Anita last Sept. 30.
City Plan is owned and was bred by Godolphin Racing, a finalist for an Eclipse Award in 2017. “I have a lot of horses back east for them and a pretty good number here,” said Harty, who also has Streetwithnoname, owned by his wife Kathleen, entered in Sunday’s Grade II Santa Ynez Stakes at seven furlongs.
“She was a fast-closing third behind Steph Being Steph in the Golden Gate Debutante (Nov. 24),” Harty pointed out. “Both my horses are longshots, but they’re not without a shot.”
Asked why My Boy Jack is running on dirt after five straight grass races, including victory in the restricted Zuma Beach Stakes, trainer Keith Desormeaux answered rhetorically, “Is the (Kentucky) Derby on turf or dirt? It’s as simple as that.
“Hopefully, his class will come through on the new surface. He’s doing great.”
ISOTHERM RETURNS TO GRASS IN SAN GABRIEL
Isotherm makes his first start in 10 months and returns to turf in Saturday’s Grade II, $200,000 San Gabriel Stakes for four-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles. The five-year-old Kentucky-bred son of the Australian sire Lonbro last raced March 11, finishing fifth after prompting the pace in the Santa Anita Handicap, but 10 of his 13 career starts have been on turf, winning three, including the Grade II San Marcos at Santa Anita last Feb. 4.
“He’s training really well on the main track here,” said Phil D’Amato, who conditions Isotherm for owner Matthew Schera. “Maybe down the road we’ll try that schedule again, but for now we’ll stay on a surface where we know he’s a graded stakes winner.”
The San Gabriel, race seven of nine: Flamboyant, Drayden Van Dyke, 5-1; Editore, Brice Blanc, 15-1; Top of the Game, Kent Desormeaux, 8-1; Win the Space, Rafael Bejarano, 20-1; Tequila Joe, Joe Talamo, 8-1; Isotherm, Flavien Prat, 7-2; He Will, Mike Smith, 4-1; Itsinthepost, Tyler Baze, 3-1; Free Rose, Rajiv Maragh, 10-1; and Smokey Image, Evin Roman, 20-1.
BIG ‘CAP WINNER MISREMEMBERED THROWS IMPRESSIVE DEBUT WINNER
Effective New Year’s Day, the Road to the Kentucky Derby may have become a bit more congested, as Hal and Patti Earnhardt’s homebred Ax Man demolished 10 maiden three-year-olds, winning by 9 ½ lengths in his debut, getting six furlongs in a rapid 1:09.43.
With Bob Baffert confirming Friday that he’ll be pointed to “a seven eighths stake,” the Grade II, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes here Feb. 10 would seem a likely destination. If so, Ax Man will no doubt be among the primary San Vicente contenders, especially with recent word that leading Derby candidate Bolt d’Oro will miss the race due to a minor ailment.
A Kentucky-bred colt by 2010 Santa Anita Handicap winner Misremembered (who is owned by Baffert’s wife Jill, and George Jacobs), Ax Man is out of the Earnhardt’s multiple graded stakes-placed mare Shameful (by Chevron) and is thus a half-brother to two-time Eclipse Award winner Indian Blessing, who banked nearly $3 million in winning 10 of 16 races, including two 2008 stakes at Santa Anita, the Grade II Santa Ynez and the Grade I La Brea.
Off as the 7-5 post time favorite under Drayden Van Dyke, Ax Man broke sharply from his number four post position Monday, was head and head for the early lead through an opening quarter of 21.73, opened up a two length advantage a quarter mile from home and drew off from his competition while well within himself, prompting track announcer Michael Wrona to gush:
“Ax Man, an absolutely dominant debut from a most promising specimen!”
Although Misremembered originally stood in the Bluegrass, he’ll be standing his second season in California this year and for the first time at Barton Thoroughbreds in Santa Ynez, where his advertised fee is $2,500, live foal.
SANTA ANITA ALL SOURCES HANDLE UP 16 PERCENT THROUGH FIRST WEEK
Santa Anita’s current Winter Meet, which opened with a bang the day after Christmas as 40,023 fans enjoyed spectacular weather and a full complement of graded stakes action, showed a substantive 16 percent gain in all sources handle and a nine percent up-tick in on-track handle over the first five racing days. With average field size at 9.36 horses per race, punters wagered $56.7 million compared to $48.7 million a year ago.
Santa Anita’s five-day opening week concluded with New Year’s Day this past Monday and on-track business has been brisk throughout the facility, evidenced not only by the increase in on-track handle, but by a 2 ½ percent gain in on-track attendance.
With the arrival this past summer of The Stronach Group’s COO, Tim Ritvo, a major emphasis has been placed on shoring up competitive field size, which provides significantly greater gambling opportunities–a key factor in growing pari-mutuel handle.
Additionally, Santa Anita’s Winter Meet wagering menu has undergone significant changes, with Trifectas lowered from one dollar to 50 cents, rolling one dollar Super High Fives and a 50 cent Late Pick 5 all added, with the goal of increasing interest among casual and new fans while offering potentially lucrative pools to the more seasoned players.
With upsets prevailing on opening day, there was a Pick Six carryover into day two, Friday, of $95,855 resulting in a total Pick Six pool of $467,687 which ended up being distributed among 16 winning tickets that each paid $15,673.20
Day three, Saturday, also ended with a Pick Six carryover, this in the amount of $72,970, resulting in a total Pick Six pool on Sunday of $379,364 and a payout of $39,442.80 on six winning tickets.
Santa Anita’s Single Ticket Pick Six Jackpot went untouched through the first five days, creating an enticing Jackpot carryover of $134,364 into today.
FINISH LINES: Promising maiden Midnight Bisou blew out three furlongs Friday for Sunday’s Santa Ynez Stakes in 38.20 for Bill Spawr . . . Santa Anita simulcast host Peter Lurie and Little Red Feather founder and managing partner Billy Koch will be Tom Quigley‘s guests Saturday and Sunday, respectively, 11:20 a.m., in the East Paddock Gardens . . . Condolences to family and friends of Carlos Campas, a staple in California horse racing for 40 years until his recent death. A former trainer, Carlos is the brother of retired jockey Rudy Campas and also was a booking agent for D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Hubbard Horse Transportation until his retirement in 2013.