If all goes well, it’s on to the $1 million Santa Anita Derby on April 9 and a rematch between Danzing Candy and Mor Spirit, the one-two finishers in Saturday’s San Felipe Stakes.

Both three-year-olds came out of the race in good order and are in line for the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, won by I’ll Have Another in 2012 and California Chrome in 2014. Both went on to capture the Kentucky Derby.

Danzing Candy led virtually throughout the mile and a sixteenth San Felipe under Mike Smith, winning by two lengths over 8-5 favorite Mor Spirit with Gary Stevens aboard.

“I wasn’t surprised he was on the lead,” said Cliff Sise Jr., trainer of Danzing Candy, who earned 50 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for his third win in a row and his first stakes.

“We weren’t about to change his style. The only way he wouldn’t have been in front would have been if somebody else was sent hard. We didn’t want to experiment in that race.”

Should Danzing Candy make it to the Kentucky Derby on May 7, it would mark the first starter for Sise in the Run for the Roses.

“We were looking at it last year with Prospect Park, who was second (to Dortmund) in the San Felipe, but coming up to the Santa Anita Derby he had a setback and we took him off the Derby trail.”

Stevens was encouraged and optimistic despite the loss.

“Mor Spirit was super-fresh and that’s one reason he (Bob Baffert) decided to run him instead of wait until the Santa Anita Derby,” said Stevens, the colt’s regular pilot. “He pulled really hard going into the first turn. It took me a while to get him to settle, and after that, I really couldn’t move when I wanted to, because it was going to mess him up for his next race.

“So I had to kind of sit and wait and Kent (Desormeaux on Exaggerator) made his move and I just followed him through. He got a lot of dirt yesterday, traffic, came inside of horses, then moved out, galloped on pretty good the last 16th of a mile and galloped out great.

“He probably got more out of yesterday’s race than he has in all of his races combined up to that point, as far as education and fitness. I felt a lot like I did when I got beat on Silver Charm by Free House in the (1997) Santa Anita Derby.

“Bob usually doesn’t come down (to the winner’s circle) unless it’s for a picture, but he came down and had a smile on his face and I said, ‘I think we’re in a real good spot right now,’ and he was pretty happy in defeat. I thought Mor Spirit would win yesterday, but then he was vulnerable, too. There were some fast horses in there going a mile and a sixteenth.

“We’re focusing on more distance; I like what I felt and everything about it.”



Despite losing an hour’s sleep with the advent of Daylight Saving Time, it was business as usual Sunday for Team Melatonin after the gelding’s front-running victory by 4 ¼ lengths at 16-1 under Joe Talamo for trainer David Hofmans in the $1 million Santa Anita Handicap.

Melatonin, a bay son of Kodiak Kowboy owned by Glendale resident Susan Osborne who campaigns under the nom de course Tarabilla Farms, had run in only two stakes before Saturday and never raced beyond a mile and a sixteenth.

He had been assigned 114 pounds for the Handicap, but carried one over at 115. It was the lowest weight carried by a Big ‘Cap winner since 1989, when Martial Law toted 113 winning at 50-1 under Martin Pedroza.

Hofmans and his owners celebrated the victory at San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino, which presented the Big ‘Cap. Scotty McClellan, Talamo’s agent, drove home and celebrated with a grilled cheese sandwich (sharp cheddar).

“The horse was training well and we rode him in a two-other-than (condition race, winning by nearly four lengths Feb. 5),” said McClellan, a youthful-looking 61 who has been an agent 44 years, representing Hall of Famers Chris McCarron and Alex Solis, among others.

“But I had other commitments and kind of lost him for a race or two.

“David freshened him, brought him back, we worked him, and he kept looking for another spot, wanting to go a mile on the turf. But it rained and the race didn’t go, so finally we decided on the two-other-than long on dirt and he won by nearly four lengths.

“Then David said he was going to nominate to three stakes, the Kilroe, the San Carlos and the Santa Anita Handicap, and Joe kept pushing him to run in the Handicap, telling him, ‘He’ll run all day, he wasn’t tired,’ and finally convinced David.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

“I don’t have any thoughts about where to run next,” said Hofmans, whose signature victories heretofore have been with Alphabet Soup in the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1996 and Touch Gold under McCarron in the 1997 Belmont, denying Silver Charm the Triple Crown.

“We’ll play it by ear and talk with The Team, meaning Scotty and Joe, and see what they want to do. But the horse looked really good this morning.

“It wasn’t a big effort for him.”

McClellan, who has been plying his trade since the age of 17, now has six Big ‘Cap wins as an agent: Vigors, 1978, Darrel McHargue; Alysheba, McCarron, 1988; Free House, McCarron, 1999; Malek, Alex Solis, 1998; Tiznow, McCarron, 2001, and Melatonin, Talamo, yesterday).

As for his grilled cheese sandwich?

“It tasted like filet,” McClellan said.


FINISH LINES: Trainer Peter Eurton reports San Carlos winner Kobe’s Back came out of his 1 ¼-length victory yesterday under Gary Stevens in excellent shape. “The Churchill Downs Stakes ($500,000, Grade II at seven furlongs on May 7) is one of the spots we’re thinking about (for his next race),” Eurton said. “I love the distance and I love the money.” . . . Victimized by a rough trip in the Santa Anita Handicap, Donworth, the 5-2 second choice who finished seventh, came back “in great shape,” Doug O’Neill said Sunday morning. “We’ve got to regroup. They’re not machines.” . . . Om, who finished last of six at 4-1 in the Kilroe Mile, came out of the race with a foot issue and will be sidelined until it’s resolved, trainer Dan Hendricks said . . . Agent Brian Beach has George Woolf Award winner Victor Espinoza booked to ride Toews On Ice for Bob Baffert in the San Pedro Stakes next Sunday. The race originally was to be run last Friday, but was not due to weather conditions. Toews On Ice worked four furlongs Sunday in 49.20 under Martin Garcia . . . Early probables for next Saturday’s Grade I Santa Margarita Stakes include Penwith, Mike Smith; Tara’s Tango, Rafael Bejarano; and Taris, Gary Stevens . . . Also next Saturday, Espinoza rides Qiaona for trainer Ed Moger Jr. and Kent Desormeaux will be aboard Velvet Mesquite for Blake Heap in the $100,000 Irish O’Brien Stakes for older fillies and mares in the Golden State Series at about 6 1/2 furlongs on turf. Desormeaux also has been named on Tesalina for Wesley Ward in Friday’s $75,000 Arboretum II Stakes for older fillies and mares down the hillside turf course . . . Agent Tom Knust reports that Mario Gutierrez rides Hopeful winner Ralis in the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park next Saturday and Found Money next Sunday in the $415,000 Sunland Park Festival of Racing Stakes, both for O’Neill . . . Trainer Barry Abrams was back on the beat at Clockers’ Corner Sunday morning following out-patient surgery Thursday at Arcadia Methodist Hospital. “It only took 15 minutes,” said Abrams, a cancer survivor who has been to hell and back. “It was no big deal.”

(Current Through Saturday, March 12)
Jockey Mts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% ITM% Money Won
Rafael Bejarano 226 51 41 23 23% 51% $2,186,377
Santiago Gonzalez 238 43 30 30 18% 43% $1,723,686
Flavien Prat 217 38 38 33 18% 50% $2,308,116
Edwin Maldonado 146 26 14 15 18% 38% $918,925
Tyler Baze 221 23 32 33 10% 40% $1,218,301
Joseph Talamo 199 22 23 25 11% 35% $1,743,604
David Lopez 135 22 9 18 16% 36% $652,161
Mario Gutierrez 166 20 30 21 12% 43% $1,223,654
Kent Desormeaux 98 16 23 18 16% 58% $1,415,805
Martin Garcia 110 16 11 11 15% 35% $954,099
Fernando Perez 147 14 15 19 10% 33% $765,409
Drayden Van Dyke 132 13 15 19 10% 36% $815,419
Trainer Sts 1st 2nd 3rd Win% ITM% Money Won
Philip D’Amato 115 24 20 21 21% 57% $1,340,360
Doug O’Neill 154 23 21 21 15% 42% $1,210,763
Bob Baffert 88 18 14 13 20% 51% $1,399,060
Jerry Hollendorfer 120 18 12 15 15% 38% $1,195,921
Richard Baltas 93 15 13 13 16% 44% $1,085,059
Peter Eurton 82 13 21 11 16% 55% $964,977